Why Learn Jazz?

I did a guest blog about this topic, mainly targeted at younger drummers or drummers from non-jazz genres who are considering why they should spend the time and energy to learn jazz.  

Why Learn Jazz?

Most drummers do not grow up listening to jazz music.  In many cases, including my own, drummers don’t start exploring jazz until they are encouraged to do so by a teacher.  Jazz music is a big, complicated, and intimidating genre, and often times it doesn’t resonate with a new listener right away.  When you add all these factors up for many students the question is, why bother learning jazz at all? 

I am going to try to answer this question to the best of my ability based on the main benefits to my own playing from learning jazz.  Please keep in mind that I am not claiming that the following benefits are an exhaustive list, or the sole domain of jazz drummers. 

1. Historical Perspective
The drum set as an instrument was created to play the jazz music of early 20th century New Orleans.  Drummers needed a way for one person to play both parts of a traditional New Orleans marching band, bass/hihat and snare, at the same time.  From that point on, the history of the drum set has been inextricably linked to the history of jazz.  Learning about the great jazz drum innovators of the past like Baby Dodds, Papa Jo Jones, and Max Roach can teach you a lot about why we play the way we do today.  Getting this historical perspective on the instrument through studying the great jazz drum innovators can immeasurably enrich your playing.   

2.  Rhythmic Improvisational Flexibility
In jazz, improvisation is at the heart of everything you do.  Learning jazz is largely about learning to improvise rhythmically.  There are two important parts of learning to improvise.  First, rather than thinking of what you are playing as a beat or pattern, you develop the flexibility to adapt what you are playing based on what is going on in the music, all while maintaining a strong overall groove.  Secondly, and just as important as learning to change what you are playing, you also quickly learn to focus on what is going on around you in order to respond appropriately.  No matter what kind of music you play, the ability to listen intently and improvise fluidly in response will always be useful.

3.  Expanded Range of Tempo, Dynamics, and Rhythmic Feels
Because jazz is the oldest drum set tradition, it has had the longest time to develop.  One result of this is that jazz drummers are forced by the genre to play a wide range of tempos, dynamics, and rhythmic feels.  On any given gig, jazz drummers will have to play everything from an exquisitely soft ballad with brushes, to a burning uptempo standard, and everything else in between.  This expanded range adds a lot of depth and versatility to a drummers playing.

4.  Musical Education
In order to thrive in the world of contemporary jazz, drummers have to learn a lot about music.  Some examples include being able to read and write charts, having a minimal understanding of piano, having basic theory proficiency, and most importantly an extensive vocabulary of tunes, composers, styles, and drummers at their disposal.  The broader musical perspective that you get from learning these things will give you additional insight into whatever music you play.   

Hopefully this list of benefits will encourage you to start pursuing jazz on your own.  Even though it can be hard at first, learning jazz is worth the effort!



Shout Part 2: Video of Papa Jo #7

As promised in my last post about shout sections, here is a video of me playing Papa Jo #7 and setting up the hits.  Notice how I try to observe all the dynamics and subtly change how I set up the hits the second time through the shout section.  Try singing along with the video to get a feel for how this works.  For the full written out exercise, be sure to click through to the last post on shout sections.  



Transitions 6: From Trading/Soloing To Head Out

Quick and dirty today, I just wanted to touch on the idea of cueing the head out effectively from a solo/trading situation.  A couple of quick thoughts:

1.  Know and hear the song you are playing
The key to cueing the band effectively is to know where you are in the form at all times.  This means you should  try to always hear the melody and/or chord changes no matter what you are playing.  Nothing is worse than giving a cue at the wrong spot in the form.  Notice how I set up the simple vamp type sound and give the bass/pianist a clear look at the end of my last four in the video above (around 1:27), which leads me to my next point.

2.  Give a clear que
The Maestro 
Just like in a conversation there is a balance in improvised music between saying what you want to say, and listening to what someone else is saying.  In the case of transitioning from a drum solo or trading situation into the head out, cueing is generally the drummers responsibility.  In other words, you have to make your intentions really clear to the band so that they come in with you at the right time.  This is a situation where you have to say what you want to say, and to say it clearly.  Try to play something that unambiguously says that you are done soloing, and try to look up and make eye contact with the band.  For some inspiration on how to que a band, listen to the end of just about any Art Blakey solo ever.  If the que doesn't work...

