Thursday, April 30, 2009

It's Hammer time !

Tonight I heard Diana Krall and her quartet perfrom at Massey Hall in Toronto. I originally had a ticket to see Charlie Haden's Quartet West last week (which I was very, very much looking forward to - I heard them in Calgary last summer and they were outstanding, especially Rodney Green on drums) but the show was cancelled so I used my credit to see Krall instead.

I probably would have opted to see Brad Mehldau or Ornette Coleman next fall, but I'm moving back to Calgary very soon and wanted to use my ticket credit before I leave.

However...the ever musical and hard swinging Jeff Hamilton was playing drums with Diana Krall's band and he swung hard and gave it his all from the very first note. It was awesome.

His sense of swing, great touch on his cymbals and, of course, his impeccable brush work was really something else. My seat was in the front row of the balcony, directly stage left - so I had the best seat in the house (for a drummer!) and had a perfect and unobstructed view of Hamilton's drumming. Every nuance, cymbal tap and brush stroke. It was like a drum lesson.

Here's a few videos that I came across that show what a swinging monster Jeff Hamilton is on the drums:

And don't forget about the limited edition, Jeff Hamilton "Man of Action" action figure !

(credit goes to Kristin Korb for this one...)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Jon plays some drums and pretends to be Art Blakey !

I spent the afternoon today in the recording studio playing with the University of Toronto Jazz Outreach Ensemble. I've been playing with this group all year and acted as a teaching assistant for the ensemble. The mandate of this group has been to go out into schools in the GTA and spread the good word that is jazz music (or as Prof. Gordon Foote calls it: "Stomping out Jazz ignorance"!)

Here's a clip of me playing on the tune "Mosaic" written by Cedar Walton, originally recorded by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers back in the 1960s.

I recorded this on my Flip handheld video recorder, set-up next to the drums.

For any drum geeks out there, the drum solo starts around  the 6 minute mark : )

I should also like to add what a pleasure it's been playing with this fine ensemble all year.
Specifically I would like to thank the following people for all their fine musicianship and hard work:

Patrick Boyle - trumpet
Brendan Cassidy - alto
Ben Dietschi - tenor
Anthony Rinaldi - bari
Robin Jessome - trmbn
Nathn Hiltz - guitar
Rob Fekete - piano
Mark Godfrey  - bass

Also a special thanks to Chase Sanborn who oversaw the band and did an excellent job today acting as our producer and as the "man in the booth". He kept everyone relaxed and focused. It was a fun session and I'm quite looking forward to hearing the results.

I hope this video clip loads properly.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

mmmm...Food ! 2.0

Seeing that spring is here and barbque season is nearly upon us, check this one out.

My brother in North Carolina has already got his "que" started and showed me this.

Any hamburger fans out there will enjoy this variation of the cheesburger:

The Juicy Lucy

Basically, you cook your burger with the cheese INSIDE in the meat patty.
Maybe not so cool if you are a vegetarian.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Elvin Jones

Here's some Elvin Jones to get the weekend off to a good start : )

That's Toronto's own Pat LaBarbera on soprano saxophone !

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Only in New York...

I love it how the fact that a pink gorilla and cookie monster are playing ragtime on a NYC subway platform and yet most of the commuters are completely unfazed and indifferent to this !

Monday, April 20, 2009

mmmm...Food !

My other favorite pastime besides jazz and drumming is eating.

My brother sent me this recipe for an interesting Spanish dish called Paella.

If anyone makes this and gets sick, I take no responsibility!

Looks pretty good though...



* 1/4 cup good olive oil
* 1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion (2 onions)
* 2 red bell peppers, cored and sliced into 1/2-inch strips
* 2 tablespoons minced garlic (4 to 6 cloves)
* 2 cups white basmati rice
* 5 cups good chicken stock, preferably homemade
* 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, crushed
* 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
* 1 tablespoon kosher salt
* 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
* 1/3 cup licorice-flavored liqueur (recommended: Pernod)
* 1 1/2 pounds cooked lobster meat
* 1 pound kielbasa, sliced 1/4 to 1/2-inch thick
* 1 (10-ounce) package frozen peas
* 1 tablespoon minced fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
* 2 lemons, cut into wedges


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Heat the oil in a large ovenproof Dutch oven. Add the onions and cook over medium-low heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the bell peppers and cook over medium heat for 5 more minutes. Lower the heat, add the garlic, and cook for 1 minute longer. Stir in the rice, chicken stock, saffron, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper and bring to a boil. Cover the pot and place it in the oven. After 15 minutes, stir the rice gently with a wooden spoon, and return it to the over to bake uncovered for 10 to 15 more minutes, until the rice is fully cooked.

