Thursday, December 31, 2009

John Hollenbeck & The Claudia Quintet Wish You A Happy New Year !

A double dose of good concerts here today at Four on The Floor, in the spirit of ringing in the New Year.

Here's a killing concert from Europe featuring drummer/composer John Hollenbeck and his Claudia Quintet:

Hollenbeck is an exceptional contemporary drummer and composer, first introduced to me by Montreal bassist Miles Perkin and Brandon University professor Greg Gatien. Unfortunately I don't know much about his music but look forward to checking out much more of his music in the near future. During my time at the University of Toronto, Paul Read also hipped to several of his large ensemble projects. I understand that he was a disciple of Bob Brookmeyer's and really seems to be at the forefront of contemporary "jazz" composing (I'm not even sure he would call his music "jazz", not that that really matters!) I really dig how "in tune" he is with the sounds he and his musical counterparts are making and how they are able to manipulate a soundscape. The guy really knows how to listen ! Quite a minimalist compositional influence in there as well.

Looking forward to more Hollenbeck in 2010.

Herbie Hancock a Vienne

Some ridiculous concert footage today with Herbie Hancock leading an all-star band from 2004.

This band consists of:

Herbie Hancock - piano
Wayne Shorter - tenor & soprano saxophones
Dave Holland - bass
Brian Blade - drums

Whoaaa !!!

(Brian Blade has obviously been eating his chowder....)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Turkey & Corn Chowder

Here's a new favorite recipe to use up your leftover turkey from Christmas. There were only four of us over for Christmas dinner this year and the smallest free range turkey we could find was 19 lbs (!) so we've got a fair amount of leftover turkey meat sitting in the fridge.

Here's a very friendly recipe if you are into soups:

Turkey & Corn Chowder

1 onion
2 celery stalks
2 green onions
3 garlic cloves
1/2 green or red pepper (optional)
2 cups of diced potatoes
2 cups of water
2 cups of milk
1 chicken bullion cube
1 can of creamed corn
2 cups of leftover turkey

Fry up the diced onion, garlic and celery in a large pot with some butter. Simmer.

Add water, chicken bullion cube and potatoes. Allow to boil until potatoes are cooked and soft.

Add turkey (in small pieces), diced green onions, milk, corn and diced green pepper. Mix well and allow to cook at medium heat for 8 - 10 minutes. Stir occasionally. Add pepper to taste.

Enjoy !


An important drummer we should all check out and recognize is Kenny Clarke. "Klook" (as he was nicknamed) was one of the most influential jazz drummers of his time and revolutionized jazz drumming by focusing his method of timekeeping on the ride cymbal (as opposed to the hi-hat or snare drum). Klook was THE bebop drummer of his time and laid the foundation for future jazz drummers to follow. Later establishing himself in France for a good portion of his life, he remained an influential drummer on the European jazz scene.

One of the first jazz records I ever obtained when I was a kid had Kenny Clarke on it. My jazz combo teacher at the time, Brenda McAlpine, recognized that I was struggling with trying to figure out what jazz drummers to listen to. So she went to the Regina Public Library, took out a stack of LPs and made me a series of cassettes of things to check out. An album that she gave me and STILL influences me to this day was "Kenny Clarke Meets The Detroit Jazzmen", a very swinging date featuring Kenny Clarke with a host of jazz musicians originally from Detroit including: Tommy Flanagan, Paul Chambers, Pepper Adams and Kenny Burrell. His cymbal playing, brushwork and TIME on that album is really something else ! One of my desert island albums, for sure.

Once I attended McGill University as an undergraduate student, studying Kenny Clarke's ride cymbal beat was standard fare around those parts and required material assigned by my teachers Chris McCann and Andre White. My friend Jesse Cahill, who was also a student at McGill at the time, was really into Klook and would often hip me to different albums and things to check out.

Furthermore, when I studied with drummer Terry Clarke in Toronto a couple of years ago, one of my assignments was to read the Mike Hennessy biography entitled "Klook: The Story of Kenny Clarke". Unfortunately this great book is out of print, but if you dig around you might still be able to find it. Took quite a bit of detective work on my part, but I'm glad was able to track it down. This book is an excellent insight into the life and music of one of jazz drumming's iconic figures.