3.  Just play some time and try again
Play some time, establish a clear link with the band and try the que again.  The more slick you are about covering up the mistake, the less impact this will have on your audience and the bands confidence, so try not to make a big deal out of it.  Remember, in improvised music sometimes the most exciting moments come from mistakes.

For more on how to recover from getting lost, Todd Bishop also has a great post at his blog "Cruise Ship Drummer!".



Why Memorize?

When I was a younger drummer, I rarely had the patience necessary to memorize anything I was working on that was longer than a couple of bars.  I was so eager to get on to the next thing, that spending painfully frustrating hours just memorizing what I was working on felt like a waste.  Furthermore, I think I carried over a very common bias from the rest of my liberal arts education into my approach to jazz; that is that it is less important to memorize particular facts than it is to understand the overall scheme of things.

As I have matured in my playing and my approach to learning music, I have come to the realization that this imported bias towards memorizing is actually fundamentally wrong.  In fact, the only way to learn jazz (and music generally) is to spend real time and energy memorizing.  There is simply no alternative, here are a couple of reasons why:

1. Jazz is an oral tradition
Unlike the western educational tradition, jazz comes from an older oral tradition.  That is to say, information is transmitted through memory, not the written word (or note).  This is not to say that reading music isn't useful, but rather that is helpful secondary skill.  Essentially, just about everything that you do in jazz needs to come from some combination of your memory and imagination. 

2. Learning to improvise is like learning a language
At its core you have to start out by trying to absorb as much as possible through imitation.  When you are a baby, you don't decide to not bother memorizing the sounds you are hearing.  You just do it instinctively to be able to communicate and thrive.  The same can be said of improvisation, that is memorizing may only be the first step, but if you aren't even doing this first step you can't possibly get to the point where you can communicate effectively.

3. Memorization is critical to imitating and internalizing
Clark Terry describes the process of learning jazz in three steps: imitation, internalization, innovation.  Here is a video of him briefly discussing this process:

And here is an article that describes the process in more detail.  Memorization is not discussed in great detail in the video or article because it's role is so integral to the first two steps of this process that it almost does not need to be explained.  The simple reality is that improvisation happens too fast to be primarily based on conscious decisions.  In other words, by the time you are thinking about it, the music is already gone.  So everything that you work on has to go through this process of memorization in order to be musically useful.

"There isn't a man among you"
4. There are many examples of great jazz musicians who can't read a note
Everyone has heard the stories about Buddy Rich having another drummer read a chart down once so he could hear/memorize it before burning the arrangement to the ground.  Again, this is not to downplay the importance of reading, but rather to emphasize the importance of memorization.  The more you do it, the better you will get at it, and the faster the process will be.  This is when memorization starts to become obviously musically useful.  If you can memorize an arrangement after hearing it once, you will not be wanting for gigs.

I would strongly recommend spending at least part of your practice routine memorizing so you don't make the same mistake as me.  Learning to be a proficient at memorization is a critical skill to develop.  Challenge yourself to memorize the exercises, transcriptions, songs, arrangements, or etudes that you are working on.  Try to recognize patterns and organize the music into larger sections mentally to make this process easier.  Try spending time memorizing some "Modern Rudimental Swing Solos For The Advanced Drummer" ala Philly Joe and Kenny Washington.



Shout Part 2: Setting Up the Hits

As promised in my last post on playing shout sections, here is one of the exercises from my forthcoming book "Melodic Syncopation" that has helped me develop my ability to set up hits.  Try this out for yourself and let me know what you think!

Papa Jo #7

Here is a great recording of Basie playing "Splanky" for reference (shout section starts around 3:00):

I will try to get some video of me playing the exercise sometime in the near future.  



Transitions 5: Dynamic transitions

Dynamics add tension
Today's post is going to focus on moving between dynamics to build tension.  In the video above (featuring Bill Heid on keys and Kris Funn on bass), check out how the transitions from loud to soft at 1:07 and again at 2:13 build tension by upsetting the expectation of a loud climax.  This upset expectation, and the tension that comes from it are one of the fundamental elements of almost any kind of music.  The longer you can delay resolving this tension, the more intense the emotional response from your audience will be.  In the video, the dynamic tension in the song doesn't really resolve until the very end. 