Transfer the paella back to the stove top and add the licorice-flavored liqueur. Cook the paella over medium heat for 1 minute, until the liqueur is absorbed by the rice. Turn off the heat and add the lobster, kielbasa, and peas and stir gently. Cover the paella, and allow it to steam for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with the parsley, garnish with lemon wedges, and serve hot.

Put on Miles Davis/Gil Evan's "Sketches of Spain" and enjoy !

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Some Rudiments To Practice...

I came up with these variations on the rudiment commonly known as the "Swiss Army Triplet."
Tony Williams was known for his creative use of this pattern around the drum set during the 70's.

I just recently figured out how to create drum parts and notation on Sibelius after having this great program on my computer for almost seven years now !

So I'm pleased to share my first attempts with you.


The basic idea is that you make the last note of each swiss army triplet an accented flam.

Consequently, the lead hand ends up playing a steady stream of eighth notes with an accent on the first beat.
It's a bit of a chop buster so take it slow and relax.

I'm not an expert, but I think these would be good patterns to apply the Moeller stroke to a rhythmic pattern.

(I'm going to see JoJo Mayer give a clinic next month so I'll see then what he reveals about the fabled "Moeller" stroke)

I've written out this pattern four different ways.

1) Triplets - Right Hand Lead

2) Triplets - Left Hand Lead

3) Eighth Notes - Right Hand Lead

4) Eighth Notes - Left Hand Lead

Okay, now go get your drum pad and get to work !

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Ali Jackson Jr. on Nintendo's Wii Music

I thought this was great.

Ali Jackson Jr. (fine drummer with the Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra and Wynton Marsalis) demonstrates a music game for Nitendo's Wii.

He also talks about what it means to swing - which he even manages to do with a video game !


Ali Jackson, Jr. on Wii Music from Ali Jackson on Vimeo.

Here's another of clip of Ali playing some mean ass brushes with Wynton Marsalis.
I think they are playing "Blue n'Boogie" from the Miles Davis Album "Walkin" ?


Ali Jackson with Wynton Marsalis Quintet (10/05) from Ali Jackson on Vimeo.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Lewis Nash vs. Bobby Hutcherson

Two of my heroes going at it on "Solar"

I think I'm going to go practice now...


Lewis Nash Trading Fours

Thursday, April 16, 2009

It's all about the Moves...


Check out this guy's crazy moves !


Okay...now on a more serious note....here's some Tony Williams from 1972 with Stan Getz, Stanley Clarke and Chick Corea.
Check out the expression on Stan Getz's face after Tony is done his solo !


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Place Of Music In Society

Someone sent me this great speech given to the freshman class at the Boston Conservatory as given by Karl Paulnack, pianist and director of music division at Boston Conservatory:

"One of my parents' deepest fears, I suspect, is that society would not properly value me as a musician, that I wouldn't be appreciated. I had very good grades in high school, I was good in science and math, and they imagined that as a doctor or a research chemist or an engineer, I might be more appreciated than I would be as a musician. I still remember my mother's remark when I announced my decision to apply to music school-she said, "You're WASTING your SAT scores." On some level, I think, my parents were not sure themselves what the value of music was, what its purpose was. And they LOVED music, they
listened to classical music all the time. They just weren't really clear about its function. So let me talk about that a little bit,
because we live in a society that puts music in the "arts and entertainment" section of the newspaper, and serious music, the kind your kids are about to engage in, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with entertainment, in fact it's the opposite of entertainment. Let me talk a little bit about music, and how it works.

The first people to understand how music really works were the ancient Greeks. And this is going to fascinate you; the Greeks said that music and astronomy were two sides of the same coin. Astronomy was seen as the study of relationships between observable, permanent, external objects, and music was seen as the study of relationships between invisible, internal, hidden objects. Music has a way of finding the big, invisible moving pieces inside our hearts and souls and helping us figure out the position of things inside us. Let me give you some examples of how this works.

One of the most profound musical compositions of all time is the Quartet for the End of Time written by French composer Olivier Messiaen in 1940. Messiaen was 31 years old when France entered the war against Nazi Germany. He was captured by the Germans in June of 1940, sent across Germany in a cattle car and imprisoned in a concentration camp.