Here's some of my favorite footage of Klook that is floating around youtube.com. The following is some great music with Clark Terry and tenor saxophonist Barney Wilen (I would like to know more about this guy! Is he still alive?):

Here with Sonny Stitt, J.J.Johnson and Howard McGhee in a tribute to Charlie Parker:

And here with a long time musical associate of Klook's, Bud Powell:

Kenny Clarke fronted a number of his own groups while living in France (of course, one most notably being the Clarke/Boland big band) and had a number of steady engagements at several prominent Parisian jazz clubs during his time overseas.

Here he is playing with one of his small groups featuring George Gruntz on piano and other European musicians:

Monday, December 28, 2009

Louie Bellson - Gone But Not Forgotten

Drummer Louie Bellson, who sadly passed away earlier this year, was one of my first early influences as a jazz drummer. In my early teens I would often listen to a late night jazz program on CBC Radio entitled "Easy Street" hosted by Margaret Pacsu. This program was a great introduction into the world of jazz music. The format of the program would often focus on retrospectives of specific jazz artists, usually from the swing & big band era. I still have many of the cassette tapes I used to dub those programs in real time ! One such episode that had a profound impact on me featured the career of drummer Louie Bellson.

I was lucky to see Bellson play in person, with his L.A. big band, at the 1995 IAJE conference in Anaheim, California. His drumming was impeccable and he drove his band with taste and an uncompromising sense of swing and musicality. I was also to witness a tour-de-force drum feature that lasted well over 15 minutes ! Louie pulled out all the stops and I'll always remember that concert. Afterwards I met Louie outside the theatre where he was signing autographs and posing for photos at his merchandise table (!) I still have my autographed Louie Bellson "dish towel" around here somewhere (yes, I am serious!) Bellson was a complete gentlemen as I shook his hand and he thanked me for my kind words.

Here are a few of my favorite clips of Bellson doing this thing:

Bellson featured with the Duke Ellington Orchestra:

And here, with his own big band from the Cork Jazz Festival circa. 1980:

A couple of nice clips showing Bellson soloing in the studio:

And here's another EPIC Louie Bellson drum solo that features him with brushes, sticks, "jingle" sticks and, at one point, four sticks (two in each hand!):

Here's one from a 1957 date in Europe with saxophonists Benny Carter and Coleman Hawkins:

Thanks Louie !

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Victor Feldman

I've been enjoying this album quite a bit these days. A great straight-ahead date featuring Victor Feldman on vibraphone and piano, supported by the "Original Original" Stan Levey on drums and Scott LaFaro on bass. This album actually represents the only album I've ever heard LaFaro play on outside of the Bill Evans trio dates !

*Note that in addition to being a great vibraphonist and pianist, Victor Feldman was a very accomplished drummer as well (!) Yep, he was one of THOSE guys...maybe he's related to Don Thompson !

Here's a couple of samples from that album:

Some brisk tempos there ! Smooth sailing...

Speaking of which...
Stan Levey looks quite cute in the sailor hat, wouldn't you agree ? Of course, I would never have said that to his face back in the day. Stan, in addition to being one of the greatest bebop drummers of his time (at one point he was Max Roach's roomate!), he was also a very competent boxer and didn't take any crap from anyone !

But I did actually meet Stan Levey at the 2005 IAJE convention in Long Beach, California and he was very nice to me then (sans the sailors cap of course!). He had a booth promoting a great DVD documentary produced about his life entitled:
"Stan Levey: The Original Original"

Check that out here: www.stanlevey.com

Anyways, back to Victor Feldman, there is also some nice live footage floating around youtube of Feldman in action:

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Tony Williams Quintet

Some footage today of one of the great Jazz quintets to come out of the 1980s & 90s, The Tony Williams Quintet, featuring:

Tony Williams - drums
Wallace Roney - trumpet
Billy Pierce - tenor saxophone
Robert Hurst - bass
Mulgrew Miller - piano

I consider myself very fortunate to have attended a drum clinic with Tony Williams about fifteen years ago, at an IAJE conference in Anaheim, California. Tony began his clinic with a very looooooong and awe-inspiring drum solo to a room packed full of students, educators and jazz legends. He then proceeded to give many honest answers to questions from the audience regarding everything from his tenure with Miles Davis to his technical approach to the drums.