Will they get together or not?
It's just like a sitcom
Tension and release works in almost any art form.  One example of this that may help explain the importance of tension and release is the sitcom.  In order for a sitcom to work there has to be some kind of central tension that never gets fully resolved.  The reason people continue to watch and enjoy these shows is that they want to find out if and how this tension will finally be resolved.  As soon as the central tension is resolved, the story is over. In music the same principle applies, so waiting to resolve dynamic tension until the climax of a piece is crucial. 

As a drummer, your job is to set the dynamic range of the music.  If you play loud, everyone else kind of has to.  With that in mind, if you can exercise the restraint necessary to hold back the bashing impulse, you will find that when you do finally release that impulse, the effect will be dramatically heightened.  

How to develop good dynamic transitions
In addition to just restraining yourself dynamically, you can further build tension if you can move smoothly between loud and soft playing.  The reason this transition is important is it  tricks the listener into expecting a climax like in the two examples mentioned at the top.  The following are some ways to develop this in your own playing.

1.  Listen
These dynamic transitions don't work if only one person in the group is doing them, so you have to listen very carefully to try to anticipate what direction the dynamics are going.  

2.  Give clear cues
If you try to do something dramatic with no warning, you can often lose your group, so always try to broadcast your intentions.  This doesn't necessarily mean that you have to play an obvious cue, it can be as simple as a quick verbal exchange or even just eye contact.  

3.  Practice playing dynamic transitions with a metronome
Playing soft and playing loud do not feel the same, and this can result in the time getting really wonky when you are making this transition.  It is worth practicing just  playing time with the metronome and switching rapidly between loud and soft (maybe four bars of each) to overcome this tendency.  

4.  Listen to the greats
All of my favorite musicians use dynamic transitions in their music to great effect.  One example that springs to mind is Art Blakey in the song "One By One":

These historical examples are useful not only as inspiration, but as a way to learn what other people expect.  If you study the greats, you will insure that your vocabulary is in sync with other musicians so you can communicate more easily.   

I will also try to post a good exercise that I developed for dynamic transitions some time in the near future. 



Using Melody In A Solo Part 2

The advantages of using the melody in a solo
In my previous post on this idea, I discussed two of the advantages of using the melody of a tune as the basis for improvisation.  The first advantage of this approach was how it unifies the sound of the song and makes everything more cohesive, and the second advantage was how it gives you an idea to work with and respond to instead of trying to create the whole solo from nothing.  In today's post I want to discuss a third potential advantage to this kind of soloing, using the example of "Chief Crazy Horse" by Wayne Shorter above.

Pepe is the man!
Inviting people into your solo
The third potential advantage of using the melody in a solo is how it can help invite other musicians to participate in your solo.  In the example above you can hear how my bandmate, the fantastic Pepe Gonsalvez, comes back in with the bass line of the song at around :48.  This in turn sets up a cool dialogue between the two of us which gives my solo a more varied and interesting character.  Not only that, when I quote the bass line at the end of my solo, it gives the band a way to transition seamlessly back in to the head out.

Of course, you never know exactly what is going to happen when you are improvising.  But if you strive to keep the character of the melody alvie in your solos, you will help to contribute to the conditions necessary for continuous interaction with your fellow musicians.  In essence by playing this way, you give your bandmates something that they can recognize, which invites them to participate in your solo musically.

If you want people to communicate with you, you have to try to speak the same language!
I have often heard other drummers complaining that everyone always cuts out during their drum solos,  and never seem to know when to come back in.  Although I think this is often a fair complaint, instead of just seeing this as an insurmountable obstacle, try using musical vocabulary like the melody that you know your bandmates will recognize to invite them to participate.  Once you invite them into your solo by speaking a language they recognize, they will be confident enough to participate, or at the very least come back in the right spot!  As it is, often times the reason that nobody will play during a drummers solo is that it seems like what the drummer is playing  is not fundamentally related to the song.  

Try using this approach for yourself, you will be surprised by what can happen! 

The original melody




In today's post I wanted to talk about a part of the song that prominently features the drums, the aptly named shout section!  This is generally the climax of an arrangement, and is usually the spot where a drummer is given space to cut loose.  Although the conventions of the shout section were developed in big bands, the same ideas can apply to smaller ensembles.  The following are some good general strategies and ideas for playing a great shout.