He was fortunate to find a sympathetic prison guard who gave him paper and a place to compose. There were three other musicians in the camp, a cellist, a violinist, and a clarinetist, and Messiaen wrote his quartet with these specific players in mind. It was performed in January 1941 for four thousand prisoners and guards in the prison camp. Today it is one of the most famous masterworks in the repertoire.

Given what we have since learned about life in the concentration camps, why would anyone in his right mind waste time and energy writing or playing music? There was barely enough energy on a good day to find food and water, to avoid a beating, to stay warm, to escape torture-why would anyone bother with music? And yet-from the camps, we have poetry, we have music, we have visual art; it wasn't just this one fanatic Messiaen; many, many people created art. Why? Well, in a place where people are only focused on survival, on the bare necessities, the obvious conclusion is that art must be, somehow, essential for life. The camps were without money, without hope,without commerce, without recreation, without basic respect, but they were not without art. Art is part of survival; art is part of the human spirit, an unquenchable expression of who we are. Art is one of
the ways in which we say, "I am alive, and my life has meaning."

On September 12, 2001 I was a resident of Manhattan. That morning I reached a new understanding of my art and its relationship to the world. I sat down at the piano that morning at 10 AM to practice as was my daily routine; I did it by force of habit, without thinking about it. I lifted the cover on the keyboard, and opened my music, and put my hands on the keys and took my hands off the keys. And I sat there and thought, does this even matter? Isn't this completely irrelevant? Playing the piano right now, given what happened in this city yesterday, seems silly, absurd, irreverent, pointless. Why am I here? What place has a musician in this moment in time? Who needs a piano player right now? I was completely lost.

And then I, along with the rest of New York, went through the journey of getting through that week. I did not play the piano that day, and in fact I contemplated briefly whether I would ever want to play the piano again. And then I observed how we got through the day.

At least in my neighborhood, we didn't shoot hoops or play Scrabble. We didn't play cards to pass the time, we didn't watch TV, we didn't shop, we most certainly did not go to the mall. The first organized activity that I saw in New York, that same day, was singing. People sang. People sang around fire houses, people sang "We Shall Overcome". Lots of people sang America the Beautiful. The first organized public event that I remember was the Brahms Requiem, later that week, at Lincoln Center, with the New York Philharmonic. The first organized public expression of grief, our first communal response to that historic event, was a concert. That was the beginning of a sense that life might go on. The US Military secured the airspace, but recovery was led by the arts, and by music in particular, that very night.

From these two experiences, I have come to understand that music is not part of "arts and entertainment" as the newspaper section would have us believe. It's not a luxury, a lavish thing that we fund from leftovers of our budgets, not a plaything or an amusement or a pass time. Music is a basic need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, one of the ways in which we express feelings when we have no words, a way for us to understand things with our hearts when we can't with our minds.

Some of you may know Samuel Barber's heartwrenchingly beautiful piece Adagio for Strings. If you don't know it by that name, then some of you may know it as the background music which accompanied the Oliver Stone movie Platoon, a film about the Vietnam War. If you know that piece of music either way, you know it has the ability to crack your heart open like a walnut; it can make you cry over sadness you didn't know you had. Music can slip beneath our conscious reality to get at what's really going on inside us the way a good therapist does.

I bet that you have never been to a wedding where there was absolutely no music. There might have been only a little music, there might have been some really bad music, but I bet you there was some music. And something very predictable happens at weddings-people get all pent up with all kinds of emotions, and then there's some musical moment where the action of the
wedding stops and someone sings or plays the flute or something. And even if the music is lame, even if the quality isn't good, predictably 30 or 40 percent of the people who are going to cry at a wedding cry a couple of moments after the music starts. Why? The Greeks. Music allows us to move around those big invisible pieces of ourselves and rearrange our insides so that we can express what we feel even when we can't talk about it. Can you imagine watching Indiana Jones or Superman or Star Wars with the dialogue but no music? What is it about the music swelling up at just the right moment in ET so that all
the softies in the audience start crying at exactly the same moment? I guarantee you if you showed the movie with the music stripped out, it wouldn't happen that way. The Greeks: Music is the understanding of the relationship between invisible internal objects.

I'll give you one more example, the story of the most important concert of my life. I must tell you I have played a little less than a thousand concerts in my life so far. I have played in places that I thought were important. I like playing in Carnegie Hall; I enjoyed playing in Paris; it made me very happy to please the critics in St. Petersburg. I have played for people I thought were important; music critics of major newspapers, foreign heads of state. The most important concert of my entire life took place in a nursing home in Fargo, ND, about 4 years ago.