In fact, I remember one humorous anecdote from that clinic in which someone asked Williams to describe his approach to brush playing. "Brushes?", exclaimed Williams, "I make a better spaghetti sauce than I play the brushes !" Tony Williams then proceeded to describe his favorite recipe and I wish I had written that down at the time...Incidentally, I must imagine that his sauce must be pretty damn good considering that I think his brush playing to be amazing by all accounts ! (check out his great brush playing on his Blue Note album entitled "Spring" for an example of some fine Tony Williams brush playing)

Anyways, that was quite an inspiring experience for a young jazz drummer at the time, such as myself.

I really dig Tony's yellow Gretsch drums with the three-floor tom configuration. Never did figure out those big black dots on the drumheads, though. However, he sure made them sound great !

Friday, December 25, 2009

Jazzy Chocolate Guinness Cake

A Christmas dessert tradition in my house !


1 cup Guinness
1 cup butter
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter or spray a bundt pan well. Bring 1 cup stout and 1 cup butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Transfer cake to rack and cool completely in the pan.

1/4 cup Guinness draught stout
4 Tbs brown sugar
2 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Mix sauce ingredients in a small saucepan and heat over low heat until smooth. Allow to cool.

1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
1 1/4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Bring cream to a simmer in a small saucepan. Turn off heat and stir in chocolate until sauce is smooth and creamy.

Apply ganache, vanilla ice cream and sauce to cake.

Drink leftover Guinness.

Enjoy !

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Jo Jones - Born To Swing

Well, one more post here before we put on our Santa's Christmas hats and break out the eggnog (among other beverages!)

This segment is from a 1970s documentary entitled "Born to Swing" and followed a studio recording reunion date featuring several alumni members of the Count Basie band from the 1930s. There is some great footage of the great Papa Jo Jones here. Check out his brushwork around the 5:28 mark. It's unbelievable how HIGH his brushes are coming off the drum head at that tempo !!! In my opinion, that's just scary...

Furthermore, can you imagine having Jo Jones as your own personal drum teacher ? (as seen in the video) Well, I can dream can't I ? From what I understand, Elvin Jones and Tony Williams were also teaching out of Frank Ippolito's Manhattan drum shop around that time (!)

Anyways, here's a few more amazing shots of Jo Jones in action:

Some people are quick to dismiss this style of drumming as old and irrelevant nowadays. But I think it swings like mad and we should all be very lucky to even come close to capturing the joyous feeling that Mr. Jones was able get out of a set drums !

'Twas The Night Before Christmas...Jazz Style !

All of us here at the Four on The Floor international headquarters would like to wish a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.

Here's the great Satchmo himself narrating a Christmas classic for your enjoyment:

Thank you to fellow blogger Peter Hum at the Ottawa Citizen for finding this one. Check out Peter's superb blog www.jazzblog.ca for lots of great online jazz journalism.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Joey Baron gets in the Holiday Spirit

Well, actually - in my opinion - Joey Baron ALWAYS plays with the energy and enthusiasm of a little kid opening his presents on Christmas morning...

I thought would post some of my favorite Joey Baron clips today. His energy and ridiculous musicality and sound on the drums always slays me. The first time I heard Baron play was at the Village Vanguard in the year 2000, the opening night of Dave Douglas's run at the famous club, performing music from his album "Soul on Soul" (playing the music of Mary Lou Williams). Baron's musical and joyous approach to the drums left a deep impression on me and I've been a fan ever since.

I remember my friend leaning over to me during one of Baron's finer moments and asking: "Is this what is know as being "tastefully" loud ?"
I had to chuckle at that.