1.  Study the greats
You may notice that I almost always bring this up whenever I am talking about learning the drums.  That is because not listening to the music you want to play and then expecting it to sound great is like expecting to be able to write poetry if you were raised by a pack of wolves.  How would you even know where to begin?  You have to have a frame of reference, a sound in your ear, before you can really aspire to produce anything great.

I mentioned this in an earlier post, but every great drummer in the history of the instrument has spent a considerable amount of time just trying to absorb what previous drummers have done.  If you still need convincing, here is how the great Tony Williams put it:

"You know the reason I play the way I do is because, when I first started playing, all I ever wanted to do was to sound like Max Roach, was to sound like Art Blakey, was to sound like Philly Joe Jones, was to sound like Louis Hayes, was to sound like Jimmy Cobb, was to sound like Roy Haynes. I really wanted to figure out why they sounded the way they did. I wasn’t interested in my own style. So I set about playing like these guys religiously, and playing their style because it was just such a wonderful, magical experience."

That being said, here is a classic example of some great drummers playing great shout sections to get you started:

-Mel Lewis on "The Groove Merchant" (starts around 7:26)

-Ed Thigpen on "Night Train" (starts around 3:42)

-Jeff Hamilton on "Squatty Roo"  (starts around 9:11)

Notice that even though each of these drummers is playing a shout section, they all approach it differently depending on the musical situation and their own personal musical voice.  One thing they have in common is that they all catch and set up the hits with the band, play great fills, all while swinging they're butts off!

2.  Learn the arrangement/song
Many times (although not always) playing situations that involve shout sections will also involve charts.  Your responsibility as a drummer is to get as confident with the arrangements as possible so that you can lead the band through the songs.  This inevitably means memorizing or learning the charts by ear as much as humanly possible.

This guy is about to learn a valuable lesson.
Reading a chart is just like reading a map when you are trying to drive somewhere.  They both can help you make important decisions at key moments, but you still have to keep your eyes on the road and your ears on the music.  If your head is buried in a map when you are trying to drive, you are going to die  Although you probably won't die from having your head buried in a chart, the music will certainly suffer.

Once you know how to get somewhere, you don't need a map anymore, and you can devote your concentration on just driving.  In the same way, the sooner you can get away from the chart and just focus on the music, the better the music will be.

I will post some more advice and exercises for developing shout playing skills in the near future. 



Transitions Part 4: Switching Between Soloists

Two Main Approaches
Transitioning between soloists is one of the most important parts of keeping the momentum of a song alive.  In my first transitions post I discussed the basic choice of every transition, whether to emphasize or de-emphasize it.  This choice gives you two distinct approaches for dealing with this particular transition.  Either you can try to carry the energy and mood of one solo into the next, de-emphasizing the transition by making it smooth, or you can create  dramatic contrast between one solo and the next, thereby emphasizing the transition.  Both approaches can be effective, it is just a matter of finding the appropriate time to use them based on where you feel the music is going. 

1.  The Smooth Transition
The main danger of this kind of transition is that the music will get monotonous.  If there is not enough contrast in the music, you will lose your audience.  That being said, this type of transition can also lead to some of the most exciting and uplifting musical exchanges.  

One of my all time favorite examples of this type of smooth transition is on the album "Live At Birdland" going from McCoy Tyner's solo to John Coltrane's on the tune "Afro Blue" (around 4:50):


Whooooeeeeee!!  McCoy's solo seems to be climbing and climbing, and just when you think it could not possibly get any higher, Coltrane comes soaring in.  The effect of this transition is so powerful it is nearly overwhelming! 

2.  The Contrasting Transition
The main danger of this type of transition is the the contrast will be so strong that it will derail the song and the soloist.  If you do not handle this type of transition with great care and musicality, you will also lose your audience.  On the other hand, this type of transition can also lead the music in exciting new directions, and give a soloist a whole new angle to work from. 

In the following clip, the bass player (the wonderful Blake Meister) and I create a really open and subdued sound at the start of the new solo at 3:22.  As you can hear, this contrast allows the music to breathe.

General Strategies
No matter whether you are going to emphasize or de-emphasize the transition between soloists, here are a couple of things that you should always do:

1.  Switch ride cymbals- This is a simple way to subtly alter the vibe of the music without really changing too much.  Changing ride cymbals gives the music a slightly different sonic palette, helping to prevent fatigue in your audience.