I was playing with a very dear friend of mine who is a violinist. We began, as we often do, with Aaron Copland's Sonata, which was written during World War II and dedicated to a young friend of Copland's, a young pilot who was shot down during the war. Now we often talk to our audiences about the pieces we are going to play rather than providing them with written program
notes. But in this case, because we began the concert with this piece, we decided to talk about the piece later in the program and to just come out and play the music without explanation.

Midway through the piece, an elderly man seated in a wheelchair near the front of the concert hall began to weep. This man, whom I later met, was clearly a soldier-even in his 70's, it was clear from his buzz-cut hair, square jaw and general demeanor that he had spent a good deal of his life in the military. I thought it a little bit odd that someone would be moved to tears by that particular movement of that particular piece, but it wasn't the first time I've heard crying in a concert and we went on with the concert and finished the piece.

When we came out to play the next piece on the program, we decided to talk about both the first and second pieces, and we described the circumstances in which the Copland was written and mentioned its dedication to a downed pilot. The man in the front of the audience became so disturbed that he had to leave the auditorium. I honestly figured that we would not see him
again, but he did come backstage afterwards, tears and all, to explain himself.

What he told us was this: "During World War II, I was a pilot, and I was in an aerial combat situation where one of my team's planes was hit. I watched my friend bail out, and watched his parachute open, but the Japanese planes which had engaged us returned and machine gunned across the parachute chords so as to separate the parachute from the pilot, and I watched my friend drop away into the ocean, realizing that he was lost. I have not thought about this for many years, but during that first piece of music you played, this memory returned to me so vividly that it was as though I was reliving it. I didn't understand why this was happening, why now, but then when you came out to explain that this piece of music was written to commemorate a lost pilot, it was a little more than I could handle. How does the music do that? How did it find those feelings and those memories in me?

Remember the Greeks: music is the study of invisible relationships between internal objects. This concert in Fargo was the most important work I have ever done. For me to play for this old soldier and help him connect, somehow, with Aaron Copland, and to connect their memories of their lost friends, to help him remember and mourn his friend, this is my work. This is why music matters.

What follows is part of the talk I will give to this year's freshman class when I welcome them a few days from now. The responsibility I will charge your sons and daughters with is this:

"If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing appendectomies, you'd take your work very seriously because you would imagine that some night at two AM someone is going to waltz into your emergency room and you're going to have to save their life. Well, my friends, someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft.

You're not here to become an entertainer, and you don't have to sell yourself. The truth is you don't have anything to sell; being a musician isn't about dispensing a product, like selling used Chevies. I'm not an entertainer; I'm a lot closer to a paramedic, a firefighter, a rescue worker. You're here to become a sort of therapist for the human soul, a spiritual version of a chiropractor, physical therapist, someone who works with our insides to see if they get things to line up, to see if we can come into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well.

Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music; I expect you to save the planet. If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don't expect it will come from a government, a military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that's what we do. As in the concentration camp and the evening of 9/11, the artists are the ones who might be able to help us with our internal, invisible lives."

This very much very reminds of what Art Blakey used to say:

"Jazz music washes away the dust of everday life!"

Monday, April 13, 2009

Music I'm Listening To These Days...

People often ask me what music I am listening to.

Here's some albums that have been making the rounds lately:

Eric Dolphy    
"Out To Lunch"  
Tony Williams (drums)
Bobby Hutcherson (vibes)

Jason Marsalis  
"Music Update"  
David Potter (drums) Jason Marsalis  (vibes)

Jeff "Tain" Watts  
Jeff "Tain" Watts (drums)

Rob Fekete  
Anthony Michelli (drums)

Karl Berger  
Ed Blackwell (drums)

Duke Ellington & Ray Brown

Clark Terry  
"Serenade To A Bus Seat"   
Philly Joe Jones (drums)

Joshua Redman  
"Blues For Pat"  
Billy Higgins (drums)

The Blue Note 7
"Mosaic - A Celebration of Blue Note Records"
Lewis Nash (drums)

Joe Lovano
"Trio Fascination"
Elvin Jones (drums)

Joshua Redman Trio
"Back East"
Ali Jackson Jr. & Brian Blade (drums)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Jon McCaslin Vibraphonist ?

Much to my surprise I discovered how much I enjoy playing the vibraphone about 3 years ago.