The following is a brilliant improvised drum solo tour-de-force:

Here's Joey playing with Joe Lovano on tenor saxophone, performing John Coltrane's classic "Impressions":

Some great footage of Baron with John Zorn's Masada Band
(with Dave Douglas on Trumpet):

What a great band !!!

And finally, some great career advice from Joey Baron courtesy of the kind folks down at Drummer's World in New York City:

Check out a recent interview with Baron at allaboutjazz.com:


Man, all this great playing makes me want to shave my head and tape my cymbals !

Monday, December 21, 2009

More Brush Patterns with Clayton Cameron

Some more great brush patterns today (or "brush rudiments") from drummer Clayton Cameron. Clayton has taken some basic snare drum rudiments and, with the brushes, incorporated sweeping and slide strokes into the patterns. A fresh take on some stock and important rudiments.

Unfortunately there is only video footage for each example, and each one goes by pretty quickly, however you can refer to Cameron's great book (and companion DVD) entitled "Brushworks" for further instruction on each of these patterns and diagrams that explain each one.

Enjoy !


And on an unrelated note...

Sign #251 that the Apocalypse will be soon upon us:

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Jeff Ballard pours some Jive Coffee

Some nice playing today from drummer Jeff Ballard, featured with Brad Mehldau on piano, Peter Bernstein on guitar and Larry Grenadier on bass.

I notice that on footage such as this (and many other jazz concerts that pop on youtube) that it was recorded for a television station labled 3 Sat. I'm assuming that this is a European cable network (?) Props to them for producing such wonderfully recorded concerts featuring the modern jazz masters of our time at work. I think that the CBC and other Canadian television networks could take a page from their book and follow their example and feature Canadian jazz on network television like this.

In two parts, here's Ballard in action on Peter Bernstein's 5/4 swinger, "Jive Coffee":

And here's another great performance from that concert- a spirited jaunt on Thelonious Monk's "We See":

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Matt Wilson Christmas

Getting with the xmas spirit, today at Four on the Floor we bring you a Christmas themed lecture/recital from the brilliant New York jazz drummer and master improviser, Matt Wilson. This concert was produced by Brooklyn Jazz Wide Open, an organization dedicated to promoting live jazz in the Brooklyn area.

First, a nice improvised drum solo, complete with the requisite xmas jingle bells. Notice how Matt gets such a lovely sound out of the drums (of course, his nice Craviatto drums certainly help!) and his sense of melodic phrasing and rhythmic design is really musical:

And next, a brief lecture and demonstration by Matt on how he conceptualizes improvisation. Some real deep and honest ideas from Wilson here:

I quite enjoyed this. Here Matt performs an improvised duet with a 4 1/2 year pianist from the audience. Great !

And of course, it's xmas time so here's a nice 4/4 uptempo version of Vince Guaraldi's Charlie Brown Christmas classic "Christmas Time Is Here":

Friday, December 18, 2009

Abraham Adzenyah "Let Your Voice Be Heard"

During the summer of 1997 I attended my first jazz workshop at the Banff Centre for the Arts located in the mountains of Banff, Alberta (Canada). For those who don't know, the Banff Centre has hosted a very unique series of annual jazz workshops since 1974. For more information about the excellent jazz opportunities at the Centre, this link will get you started:


Now, I've have since returned to the Banff Centre on numerous occasions since then and I've always left inspired and recharged afterwards. However, my inaugural experience in 1997 was really quite special, especially because I had the opportunity to learn from one particular individual that summer: Abraham Adzenyah

Abraham is a Master drummer from Ghana who teaches West African drumming and dance at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Dave Holland was the artistic director of the Banff Summer Jazz Workshop during the 1980s and introduced Adzenyah and his rhythmic teachings into the program.

Years ago I read an interview with Dave Holland about the workshop and why he felt it was so important to include a faculty member such as Adzenyah and the study of West African drumming. I'm paraphrasing here but I remember Holland expressing that he felt that is was crucial that students of jazz music understand the African rhythmic roots of jazz music, study rhythm from a perspective of physical expression and, finally, to balance out all the study of contemporary jazz harmony that was occurring. Additionally, Holland felt that the drumming and dance component was a great way to "break the ice" among the participants and bring everyone together (seeing as people would come from different parts of the world and different musical communities to attend.)