2.  Listen-  One of the great challenges of transitioning between soloists is to be able to adapt to the new soloist as quickly as possible.  The more focused your listening, the easier and smoother this process will be.  


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The Instrument Is An Illusion

You are the instrument!
I wanted to share this video with you guys because I feel like Mr. Galper's concept of the the musician being the actual instrument is incredibly important.  There are two extensions of this idea that I think are particularly relevant and useful for drummers.

1.  It doesn't really matter what kind of drums you are playing
You are going to sound like yourself, no matter what you are playing.  

Exhibit A: Eric Harland still sounds just like Eric Harland, even though he is playing on a pile of metal

This can either be discouraging or encouraging depending on your perspective, but either way it is the truth.  I see and hear fellow drummers spending an extraordinary amount of time, energy, and money on their "gear".  Often times drummers come up to me after shows, and the first question they ask is, "What are you playing?".  My typical response is, "Jazz".   

This is not a glib or sarcastic response, it is genuine.  I don't really think that much about my drums, they are very secondary to the music in my perspective.  So when someone asks me a question like that, my response is always the first thing that comes to mind.  

Just to be clear, I do think that a nice instrument can help you sound and feel better about your playing.  I distinctly remember the pleasure of playing my first gig with my beautiful Bosphorous ride cymbal.  I am not trying to say that your instrument doesn't matter at all, rather, that no instrument is going to make you sound different than you.  If you want to get better, worry about practicing harder, not about your "gear".  

2.  Mental Practice
One of the big logistical problems that drummers face is finding practice space that can accommodate our noisy, noisy instrument.  People go to incredible lengths to sound proof rooms, commute ridiculous lengths to use space, or even invent new instruments like electronic drums to overcome this problem.  All of these are valid and important solutions.  But the big point that Mr. Galper is making in the video above is that the most important practice has to occur in your mind.  

Mental practice is something that can be done at any time and in any place.  One good example of productive mental practice is trying to transcribe something aurally away from the drum set.  Essentially, trying to sing, memorize, and map a solo onto the drum set entirely in your mind.  Although this can be an incredibly frustrating way to practice at first, you will be amazed how much progress you can make away from the drums.

Again, just to be clear, actually physically playing on the drum set is still vitally important.  The point here is that mental practice is something that can both augment your available practice time, as well as develop your skills when you can't get to the drum set.  I will try to post some examples of mental exercises that I use some time in the near future. 

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Double Strokes Around the Drum Set

Double Strokes Around the Drum Set
The written out versions of everything in the video are below.  I just wanted to mention that I originally got this double stroke exercise from an excellent drummer I met in Japan named Junji Hirose.  Also, thanks to Todd Bishop at Cruise Ship Drummer for his recent post that got me thinking about inverted double strokes.  Hope you enjoy the video/idea, and as always, feel free to leave any questions or comments below!  Double Strokes Around the Drum Set



Listen To Eachother!

Just a quick thought today about one of my favorite Kieth Jarrett trio moments captured on film.  If you go to around :35 into this clip you can clearly see Keith reacting to Jack DeJohnette's super slick transition into the solo section.  From my perspective it looks like Keith is almost surprised by what he hears, and decides to just listen instead of play for almost a whole chorus!  Ask yourself how you would react in a situation where you hear something surprising.  Would you have even been aware enough to hear what was happening?  Would you have tried to just play through it?  For me this is a truly inspiring example of group interplay and listening, hope you enjoy it. 

Also, for more great drum/piano interplay check out the trading 8's starting around 6:45. 



Ballads: Grown Folks Music

Why don't we talk about ballad playing?
Ballad playing seems to be one of the most mysteriously under-discussed topics amongst drummers.  If you are going to be a professional musician in nearly any genre of music, you are going to have to learn how to play a ballad whether you want to or not.  So simply avoiding the topic is not an option. 

Perhaps the reason this topic is avoided is because the role of the drums in a ballad tends to be particularly understated/supportive.  You are not going to be the focus of attention when you are playing a ballad.  However, that in no way means that what you are playing (or not playing) isn't important.  On the contrary for a group to really pull off a ballad, what the drummer plays is key! 

Thoughts on how to approach a ballad

1.  Attitude
Don't be this guy
The first thing that matters when you are playing a ballad is your attitude.  You should never approach a piece of music as a chore.  Playing music as if you are being forced to is selfish and immature.  Here is a relevant quote from Art Blakey, "Music washes away the dust of every day life."  Music isn't just about you and your feelings, it is also always about your audience.

For me this is not an issue, because I really love playing ballads.  I am much to sentimental of a person not to get swept up in a beautiful ballad like "Sophisticated Lady" in the clip above.  I see playing a ballad as a unique opportunity to play the drums romantically.  You may be this kind of person as well, but regardless of your personal feelings, always remember to serve the music and the audience you are playing for. 

Do be this guy
2.  Play supportively
If you start with the attitude I described above, approaching a ballad as an opportunity to play romantically, then this step will follow naturally.  You should always strive to fit your playing to the mood of the song, so play as quietly, slowly, and in as legato a fashion as possible.  Don't try to fill every space, and only come up in volume or density of notes when the music calls for it.

This doesn't mean you that you should just play quietly and sparsely no matter what happens.  If you feel like the music is increasing in intensity, go for it!  Remember that loudness doesn't equal intensity.  In other words, you can play quietly and with real passion.  Listen to Chris Grasso's elegant piano intro, or Kriss Funn's beautiful bass solo starting around 2:03 for some examples of quiet but passionate playing. 

3.  Some specific ballad techniques
Nothing is more personal or subjective than brush technique, and this is particularly true in a ballad context.  That being said, here are some general pointers:

-You want a full sound that still accents the rhythm, so try to use the whole snare drum.  I use an outward motion almost like swimming breast stroke to accomplish this.  I will try to a video on this in the near future.

-Your bass drum and hi-hat need to come way down in a ballad.  Even though I normally play the hi-hat with my heel up to get a nice aggressive, "Blakey-esque" chick sound, on a ballad I almost always play with my heel down. 

-Speaking of the hi-hat, you should try to incorporate comping with the hi-hat and using the hi-hat splash.  The hi-hat splash is a great sound in general, but because of it's legato texture it works particularly well in a ballad.  You can hear me using these throughout the video. 

-Some soloists like to go to double time in their solos, some do not.  In the video, Kriss stays with the original feel, whereas Chris moves to double time.  I tend not to assume that a soloist wants to go to double time until I actually hear them playing some double time ideas.  Some drummers  launch into double time as soon as the solos start, but I have found that this can get you into trouble more often than it is worth.  This can be a delicate dance, so just rely on your ears and you will be ok.  You can even hear how we go briefly to a latin feel during Chris's solo at 4:43!  

-Endings on ballads tend to go to rubato, so listen carefully in the last A section.  The person playing the melody will generally cue the ending by slowing down.  In general you want to stop playing and give the melody time to wind down before playing a nice final swell, preferably with mallets.  You can watch this type of ending happen in the video for more clarity.

-Try incorporating brush "rolls" where you sweep the brush rapidly from side to side.  You can hear me play a brush roll going into the bass solo at 1:59.  This is a useful technique for a ballad because it can make a dramatic statement without being too loud.  Check out Jeff Hamilton doing this in his brush solo at 2:28:

4.  Get some ballad vocabulary
This should go without saying, but if you haven't checked some great masters of ballad playing, now is the time.  Here are some recommendations to get you started:

-Bill Charlap trio with Kenny Washington



Trading 4's Using Syncopation

Summary of the exercise
1.  Starting on pg. 34, play the written line with a swinging eighth note interpretation (on the beat = first note of a triplet, off the beat = third note of a triplet) and also play jazz feet throughout.

2.  Play continuous triplets with the written line as accents.

3.  Play continuous triplet rolls with the line as accents (each unaccented note of the triplet gets doubled).

4.  Play all eighth notes from the written line as accents on the snare drum, and all quarter notes or more on either the hi-tom or floor-tom, depending on which hand is playing them.  

5.  Pick one rhythm that you particularly enjoy and memorize it.

6.  Play four bars of time and then four bars of the rhythm you chose.

7.  Sing the melody of "Blue Monk" while trading fours with yourself, try to start transitioning from the rhythm back to time with some improvisation in the fourth bar.  

8.  While trading fours with yourself and singing "Blue Monk", play the written rhythm for two bars and improvise a response for two bars. 

Here are the steps of the exercise written out:
Trading 4's With Syncopation

Philly Joe Jones
If you want to learn some great vocabulary for trading 4's, Philly Joe is your man.  Here is a post I did about Philly Joe's 4's just recently.  I would recommend checking out the song "Billy Boy" from the album "Milestones" for a wealth of great 4's to learn from:

The Dawson Book
Here is a link to the Dawson book that I recommended in the video.  Alan Dawson was not only an incredible teacher, but he was also a great drummer!  Check him out with Sonny Rollins:

"Blue Monk"
Here is the melody that I am using in the video:



Papa Jo #3: Letting Your Phrases Breathe

Here is the exercise: Papa Jo #3 
Incidentally, this approach of singing your lines is an effective technique for any instrumentalist looking to get more space into their playing! 



Philly Joe #11: Trading 4's and 8's with the Melody

How to practice trading 4's
I have had a number of conversations recently about how to practice trading 4's, so I wanted to share an exercise from my forthcoming book "Melodic Syncopation" that I give to my students who are struggling with this issue.  I have found that this exercise is so effective because even though it is difficult at first, it gets as close as possible to simulating actual performance.  Here it is:
Philly Joe #11

And here is the suggested recording for this exercise (remember to learn the melody first):


I will try to post some video of me playing this exercise some time in the near future.



Trading In a Latin Tune

Four Pieces of Advice for Developing Your Latin Trading

1.  Study the greats
In order to build your vocabulary you need to spend a great deal of time listening to, absorbing, and trying to imitate some great players.  Two people that I referenced strongly in my trading in this case were Roy Haynes and Terreon Gulley.                                                                                            
In the trading on the bridge you can hear me play some very "Haynesy" ideas between my hands and my foot.  The basic idea I am using is playing groups of three eighth notes, two on the hands and one on the foot, and then orchestrating this around the drum set.  This is the famous diddit-n-diddit-n that Roy uses very frequently in his playing: 

The Terreon Gully reference comes in the last eight that I play when I keep the stick-shot going and improvise around it, something I first heard Terreon do:

Of course, when I am actually playing I am not making these references consciously, it is something that just comes naturally from doing a lot of listening.  If you try to self-consciously force references to other drummers into your playing it will generally come out as stilted and awkward.  

2.  Have a Musical Conversation
Successful trading solos between instruments is a really clear example of musical conversation. When each musician is listening to and responding to the others, a really exciting and vibrant dialogue can emerge.

Spoken conversation is a useful analogy here, since all the dynamics and etiquette of that type of  conversation apply to musical conversation as well.  The first and most important component of any conversation is of course listening.  I have emphasized the importance of listening over and over in this blog because of this.  If you have ever had a conversation with someone who clearly isn't listening to you, and just says what they are going to say regardless of your response, you understand how important listening really is.  Communication is just not possible without good listening.

In the video at the top you can hear how I am listening and responding to the other instruments.  One example of this is how I keep my soloing largely in regular time the first time around, and move to a more double-time feel in the second exchange based on what the other instruments are doing.   Another example of this is how I come way down dynamically in the last exchange, as well as keep the groove on the snare drum to match what the pianist (the great Bill Heid again) did in his solo. 

3.  Remember what song you are playing
In my earlier post about what I call the two songs of jazz I brought up the central importance of always hearing both the "song" of your collective improvisation, as well as the actual pre-composed song.  This plays a big role in successful trading, particularly in songs with somewhat unusual form like "Triste".  If you can't hear were you are in the form you won't know how to anticipate what is coming up next, and can lead to lots of stumbling and confusion on the bandstand.  Notice how we go back to the four bar tag before the bridge and at the end of the last A section in the video, and how I tried to set that section up to make the trading flow. 

4.  Two specifically latin techniques
In latin tunes two techniques that I use very frequently are timbale style sounds (lots of rim-shots on an open snare drum) and more straight eighth/sixteenth note ideas.  Using these techniques helps keep the vibe of the song alive, and provides some nice contrast from more straight-ahead jazz vocabulary.  That is not to say that you can't use your straight-ahead jazz vocabulary in a latin tune and vice-versa, but using these somewhat latin specific techniques is at least a good place to start learning to trade appropriately.

To develop some of this latin technique I use some exercises built on Ted Reed's "Syncopation", as well as some other exercises I have designed specifically for this purpose.  I will try to post some these some time in the near future.  

Left handed brush to stick transition
One other really quick note, you may notice that in the very beginning of the video I play the ride cymbal briefly with my left hand while reaching for my sticks with my right.  I got the idea for this style of brush to stick transition from my great new teacher Chuck Redd.  In certain situations it can be very slick, try it for yourself!



Uptempo Jazz 7: Fast Brushes Continued

Just a quick observation
I had to share today's video because you get to see one of my favorite contemporary drummers Greg Hutchinson playing some uptempo brushes with one of my all-time favorite versions of the Ray Brown trio featuring Benny Green.  If you go to around 1:23 you can see his pattern really clearly, and he seems to be following the Kenny Washington/Papa Jo style described in previous posts on the topic. Greg gets a really beautiful, clean, and swinging brush sound at this tempo.  Also check out the great drum breaks starting around 1:50, the slick stick-to-brush transition at 5:26,  as well as the superb dynamic sensitivity throughout.  Enjoy!

If you want to hear more of this amazing band check out the album "Live At Scullers".  Here is one more blazing version of the tune "Tanga" from the video above, this time with Jeff Hamilton on drums:




The Shuffle!
In today's post we are going to discuss how to play one of my favorite grooves of all time, the shuffle!  The best thing you can do to start learning how to shuffle is to get acquainted with it's sound.  Starting a blog post about the shuffle with anything other than "Moanin'" is borderline heretical, so start listening and playing along here.

This song is basically the definitive recorded shuffle, so listening to and trying to imitate Art Blakey should be your starting point.  The other person to listen to to get your bearings is Mel Lewis.  Here is his famous shuffle on "The Groove Merchant":

Notice that neither one of these guys is overplaying, one of the many temptations when playing a shuffle.  Even though their groove is incredibly driving and strong, they are playing to the ensemble and staying dynamically balanced at all times.  Notice how much Mel drops down at :47 for example!  

What is a Shuffle?
There are as many different versions of the shuffle as there are different genre's of music, and everyone has their own personal style.  I am not here to start any pedantic debates about what is and is not a shuffle, I will just explain my take on what I hear drummers like Blakey and Mel doing in a jazz context.  

Essentially a shuffle is the basic jazz groove embellished with a strong back-beat on the snare drum.  The snare drum part is the real key to making the shuffle work.  To fit your snare drum part into the ride cymbal groove even more tightly, you can play light/ghosted eighth notes on either side of the back-beat (the "+" of beats 1 and 2), or even continuous eighth notes.  The overall effect of the shuffle is a continuous stream of eighth notes with a strong accent on beats 2 and 4.

Building up the dumb cousin
Your non-dominant hand is always going to behave like a dumb cousin of your dominant hand.  So playing a groove that is so left hand intensive is a great way to build up your weaker side.

Todd Bishop has a detailed break-down of how to develop your left hand shuffle pattern using accented flamacues over at his outstanding blog Cruise Ship Drummer!.  Practice his exercise to develop your left-handed accenting technique so that you can play the shuffle confidently at a range of tempos.

One other great exercise for developing the left hand shuffle part is to work on developing your Moeller stroke.  For those of you who are not familiar with the Moeller stroke, here is a video of me playing my Moeller warmup:

The basic idea is that the Moeller stroke is very closely related to the left hand shuffle, particularly in the way you have to prepare the accent with an upstroke and then release it.  In the video you will see me playing at a much slower tempo, so I use a much larger motion with a lot more arm.  In a shuffle this motion will come down almost entirely into the wrist, and even though the rhythm of the shuffle is slightly different than the Moeller stroke, the feeling is very similar.

How to use the shuffle: the "grease threshold"
One of the biggest misconceptions about the shuffle is that it is an either/or type of groove.  Either a song is a shuffle, or it isn't.  In my experience, this is not the case.

The shuffle can be an effective technique for building momentum in a song, or a great way to add some variety to different solos.  Even if the song doesn't start or end as a shuffle, there is no reason not to use a shuffle at some point in the song as long as it fits.  I think of this as a sort of "grease threshold" for every song.  When you hear a soloist digging into the groove and playing the most soulful/bluesy/nasty things they can think of, going to a shuffle feels almost inevitable.  This is a hard concept to explain, but a relatively easy one to hear.  Here is the great Bill Heid breaking through the "grease threshold" starting around :48:

I will try to post some more shuffle exercises in the near future.