I had two experiences in 2006 that convinced me to take up this metal beast. First, while teaching at the Sasktel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival I had the opportunity to hear the great Bobby Hutcherson and his quartet (with Canadian ex-pat Renee Rosnes on piano, Dwayne Burno on bass and the under-rated Eddie Marshall on drums). Hutcherson is a contemporary of Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams and that whole 60's crew. That concert, held in the old Broadway Theatre in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan will forever be one of the most memorable musical experiences I've ever witnessed.

Fast forward to the fall of 2006 and I found myself in Havana, Cuba participating in Aldo Mazza's KoSa Cuba Percussion Workshop. A bunch of us wandered down to some basement jazz club one night and heard an amazing young vipraphonista by the name of Tamara Castaneda. WOW !!! The best description I can use is to imagine a cross between Gary Burton and Chucho Valdez. I think she's done some work with the Afro-Cuban All-Stars but other than that I don't think she has done anything outside of Cuba. I bought her CD (which was obiviously homemade) but unfortunately it didn't work once I brought it back to Canada. She was amazing and I hope to hear more of her in the future.

So once I returned to Calgary I rented a vibraphone for several months and decided I wanted to take a serious look at this amazing instrument. Vibraphonist Arnold Faber was nice enough to give me a few lessons to get me started and my fellow percussionists Bob Fenske and Malcolm Lim gave me some suggestions to deal with the technical side of things.

Since moving to Toronto in the fall of '07, I've since acquired my own beautiful vintage M-55 set of vibes and have studied with percussionist John Brownell and improvisation with jazz pianist Gary Williamson.

I've even put together a fun band that gets together on a weekly basis, comprised of jazz musicians playing their "second" instruments. The "Goat" band, as our drummer puts it, is made up of myself on vibraphone, Tom Van Seters on drums, Rob Fekete on bass, Ben Dietschi on piano and Patrick Boyle on guitar (in theory!) and sub-bass. Things are going very well and we'll be playing a week at the Village Vanguard next month (haha...no not really!)

So far my process has been to learn all my favorite tunes, get my scales together and generally improve my proficiency at getting around the instrument. Somebody gave me a copy of all the Aebersold volumes so I've shedding along to those quite a bit. It's very refreshing to be thinking about playing music but from a different perspective after all these years of being strictly a drum set player dealing mostly with rhythm. Actually, I've been playing as much vibes as drum set these days and it's something that I hope to improve upon and continue for the rest of my life. 

My current focus on melody and harmony has really enhanced and expanded my approach to being a drummer. I would highly recommend any jazz drummer to check out the vibes in order to expand their understand of total music. I've always tooled around on the piano and I do all my composing/arranging at the piano, but in terms of performance practice - I'm a real hack (!) I know a lot of drummers who are very proficient piano players, but there is really something to be said about being a drummer and being able to express melody and harmony with TWO sticks/mallets on a percussion instrument ! 

Although in the case of the vibes, four mallets would be appropriate. But I've resigned to sticking with two. The four mallet approach, while definately the way to go to fully exploit the possibilities of the instrument (check out Gary Burton, Stefon Harris and Joe Locke!!!), this is going to require way too much time for me to fully master. So I'll be happy to stick with an old school two mallet approach. That's more than enough for me to handle these days. Besides, I have a DMA dissertation to write !

But, two mallets worked for Milt Jackson and Lionel Hampton (not to mention Toronto vibraphonists Don Thompson and saxphonist-turned-vibesman Del Dako) so there is hope for me !

My only regret about all of this is that I didn't start all of this earlier !
For the most part, I kind of brushed off any attempts to learn mallet instruments when I was in the Regina Lions Band or in high school. At the time, I just wanted to be a hot-shot rudimental snare drummer and drum set player. 

So my message to all you young drummers out there: 


Oh well, I guess it's never too late is it ? : )

Here's a clip of my hero Milt Jackson playing Billy Strayhorn's "Take The A Train" at a master class somewhere in Europe.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

In The Beginning...

Welcome to my blog !

I'll be posting interesting pieces related to music, jazz and jazz drumming here.

(among other random bits of information I find interesting...)

I don't have a website yet, but that will be forthcoming.

So in the meantime check back here from time to time for news and other random bits.

I am still trying to figure this out (seems relatively easy) but in the meantime, here are couple of youtube videos.

These two clips feature my drum teachers at the University of Toronto where I am currently pursuing my DMA in Jazz Performance.

(let's see if these videos embed properly !)


(playing with students at York University)


(from a TV spot with Sam Noto and Pat LaBarbera circa. 1980)

Thanks for visiting and see you soon !