Here is a clip of Abraham Adzenyah with his Wesleyan ensemble and I think you can really sense the energy and great spirit that he brings to the music:

*If you search youtube you'll also find several examples of Abraham demonstrating various traditional Ghanaian percussion instruments for a project known as the "Virtual Instrument Museum" (unfortunately the embedding was disabled so I can't link them here!)*

In 1997, while Hugh Fraser was running the show, studying West African drumming AND dancing (!) was a great experience for me and one that I greatly value to this day. My teacher at the time at McGill University, Chris McCann had studied with Adzenyah and I later found out that jazz drummer Ed Blackwell had also collaborted with him during his tenure teaching at Wesleyan. The members of the world-renowned percussion ensemble NEXUS had also been serious students of Abraham's teaching so I knew I was in good hands !

In the following two video clips, you can see drummer Ed Blackwell playing and,I think, you can get an idea of how Blackwell infused a West African vibe into his contemporary/New Orleans/Bebop jazz drumming sound:

Lots of Max Roach in there too... : )

Abraham Adzenyah also co-wrote an excellent book with Royal Hartigan entitled "West African Rhythms for Drumset". This book is a great resource that breaks down various Ghanaian rhythms and demonstrates how to apply them to the drum set. I would recommend this book as a great place to start if you are a drum set player and interested in learning about African rhythms:

I would highly recommend that any serious student of jazz music (not just drummers!) check out some West African music and it's rhythmic language. These rhythms are the roots of what we do as jazz musicians. I have since continued my studies of West African drumming and spent last year working with another Master drummer, the great Kwasi Dunyo, at the University of Toronto while completing the residency portion of my Doctoral degree at the U of T. Kwasi was another inspiring musician that I feel very fortunate to have studied with and I view my time with him as somewhat of a continuation of my experience of studying with Adzenyah.

Abraham Adzenyah was an inspiring person to learn from and I will always remember the passion and dedication that he expressed behind the words of the traditional Ghanaian folk song that he taught us:

"Let Your Voice Be Heard"

Great words to live by !

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Elvin Jones Independence Exercises

About ten years ago I had the opportunity to hear the great Elvin Jones give a masterclass in Montreal, Quebece at the Salle Gesu concert hall. It was part of a clinic "tour" sponsored by Yamaha and consisted of a series of clinics in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. Check out the photo at the very bottom of Elvin decked out in his Habs jersey !
(go leafs)

It was a brilliant clinic on so many levels. Jones talked at length about his career, his influences and his experience playing with John Coltrane among other things. He also played quite a bit and demonstrated his approach to using the rudiments (in a very loose, march-like context that only Elvin can pull off), his brushwork, his soloing with mallets and his loose, broken approach to timekeeping in 3/4. It seems like just yesterday that Jones passed away, so I consider my lucky to have seen Elvin as many times as I did.

Lucky for us, Elvin even went as far as to describe some of his technical concepts in great detail, actual exercises that he had worked on that allowed him to develop his unique, revolutionary and highly influential style of jazz drumming. I wasn't really expecting Jones to be so specific in explaining his technique so this all took me by surprise at the time. The following exercises are from notes I took as best as I could and from my memory.

1) Elvin's Inner Triplet Exercise:

The first patterns that Elvin demonstrated deal with different ways that he voiced inner triplet subdivisions around the drum set in the context of the jazz ride cymbal rhythm. By exposing and giving more attention to those inner triplets, it serves to help open up and stretch the beat quite a bit. This is something Elvin was renowned for.

Play the following pattern with the Right hand on the ride cymbal, filling in the missing triplets on the snare drum with the Left hand:

The basic sticking pattern resembles this:


The next pattern is the Left hand snare drum pattern/inner triplet pattern isolated:

So this is the pattern that we are going to concern ourselves with within the context of the ride cymbal pattern.

