Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dennis Mackrel and "On Staying Relaxed..."

Some nice footage today of drummer Dennis Mackrel featured here on a latin-inspired trio version of Wayne Shorter's "Footprints" with vibraphonist Dave Samuels also featured here on marimba:

Dennis is a great jazz drummer that I've admired for some time whose experience includes a very wide and impressive range of artists that he's played with. Mackrel has backed up the likes of the Count Basie Orchestra, Tony Bennett, Dizzy Gillespie, George Shearing and the Maria Schneider Orchestra (just to name a few!).

A few years ago I caught Dennis performing with Canadian tenor saxophonist Kirk MacDonald at the Yardbird Suite in Edmonton (for some reason they weren't playing in Calgary, where I was living, so I made the trek north - and I was glad that I did). I knew of Mackrel as mostly a great big band drummer but was pleasantly surprised to hear him play in a very open and modern trio format with MacDonald. I believe that Dennis was a last minute sub for Joe LaBarbera (?) and he sounded great and fit the situation and supported the music perfectly. And Kirk was really stretching the music that evening too !

That particular group of Kirk MacDonald, Dennis Mackrel and Neil Swainson (on bass) also played a weekend in Toronto later during the fall of 2007, but I had to miss that one because the Grey Cup was on that weekend in Toronto (yes - priorities!!!). I'm hoping that this group will record sometime soon...

One thing I really admire about Mackrel's drumming is his very loose and flowing physical approach to the drums. The clip above - particularly during the drum solo near the end of the video - I think demonstrates that very well. You can really get a sense of his "rubbery" motion and I really dig that. His motions are loose and flowing - and so is his drumming.

I never saw Mel Lewis play in person, but I hear lots of similarities in their relaxed feel and how that translates into a vocabulary with such a great sound and feel. In fact, I believe that Mackrel has played with the Vanguard Orchestra in the past - so perhaps he and Mel were friends back in the day (?)

A loose and relaxed style is something that I've been consciously trying to incorporate into my playing ever since I started my undergrad studies at McGill University in 1995. When I was in high school, I was a very "tense" drummer and it took me a long time to unlearn several bad technical drumming habits that I had picked up during my youth. My drum line training was great for gaining an immense rudimental vocabulary but I've had to seriously address the nature of my stick grip and basic strokes since then. I'm convinced that part of the key to developing a great feel on the drums is by gaining the ability to play the appropriate patterns in a relaxed manner. Look at Steve Gadd !

However, I think I've made a lot of progress in this regards over the years. Awhile back I was playing a session with Toronto trumpeter Chase Sanborn and he called a blistering, breakneck, up tempo version of Cherokee. Afterwards, while everyone was wiping the sweat from there foreheads, Chase asked out loud: "Jon, how do you appear to keep so relaxed at those fast tempos?".

I replied: "It's all a scam !!!"

Well, maybe not entirely (haha) but I do think that, for playing fast tempos anyways, that proper breathing, posture, a relaxed grip (as much as you can at a fast tempo) and thinking in longer phrases all helps in creating that relaxed fast tempo "scam".

It also helps to listen to this guy:

No comments:

Post a Comment