While playing the steady ride cymbal rhythm, play the inner triplets in the following sequences (or "cells" as I like to call them) between the Left hand, hihat and bass drum using the inner triplet rhythm from above:

S = Snare drum
B = Bass drum
H = Hihat








This is what the first four variations would look like:









Repeat each of these cells or mix them up (as illustrated above) but the key is to keep the ride cymbal pattern steady and maintain a constant and even linear triplet pattern between the limbs. It's a relatively easy pattern but you'll find - as Elvin demonstrated (of course in a much more simpler manner !) that these different variations distort the time and stretch the beat in very interesting ways.

*Another nice variation that I discovered today is to play all the variations I described above with Brushes on the snare drum (i.e. with both hands on the snare drum) Try to incorporate some sore of sweeping motion with the Left hand while playing these patterns*

2) Elvin's Polyrhythmic Exercise

The following is a pattern that Elvin described as the foundation for his poly-rhythmic approach to the drums. Light bulbs were going off in the audience as he played this !

The hand pattern looks like this:

Basically you are playing the jazz ride cymbal rhythm with the Right hand while playing quarter note triplets on the snare drum with your Left. However the quarter note triplets don't start on the downbeat and instead start on the second eighth note. This pattern implies a displaced 3 against 2 polyrhythm.

Here is the displaced quarter note triplet rhythm isolated:

Once you've got that down with the hands, add the following bass drum and hihat pattern underneath.

This is the tricky part !

While the hihat is only playing beats 2 & 4, the bass drum is playing dotted quarter notes in a cycle that last 3 measures of 4/4 time. This pattern represents a 2 against 3 polyrhythm, but on a larger scale. So when you add the hands and feet together you will get two different layers of polyrhythms happening at the same time. It takes a bit of time to get together but it's highly effective when you do. Elvin used this pattern all the time and you can hear him playing it on such albums as Sonny Rollins' "A Night at the Village Vanguard" and my favorite Lee Konitz record "Motion".

I hope my explanation of these exercises has been clear enough : )

Thank you Elvin.

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:

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Johnny Vidacovich

Some great clips today of New Orleans drummer Johnny Vidacovich. Specifically, some footage of Johnny explaining the rhythmic roots of modern American music and its intrinsic relationship to the drumming and musical heritage of New Orleans. Most people don't realize that New Orleans was not only the birthplace of Jazz music but that the musicians of the Crescent City have also influenced and shaped other styles of American music as well. And Johnny Vidacovich is a master drummer who truly understands this musical heritage.

Some of Vidacovichs esteemed former students include drummers Brian Blade and Stanton Moore. Montreal jazz drummer John Fraboni also lived in New Orleans a number of years ago and studied with Vidacovich. Fraboni talked about his experience in New Orleans at Peter Hum's jazz blog at the Ottawa Citizen. Here's a link to that article:


Fortunately there is quite a bit of material over at youtube with examples of Vidacovich demonstrating his mastery of New Orleans drumming and how it relates to not only Jazz, but other styles of music as well - especially Funk.

Here's a couple of clips of Johnny Vidacovich in a master class at New York's Drummer's Collective where he discusses some phrasing concepts on the drums:

And another clip of Johnny V further demonstrating his knowledge of New Orleans "Second Line" drumming:

Vidacovich frequently performs with his longtime modern New Orleans Jazz group, the "Astral Project", and here is a clip of Johnny doing his thing with this great band:

The following clips are quite lengthy but there is lots of great information here.

Check it out !

To learn more about Johnny Vidacovich and his music, stop by his website at:


Friday, December 11, 2009

Japanese Jazz Opera

Can someone PLEASE explain this one to me ???

wow wow wow....

Can you hear that sound ?
Yep - that's Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk.....TURNING IN THEIR GRAVE !!!

Courtesy of Bob McLaren in Toronto.

Kenny Washington & 100 Posts !

Well, today is a bit of milestone here at Four on the Floor with this being my 100th post since this blog's inception last spring. I would like to thank all the people who have e.mailed me regarding my blog and commented on my content. Thank you all for your encouraging words and I'm looking forward to continuing with my posts regarding jazz drumming and all things unrelated in the time ahead.

Someone asked me when I was going to start selling my own "Four on the Floor" t-shirts (a la Darcy James Argue & The Secret Society) but I think I'm going to wait on that one for awhile (!)

In the meantime, enjoy some playing by the fine (and, in my opinion, underrated!), Kenny Washington on drums.

First, with the critically acclaimed Bill Charlap trio with Peter Washington on bass:

And here's a nice solo feature with Kenny demonstrating his exceptional brush work:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Francisco Mela

Francisco Mela is another Cuban-born jazz drummer that I've been obsessed with lately. After leaving Cuba, he apparently spent some time in Toronto and Boston before establishing himself in New York. I quite enjoy his style and approach and I would describe him as somewhat of a Cuban version of Brian Blade (!) He plays frequently with Joe Lovano's two-drummer band US FIVE (with the other drummer being Otis Brown III) and Kenny Barron as well as his own groups.

I find his aggressive style to be engaging, however I've always been intrigued with his straight-ahead jazz approach and, for a born and raised Cuban guy, the not-so-obvious Cuban influence in his playing. Although, I'm SURE that it's in there ! This isn't a comment on his musicianship or anything - it's just I notice that his Cuban roots aren't quite as obvious in his playing as compared to other Cuban-born jazz drummers such as Ignacio Berroa and Dafnis Prieto. The guy REALLY swings !!!

And I really dig this (!) and think he's really quite the drummer. Just more proof that Jazz music really is a "Global" music....

*I should back track here....some of his original music clearly demonstrates a Cuban folkloric influence and this is very cool, but I think Mela is also a drummer very well steeped in the modern jazz language*

Here's a clip of Mela in action last summer at my old jazz haunt in Toronto, the Rex Jazz & Blues Bar:

Boy, I really miss those Rex hamburger's...they don't go easy on the garlic!

And below, another clip of Mela performing in South America (?):

Courtesy of Drummer's World (a great drum shop located in Manhattan), Mela talks a bit about his approach and philosophy in regards to ride cymbal playing:

Here Francisco is featured with his own group at the New York jazz club Small's. Fransisco Mela, like Dafnis Prieto, is also an accomplished composer and has a couple of acclaimed albums to his credit. In this footage you can dig Mela doing his thing on the nice house Canopus bebop kit:

And here's some footage of Mela playing with another frequent employer of his, pianist Kenny Barron:

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Afro-Cuban Drumming with Dafnis Prieto

A few nice clips today featuring some lessons on Afro-Cuban drumming from a master class given by Cuban-born drummer Dafnis Prieto. Dafnis is a literal force in the contemporary latin jazz scene. His coordination and innate understanding of Afro-Cuban rhythms is quite astounding. In the following short lessons, Prieto demonstrates some basic rhythmic concepts:

I was quite lucky to see Dafnis Prieto perform on several occasions during my time in Toronto, including performances with Roberto Occhipinti and Prieto's own groups. I have fond memories of Prieto tearing it up at the Trane Studio on Bathurst Street and a great clinic he have up at Soul Drums. Good times. He is also a very accomplished composer and I highly recommend anyone to check out his own projects. In particular, his debut album "About The Monks" is a personal favorite of mine.

Here's a nice solo performed by Dafnis courtesy of the kind folks at the LP Latin Percussion company:

The following is a clip from his clinic at the 2008 PASIC convention. Watch how he demonstrates his uncanny rhythmic "independence" and ability to manipulate rhythms within the context of the clave rhythm:


Monday, December 7, 2009

Lewis Nash with Joe Lovano & John Pattitucci

Some bad ass brush playing today from master drummer Lewis Nash playing in trio with some of my favorite musicians:
Joe Lovano and John Patitucci.

Joe recently had an accident in Europe and, I believe, broke both his arms (!)

Lovano has always been one of my favorite contemporary jazz saxophonists and he really understands the jazz tradition inside and out. He isn't afraid to push his boundaries and explore the musical unknown while at the same time reflecting and respecting the history of jazz saxophone. Certainly a great role model for all of us young, aspiring jazz artists.

He's also a REALLY good drummer (most great jazz tenor players are !!!) and I discovered this when I had the opportunity to play with Joe about ten years ago. Apparently he's got quite the collection of gongs and sounds a bit like Elvin Jones when he plays. Funny, most of the tenor players I know who play the drums.....all sort of sound like Elvin !!! (i.e. Michael Brecker, Dave Liebman, etc.)

There is certainly a lot to be said for all instrumentalists learning a bit of drums to help improve their sense of rhythm and time. Studying the piano has long been a standard practice for music majors. Isn't it about time that everyone who studies jazz should be required to pick up a pair of sticks and learn some basic concepts of jazz drumming? Obviously guys like Lovano, Brecker and Liebman have all figured this out ! Anyways, this could be the beginning of a rant that maybe I'll save for later (ha!). I still need to get some more practicing in today...

Get well soon Joe !

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Jim Black

I first heard drummer Jim Black about 15 years ago in Montreal when he would come to town and perform with guitarist Ben Monder's trio. They usually played at the now defunct "L'Air du Temps" jazz club in Old Montreal and usually to a very small audience (!) But encouraged by my fellow McGill drum students at the time - Karl Jannuska, Stefan Schneider and Mike Schula - I would always check out Jim Black's unique approach to music whenever I had the chance.

At the time I was very much into checking out and copping my favorite hard-bop drummers, so to experience Black's contemporary style that draws from so many different stylistic sources and angles was quite a departure and wake-up call for me ! One thing that immediately knocked me out was the sound of his drums - low and "rock" like, how dry and metallic his cymbals were and his use of extra little percussion instruments. I think his hihats were splash cymbals ? Anyways, Black was one of the first real New York drummers that I got to check out during the mid-90s.

Ben Monder would also frequent Montreal several times a year around this time to play with Montrealers Andre White (drums) and Brian Hurley (bass). Those gigs will always remain very significant musical moments for me. They played almost exclusively standards, but Monder's harmonic and textural approach to playing these tunes was unlike anything and anyone else I'd ever heard before. Monder is also featured on White's debut album "Signal" and most people don't believe me when I play it for them and reveal that it's Monder on guitar !

Anyhow, here's a few clips of Jim Black doing his thing.

Here's Black in a drum solo spot, apparently dedicated to someone named "Charlie":

A great version of Ornette Coleman's "Broadway Blues" with Black, Julian Arguelles and Irish bassist Ronan Guilfoyle:

Unfortunately the video quality is crap, but the music below is SMOKIN' with Jim Black joined by Dave Liebman on tenor saxophone and, again, Ronan Guilfoyle on bass at New York's 55 Bar:

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Some Technique Exercises

Having been on the road for a good portion of the past two months, my Real Feel practice pad got a good workout during my travels. It's important to keep in shape while traveling and always a challenge to come up with things to work on that challenge both the technical and creative aspects of being a drummer without the benefit of shedding on an actually drum set. I always bring a pair of sticks and some form of drum pad with me whenever I'm on the go.

Here's a few exercises I've been working on:


This is something that John Riley showed me, that Joe Morello had showed him.

Take the first few pages of Stick Control and apply the following stickings:



So the first line of Stick Control (RLRL RLRL) would look something like this:


A double stroke sticking (RRLL RRLL) turns into this:


A single paradiddle sticking (RLRR LRLL) would look something like this:



A variation I came up with uses the same concept but uses triplet stickings instead:



So then a double stroke sticking (RRLL RRLL) would turn into this:


And a paradiddle sticking (RLRR LRLL) would look like this:


* For all these exercises and variations, put an accent > on the beginning of each paradiddle/triplet *

Ya' dig ?

Here's the first few lines of Stick Control to get you started:


I always have to keep in mind that hand technique is important - but it's not music (!) So when I'm working out on my drum pad, I always make sure to address some exercises that at least have me thinking about time keeping and swinging.

One thing I like to do is a play a medium tempo swing ride cymbal pattern with my Right hand and go through some different triplet variations against that with the Left hand. I try to get it to swing and feel as "triplety" as possible.

Check out this youtube clip of Ulysses Owens demonstrating his pre-gig warmup, as he basically does the same thing as I do: