Friday, March 30, 2012
I had an interesting conversation with Kenny Washington awhile ago about the series of records that Art Blakey did for the Blue Note label that featured Art playing with ensembles of various drummers and percussionists (such as "Orgy in Rhythm", "Drums on the Corner" and "The Afro-Drum Ensemble"). Kenny offered that a lot of this had to do with the popularity of the album "Drums of Passion" by Babatunde Olatunji and his overall influence and impact on Jazz musicians during the 50s (record companies were also keen to demonstrate the new capabilities of Hi-Fi technology during this time and drums were the perfect vehicle for this). Interestingly enough, John Coltrane's final performance took place at the Olatunji Center for African Culture in Harlem (which Babatunde founded).
Here's a couple clips of Olatunji demonstrating some of his native Nigerian rhythms:
It's easy to hear how Art Blakey would have been inspired by something like this!
I've also long been interested in Blakey's various projects that involved percussionists. I first purchased a copy of Art Blakey's "Afro-Drum Ensemble" at Chicago's infamous Jazz Record Mart while still in my teens (they've seen a lot of my money over the years!) and I always admired the energy and intensity that Bu played with when partnered with other drummers and percussionists.
Max Roach also experimented with groups like this on such albums as "Percussion Bitter Sweet" and with his percussion ensemble M'Boom. I also really enjoyed the friendly yet competitive vibe on the album "Gretsch Drum Night at Birdland" that features Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, Elvin Jones and Charlie Persip (Persip total kills on this one btw!) Joe Lovano's recent US5 project with two drummers (Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela) and Josh Redman's two bass + two drummer band (with Brian Blade and Greg Hutchinson) also come to mind as well. The bottom line is that I think it's an important skill to be able to play drums with other drummers and percussionists in an amicable and cohesive way. This might seem like a no-brainer for your average percussionist who is used to playing in a percussion section (!) but as a Jazz drummer who is usually the only percussionist in a band it sometimes takes a bit of an adjustment.
From a compositional standpoint I think having an entire battery of percussion and drums to deal with certainly offers a lot of sonic possibilities and rhythmic textures and densities to play around with. For example, here's Wynton Marsalis with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra performing the big band suite "Congo Square" featuring Yacub Addy and a full ensemble of Ghanaian drummers:
Now that is something I'd like to try and write for someday!
Thursday, March 29, 2012
Here's another gem...and this one goes out to my good friend and bassist Rob Hutchinson in London, UK. Fortunately a number of concerts from the Montreal Jazz Festival have been recorded over the years. Here is bassist Jaco Pastorious in action with a very enthusiastic Peter Erskine on drums and a front line of Randy Brecker and Bob Mintzer, Don Alias on percussion and Othello Molineaux on steel pan. Perfect!
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Here's another today of the Barry Elmes Quintet from a recent show at the Rex Jazz Bar & Hotel (Toronto) and tribute to CBC Radio host Katie Malloch:
It's nice to see the CBC investing in high quality footage of these concerts. Let's hope that this trend continues (it's really a shame that they did away with those Jazz Beat studio sessions several years ago...) Does anybody happen to know if the other two Katie Malloch tribute concerts in Montreal and Vancouver were filmed as well?
Drummer Barry Elmes will always have a special place for me. Thanks to several CBC radio broadcasts during the early 90s, Barry was one of the first Canadian Jazz drummers that I heard that really caught my attention. In fact, CBC radio was a HUGE part of my early exposure to not only Jazz music, but Canadian Jazz artists. Barry's distinctive style & sound, reminiscent of Max Roach and Dannie Richmond, really resonated with me and still does today.
He's also been a big influence of mine in terms of being not only a swinging and melodic Jazz drummer but also a successful drummer/composer and drummer/band leader as well. In fact, I'd have to say that Barry is one of my significant influences as a composer and I really appreciate his quirky and imaginative bebop approach to writing music that draws from the language of Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus and Ornette Coleman in a very playful and engaging way combined with a strong feeling for melody and the blues. He also has a unique way of integrating the drums into his arrangements and he is very clever about how he chooses to involve the drums within an ensemble.
If you have the opportunity to check out Barry play (actually I believe he will be touring Canada this summer during the Jazz festival season) make sure you do so. In particular, check out his impeccable hook up with the bass player. Hearing him play with either Al Henderson or Steve Wallace is always a real lesson in how a drummer and bassist should play together.
In particular there are several groups that I've enjoyed of his over the years including the Barry Elmes Quintet, Time Warp and DEW East and I highly recommend tracking them down.
Here's a few to check out:
The Barry Elmes Quintet
The Five Minute Warning
Time Warp Plays the Music of Duke Ellington
The Time Warp Collection
Live at George's
Down to Earth
D.E.W. East Meets Nick Brignola
Introducing D.E.W. East
You can learn more about Barry Elmes over at his website here and Andre White has a great interview with Barry over at his fortunately still existing Canadian Jazz interview website Jazzview.ca here.
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Monday, March 26, 2012
Hello friends and thanks again for stopping by. Here's a collection of fun things to check out and to get the week started on a good note:
-Roy Haynes recently celebrated his 87th birthday. Congratulations Mr. Haynes! Here's a great interview with Haynes from a few years ago courtesy of Ted Panken:
-Playing ballad is a real art in itself and a skill that should never be taken for granted nor underestimated. This version of "Body & Soul" featuring tenor saxophonist John Ellis with Kendrick Scott's band Oracle recently caught my attention:
-Much has been already written about Katie Malloch's recent retirement from the airwaves. Here is a great interview with her from CBC's The Sunday Edition with Michael Enright:
Also, someone at the CBC was smart enough to film the tribute to Katie which took place at the Rex Hotel & Jazz Bar in Toronto a few weeks ago. Here is an all-star band of Barry Elmes on drums, Reg Schwager on guitar and Steve Wallace on bass with Don Thompson on vibraphone (hurray!) on Duke Pearson's "Jeaninne":
Here's another from that same show featuring Mark Eisenman on piano with Elmes and Wallace:
Peter Hum has also got a great interview with Katie over at his fine blog over at Jazzblog.ca:
-My friend Johnathan Blake recently released a new CD entitled "The 11th Hour". It arrived in my mailbox late last week but I was out of town for the weekend and haven't had a chance to listen to it yet but I'm sure it's great!
Here's WBGO's Josh Jackson speaking with Blake about "The 11th Hour":
And here is a nice clip of Johnathan unleashing from a recent performance with pianist Luis Perdomo's trio:
-Courtesy of Joe Farnsworth, here is a nice reminder of how to PLAY the snare drum!!!
-Here's more from Shannon Powell, demonstrating some New Orleans Second Line drumming:
-And to finish off today's post, here's something you don't see everyday -Terry Bozzio playing a four piece kit!
Usually Bozzio plays with a set-up that rivals most drum shops! I actually find this quite inspiring/motivating. Being a four-piece drum guy myself, this is actually motivating me to pull out some more toms and mess around with a bigger set-up. Why not, right? Imagine the possibilities...
Friday, March 23, 2012
Thursday, March 22, 2012
My fellow Canadian Jazz drumming blogger Ted Warren posted this video over at his blog Trap'd last week, but I thought I would repost here myself for a couple of reasons.
This is a Quebec documentary on the French Canadian Jazz drummer Guy Nadon "Le Roi du Drum" (translation: The King of the Drums!) Guy was an iconic Gene Krupa-like figure during the hey day of the Montreal jazz scene in the 40s and 50s. His flamboyant swing style also relied on the use of drumming on pots, pans, soup cans, junk, old furniture, anything really.....sometimes he almost sounds like a French Canadian version of Han Bennink!
I heard Nadon play several times during my time in Montreal, many years ago, most notably with the band Swing Dynamique which for awhile had a steady gig at the Jello Bar on Ontario Street.
Also, in this documentary, starting at around 17:38 in this clip you can see Guy in a drum battle with the legendary and enigmatic Claude Ranger (Canada's "Jack DeJohnette" who went missing in Vancouver about 13 years ago....Claude was also a student of Nadon's back in the day). As you can see in this footage Claude still had his trademark cigarette dangling from his mouth while trading some wild phrases with Guy.
Check out a couple of legends of French Canadian jazz drumming!
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Check out this footage of Adam Nussbaum playing some very nice cymbals of his. I really dig his graceful touch and beautiful flow he gets from the instrument:
As a matter of fact, you can purchase those very cymbals at classicvintagedrums.com. Talk to Bill and he'll set you up!
Monday, March 19, 2012
From Mark Eisenman's Facebook post, here are some very inspiring words from Toronto bassist Steve Wallace to read and think over (what a way to start my Monday!)
"Spring Is Here - Birds, Words, Melody and Song" by Steve Wallace
I heard a cardinal in high-fidelity just as I left my house the other morning - "bwordy, bwordy, bwordy" echoing down the street. The trees being still bare, it was easy to spot him by following the song - he was up in the top of a maple about forty yards away. He shifted briefly from one branch to another and the light caught him at just the right angle, a brilliant rush of crimson, even at that distance. A morning thrill, a rarity these days, trust me. I stood listening and admiring him for a few seconds and then noticed some rustling in the big tree just overhead. Two robins were flitting about, not singing much. Just as I spotted them they flew off and again the sunlight hit them and I was treated to a flash of their rusty-orange breasts. A sure sign, I thought with a smile - spring is here.
There's a song for every occasion and this took me straight to Rodgers and Hart's great "Spring Is Here" - its melody began running through my head as I walked to the subway. It struck me that this song is a kind of analogy for my aging as a musician (and hopefully my growth as one) - when I was younger, I didn't have much use for it, but it's become a favourite tune in recent years. I think the difference is that I appreciate melody a lot more than I used to, understand it better.
Bassists like myself are often slow in developing a melodic sense, because the instrument doesn't often get to play melodies - being low-pitched, it's usually much more involved with rhythmic and harmonic duties, providing the floor for other people to dance on. When you're starting out, there's so much to learn and so many things to work on that it's tempting, maybe even necessary, to take some short cuts, leave some stuff out. I largely left out melody because it didn't seem all that relevant while I was busy learning the bass, the fingering positions, scales, developing intonation, a tone and endurance. Not to mention learning how to play walking bass lines, to handle different rhythmic feels at various tempos, developing a repertoire by learning and memorizing the chord changes of songs. Then there was the mental aspect of music - the theory, ear training, harmony, modes and chord scales and on and on. Who the hell had time for melody? I was too busy being a grunt in the engine rooms of bands, a sweat-hog grinding out the quarter-notes, trying to keep the tempos up and make things swing. It's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.
Melody was for singers or the lead instruments to take care of and besides, in jazz, the melody is only played in the first and last choruses - in between came the important part, or so I thought - the improvisation, or "blowing" as we call it. I was so caught up in sound, quarter-note groove and chord changes that I almost developed a chauvinism about melody - it was for sissies, not hard swingers, and the further I stayed away from it, the more "bass-like" and functional my playing would be. I made some progress on the bass with this approach, but it never occurred to me back then that knowing and being able to play the melody of a song would make me a better improviser, or lead to lots of other useful information and technique. I also didn't realize that learning the melody would let me remember a tune much better than memorizing its changes. When I had difficulties playing a decent solo back then I rationalized it in all kinds of ways. I was tired from laying down all those quarter-notes and by the time a bass solo came around I didn't have much left - besides, bass solos are over-rated, right? If you're going to play one though, it might as well be musical and sound good, and this is where my melodic deficiencies began to show, to cost me. My ears had spent too long rumbling around in the basements of tunes, moving from root to root. My touch was powerful but not very supple or subtle.
My taste in songs back then was governed by this non-melodic outlook too. I tended to like tunes because of their interesting or logical chord changes, or if they had a strong blues element like say, "Come Rain or Come Shine", or if their melodies tended to swing themselves, like "As Long As I Live" or "I've Got the World On A String." And of course, I loved pieces by jazz composers like Ellington, Monk, Horace Silver, John Lewis and many others because they were made for blowing and swinging. "Spring Is Here" was an example of the kind of song I didn't like back then. First of all it was originally a ballad, meant to be played slowly (yawn) and I didn't care much for ballads unless they had interesting chords and lots of them, like "Body and Soul" or "'Round Midnight." Like a lot of young guys, I wanted everything to be fast, hard, dense and raging, to have a lot of energy, just as I did.
"Spring" seemed limp and vanilla to me. The melody was kind of static both in its rhythm and notes - the first part of each half was mainly dotted half-notes and whole-notes and the second sections were just quarter notes ascending diatonically from the third up an octave to a whole-note outside the key - I completely missed the drama and crescendo of this. The song had awkward chord changes too - its melody was so Plain-Jane that I couldn't hear any interesting ways to harmonize it. The opening phrase starts on the major seventh, goes up briefly to the tonic and resolves back down to the sixth, and this repeats. Big deal, I thought, what are you supposed to do with that? Where's the swing, the action here? I was too green to realize the diminished harmony implications of this type of melody and I seemed to have missed the class where they taught the diminished scale, one of the only really useful ones. I just couldn't get anything out of the tune at all, grimaced whenever it was called.
My opinion of "Spring" began to change after I heard Bill Evans play it on his great "Portrait In Jazz" record - hearing a genius play a song will tend to sell you on it. Bill's version is in Ab, slow and lyrical as you'd expect but it's also really intense, there's lots of heat there. As always, he gets the piano to really sing the melody and found great chords for the song. He uses an E7 in the first bar, so the melody note G is the sharp nine of that chord, then resolves to an Ab chord with an F on top and Eb in the bass. This melody phrase repeats, but he keeps the chords moving downward with a Dmin7b5 and a Db7, avoiding monotony. When I first heard this, I thought my head was going to explode, it was just so brilliant. He also harmonizes every one of the ascending quarter-notes beautifully, breaking up the seeming static quality of the tune. Evans brings a lot of motion to the song even at this tempo and on a basic level that's what music is - tones moving in rhythm. I began to realize here that chord changes are defined and dictated by the melody note on top, that seemingly plain melody notes can lead to interesting chord possibilities and that none of this happens unless you pay attention to a song's melody. Really, the melody tells you what the chords mean, otherwise they're just clumps of notes.
Later, I heard recordings of "Spring" by singers like Ella Fitgerald and Sarah Vaughan and came to like it more from also hearing the words. They're by Lorenz Hart, who I think is in a class of his own as a lyricist. He was an unhappy, nasty, screwed-up guy but very gifted with rhyme, rhythm and wit, a poet really. I also played the song with a singer named Anne-Marie Moss, who was truly an awful bitch but could really sing slow ballads and this helped me appreciate the delicate, special mood of this song. The clincher for me though was recording it with singer John Alcorn on an album of all Rodgers and Hart songs about ten years ago. John sang it in the same key as Evans and used his chords, but did the song as a slow bossa nova, which really suits it. This type of tempo played with lots of space can be mesmerizing and when we finished the take I was soaked with sweat, barely aware of time or place. I thought to myself, "Jesus, Wallace, how could you have been such a dope? What a great song this is." Really, it's a singer's song, but many of the great ones are. The trick when playing it instrumentally is to maintain that vocal quality, as Evans did. Here are the words:
Spring is here.
Why doesn't my heart go dancing?
Spring is here.
Why isn't the waltz more entrancing?
No desire, no ambition leads me.
Maybe it's because nobody needs me.
Spring is here.
Why doesn't the breeze delight me?
.Why doesn't the night invite me?
Maybe it's because nobody loves me.
Spring is here, I hear.
Hart wrote some lyrics better than this, but not many, and not by much - they're just deadly and fit the melody beautifully. Beyond knowing the melody, Lester Young always insisted musicians should know the lyrics of the songs they play, even though they wouldn't be sung. He said knowing the words leads you to play the song at the right tempo, phrase it properly and breathe in the right places. Some find this ethereal but I think he's dead right - too often I've heard musicians wreck songs by playing them at the wrong tempo (usually too fast) and it's because they don't consider the words. Above all, knowing the words tells you what the song means, what it's about, which affects your approach to it, or should. At its best, playing a song is like telling a story, and it at least helps to know what the story is before you start talking or blowing your horn.
After playing the bass for several years I finally got more in touch with melody after seeking the advice of a great local musician, Don Thompson. Don does many things really well, I just hate him - plays great piano, vibes, bass, composes and arranges, you name it. In the late '70s he was playing a lot of bass and I heard him often. His left hand amazed me - his solos were really melodic and eloquent, he seemed to range all over the bass effortlessly with great articulation and pitch, it was scary. I finally worked up the nerve to ask him how he'd developed his left hand and he answered in his typically deadpan, slightly bland manner - "I practiced the melodies of songs in all twelve keys, really slowly, making sure I got the notes right."
This gobsmacked me, I was stunned - melodies in all twelve keys?!? The advice had come from God himself though, so I started working on it, with simple tunes like "Georgia" and "Bye Bye Blackbird" at first. It was slow going, hard work and mentally tiring, but it beat the hell out of scales and Simandl exercises and gradually I found that practicing this way improved all facets of my playing. I became freer ranging around the bass without thinking about the finger positions, letting my ear guide me, and different keys became less foreign and scary. My articulation and pitch improved, my ears opened up and I started to hear more, get more flow and ideas in soloing. Above all, I was learning about phrasing melodies, how they have contours and shapes. It began to occur to me that a song's melody is like its DNA, contains a code of interval patterns and relationships that define it and these can be used in improvising, in hearing counter-melodies, guide tones and even in finding better bass notes in accompaniment. I was beginning to almost feel like a housebroken musician, I only went all over the carpet occasionally now. Despite this foray into the lofty, romantic, ozone layer of melody though, girls continued to give me a pretty wide berth. I guess the glamour of the jazz life was just too much for them - yeah, that must have been it.
Ironically, areas like rhythm and harmony that seemed to have nothing to do with melody also improved. My walking bass lines and time feel sounded better because the articulation, pitch and note choices were better and my understanding of harmony became sharper because I was more aware and heard better. I started to relax a little when playing, rather than trying to hammer everybody over the head with fat quarter notes all the time. Much as people mistakenly think of the mind and body as being separate, I'd thought of melody as being distinct from rhythm and harmony, but really they're all intimately connected and melody leads straight to the other two and vice versa. Don Thompson's bass playing and mine are about as dissimilar as you could imagine, so it's also ironic that the best piece of musical advice I've ever received should have come from him, and I can't thank him enough.
Drums can't really play notes, but melody has a rhythmic component and good jazz drumming is informed by melody too, believe it or not. The really good drummers I've played a lot with - Terry Clarke, John Sumner, Barry Elmes, Ted Warren - all have a strong sense of melody and form, listen well and know how the tunes go, adjusting their phrasing, sounds and textures according to the melody, its shapes and dynamics. Jerry Fuller played pretty good bass and was an excellent scat singer. He often saved my butt if I wasn't sure of a tune - he'd hum the right bass notes to me while playing the drums. He was a great musician and a prince - God, how I miss him. Jake Hanna used to travel with a miniature xylophone and have the melodies to lots of songs written out - he'd practice playing them every day. This kept his ears sharp, he called it "taking his melody vitamins." He used to say the melody chorus is also a jazz chorus and unless someone plays a stupendous solo, it's often the best chorus. Andrew Miller is a friend of my son Lee, a good young drummer and we played some together as a trio before he moved back to B.C. He kept a small pad and pencil and after certain tunes he'd lean over and ask me the name of the song, then he'd write it down. I asked him about this and he said if he didn't know a tune, he wanted the title so he could find a recording of it and listen - he said he played the tune better if he knew how it went. That's it in a nutshell - even if you don't play the melody, you'll play better if you know it. From the mouths of babes.
I'll always be attracted to the more extroverted and greasy aspects of jazz, that's just hard-wired into me. But now, playing lyrical tunes with beautiful melodies is also right up there among my favourite things to do. One of the nicest compliments I've ever received was from saxophonist Mike Murley a few years ago after he'd heard me play a set or two with somebody at the Montreal Bistro. "Wanker" he said, "you really know how to play songs." It made me proud to hear this, because playing songs is important to me, I think of them as the basic unit of musical civilization, the same way having people over for dinner is the basic unit of social civilization. I try to impress this on younger music students whenever I'm talking with them - by all means, work on all the technical and theoretical stuff they're shoving at you in school, but don't lose sight of the big picture, keep your eye on the prize. The prize is playing songs - at the end of the day all your skills and everything you've learned should boil down to being able to stand up in front of people, play a song and make it your own, take it somewhere, have it sing, move people, excite them, hold their attention. If you can't do that, then what is the point of playing music at all?
When I go out to play or hear jazz, I want to hear musicians listening to one another, playing together. I'm not interested in any particular style, but I want to hear some lyricism, some space, some intensity, some feeling of the blues and swing. By these last two, I don't mean I literally want the music to sound like Big Joe Turner or Benny Goodman, although that wouldn't be the worst thing. I mean I want the music to have some dirt and cry in it, to show its ass a little bit, have a dancing quality and get off the ground. There should be lots of sweat and laughter - music is hard work and serious business, but it has to be fun too - after all, you don't work music, you play music. Above all, I want to hear some songs, or at least some music that has the quality of song in it. I don't want to hear what musicians know, I want to hear them translate what they know into what they feel - feeling is all that music is, really. You can't see it or touch it, you can only hear it and feel it.
I also don't want to hear mere cleverness or virtuosity, music that's all just about harmony or rhythmic algebra. Guys trying to outplay each other, not listening or leaving any room, running a bunch of notes together in an endless dirge of tuneless, limp drivel. Take this show-off, "jazz from the neck up" back to whatever school you learned it in, boys. This may sound old and cranky, and maybe it is - I'm gettin' there. Most of what I'm trying to say is nicely illustrated in a story about the great, unique pianist Jimmy Rowles, who knew as much about songs and harmony as anybody who ever lived. He was playing a piano-bass duet gig for a while and one night his regular bassist sent in a sub, who decided to try and impress the master with his knowledge of harmony by hitting him with a whole slew of super-hip bass notes and chord substitutions, playing everything but the kitchen sink. After a couple of tunes worth of this, and working on his second double vodka, Rowles turned to this Einstein of the bass with a glare and rasped "I'm aware of the possibilities.......let's just play the f---ing song the way it goes and make some music, OK?"
Betty Carter pushed the boundaries of jazz singing by trying to make the voice a fully-fledged improvising instrument like the others. This led her to more and more abstraction, making sounds with her voice that weren't conventional for singers, using a huge range, and often eschewing the melody. It was daring and difficult, a challenge for her, her musicians and audience. Some liked her singing, others shrugged and asked "Aren't singers supposed to sing the melody?" She was feisty, to put it mildly, and answered this by naming one of her records "It's Not About the Melody." While I have a lot of admiration for her and any other artist who hoes a hard, lonely road by going their own way, I have to respectfully disagree - it's always about the melody, that's where the music lives. Hear it and it will set you free, like a bird.
(via Mark Eisenman) 2012
Friday, March 16, 2012
Although Jeff Ballard is usually heard playing in small groups (and very good at it!) he is certainly no stranger to playing with larger ensembles as well. Ballard has long been an integral member of Guillermo Klein's band Los Gauchos and he also played with the Ray Charles Orchestra many years ago. It just goes to show how a great musician can really shine in a variety of contexts, large or small.
Here's some recent footage of Ballard with the Kluver Orchestra:
Thursday, March 15, 2012
I've been shedding Blue Bossa myself on the vibraphone quite a bit these days so naturally I went to youtube.com to find some inspiration. It didn't take very long to find this one featuring the masters Michael Brecker and Steve Gadd tearing it up on Kenny Dorham's classic tune:
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Here's a nice little montage and tribute to the great Jake Hanna:
I've been enjoying Jake's fine playing with the Woody Herman band lately (incidentally Terry Clarke told me once that Hanna was a huge influence on his own personal approach to big band drumming, especially with the Boss Brass) and I've also been getting a lot of mileage out of Hanna's sight reading book "Syncopated Big Band Figures":
Jake Hanna was also a versatile drummer and could find himself in just about any musical situation, not just big bands. A great example of this would be his playing on the Oscar Peterson album "Live in Russia":
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Monday, March 12, 2012
You've probably noticed the banner on the right side of my blog that has been advertising a fine website entitled jazzheaven.com for some time now. This website is a great collection of Jazz instructional videos, all produced by Falk Willis, that feature the likes of Eric Harland, Ralph Peterson Jr., Ari Hoenig, Lee Konitz, Jerry Bergonzi, Jean-Michel Pilc, Oz Noy, Kenny Werner and many, many others. I can tell you from first-hand experience that the quality of these DVDs is exceptional and second to none. Buy these DVDs and you will learn something!
Falk Willis is also a very fine drummer himself. I first heard Falk play at Cleo's Jazz Bar in Montreal (around the corner of St. Laurent and Rachel) around 1996 while he was playing with pianist John Stetch and bassist Joe Martin. I was a fresh undergrad at McGill at the time and hearing these guys play really changed my perspective on piano trio playing. Young New York Jazz drummers, such as Falk Willis, that would make the occasional trek to Montreal really had quite an impact on me (I would also include drummers such as Jorge Rossy, Joe Strasser, Daniel Freedman, Darren Beckett, Jim Black and Jeff Watts as others that I heard around that time as well.) It was all really quite a insight as to what was going on in terms of contemporary Jazz drumming in New York City during the mid 1990s.
Falk was nice enough to answer a few questions for Four on The Floor about jazzheaven.com:
Tell us all about jazzheaven.com. What is it?
It is a kick-butt music instructional video site with lessons and interviews with many of today's finest jazz musicians, ranging from Lee Konitz to Eric Harland. Formats are in DVD as well as streaming online versions, plus optional versions for mobile devices.
Why did you decide to pursue this project?
I had been a professional jazz drummer myself for 14 years. Then life took a left turn and I did completely unrelated things for ten years: running my own businesses, real estate investing among them. One day I listened to an interview with CDbaby.com founder Derek Sivers and he mentioned that the question he asked himself before starting CDbaby.com was "What would be a dream come true for...[fill in the target audience of the business you are starting]?" That really resonated with me, and when answering this question for young, aspiring jazz musicians, JazzHeaven.com was my answer to it. (I would have killed for something like the Ralph Peterson instructional video we did, when I was younger!)
What were the logistics involved in completing such a project?
A LOT more than I anticipated! I worked on this for over two years with a team of fantastic videographers, video editors & audio engineers. I leased a storefront in Brooklyn, NY, converted it into a video recording studio, bought loads of high-end video & audio recording gear and then we got busy! 20 test shoots and 31 real-life projects have been shot at this point. A lot of work, a lot of fun, and a couple of banks had to be robbed in the process to allow the production level we are going for.
What can you tell us about your background as a musician?
I am originally from Munich, Germany. As mentioned, I was a professional jazz drummer for 14 years, many of which in NY. In the mid-nineties, I had the pleasure to play (and live...) with many fine musicians that are now "Village Vanguard regulars", from Kurt Rosenwinkel to Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus.
How did your musical background and experience shape and inform your ideas about developing jazzheaven.com?
A lot! The fact that I personally know a lot of our artists already, had played with a lot of them myself years ago, sure made things easier. And I definitely needed my understanding of the music for directing the videos, where needed. Let's face it, most master players are not master teachers, and many of them can not remember how it feels when you are not a master yet. So, one line I frequently use at the shoots is: "Freeze! Don't change subjects now! But rather explain it to the "Cave Man" now!" True story. For fairness sake, some artists were really prepared and I didn't have to say a word. But that's the clear minority. As a result, I am proud to say that I feel all 31 shoots overall came out well and the viewer will have a real chance of actually learning something - rather than just sitting on the couch and watching somebody great, but later on not knowing more him-/herself. That's very important to me.
What have been some of the highlights and challenges while working on this?
Too many to list them all. Getting artists to respond. Getting artists to prepare. Dealing with building department violations. Wearing 278 different hats. Dealing with endless technology challenges. Exploding our budget. But...I can happily stand for the final result - and I am not easy to please. I think we have created something valuable and needed, and, not to toot my own horn, but we are treating the artists multiples times better than any other situation like this I am aware of. So, hopefully a great thing for everyone involved has been created.
What does the future have in store for jazzheaven.com?
Keep on doing what we are doing, namely building a great catalog of timeless jazz instructional videos.
Here's a couple of fine examples of Ralph Peterson Jr.'s DVD to give you an idea of the invaluable information to be found within these volumes:
Keep up the great work Falk !
Friday, March 9, 2012
From the recent Portland Jazz Festival, here's conversation and Q&A session with the great Roy Haynes conducted by drummer Alan Jones (another incredible drummer!):
And here's a link to the audio podcast:
Thursday, March 8, 2012
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Well, this one is quite the find! Here is the legendary drummer and educator Alan Dawson demonstrating, with brushes, his Rudimental Ritual:
I first started practicing the Rudimental Ritual myself about ten years ago and found it to be tremendously beneficial to my playing, both with sticks and brushes. I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking to improve their flexibility of playing the snare drum rudiments and getting their hands together. It takes awhile to get together, but it's worth it!
In this next one Dawson demonstrates a basic brush timekeeping pattern:
And I've posted these next two a few times before, but Alan is playing so good here it's worth posting them again!
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Monday, March 5, 2012
Things are busy and on the go here as usual over here at Four on the Floor world headquarters, but thank you all for your kind messages and continued support. I'm thrilled that so many of you are still interested in my various thoughts about Jazz drumming, Jazz music and other random pieces that I come across on the internet.
So here's what's shakin' this week:
-Thank you to everyone who came out to support guitarist Ralf Buschmeyer's CD release over the weekend at the Beatniq Jazz & Social Club. Everyone, including Ralf on guitar, Jim Brenan on tenor saxophone, Doug Organ on B3 Hammond Organ and myself on drums, had a great time playing Ralf's challenging and fun music. Ralf is really an exceptional, world-class musician and we are very lucky to have him in Calgary.
-Check out this great piece on New Orleans drummer Shannon Powell courtesy of NPR's A Blog Supreme:
I first heard Powell drumming with Harry Connick Jr. about 20 years ago on a televised New Year's Eve special (Live in London I think?) In particular Shannon's great drumming with Connick's trio (including Ben Wolfe on bass) left a real impression on me. His drum solo on Connick's trio arrangement of "Stompin' at the Savoy" from that concert still has a special place for me in terms of influential drum solos.
Powell has pretty much stayed in New Orleans and is, as far as I understand, quite a fixture there (including regular gigs at Preservation Hall). I believe he's got a new album coming up soon featuring Jason Marsalis on vibraphone, so I look forward to checking that out.
-My good friend and Montreal drummer Rich Irwin (drummer with Nikki Yanofsky) posted this nice one of drummer Greg Hutchinson with Joshua Redman and bassist Matt Penman on the Facebook the other day:
-Here's a couple of clips with some legendary drummers explaing some of their classic drum beats.
In this one Vinnie Colaiuta demonstrates and talks about his drum beat to Sting's hit tune in 5/4, "Seven Days":
And here is the man, Levon Helm of the "The Band", breaking down his drum part to the classic tune "Life is a Carnival":
This one is also pretty incredible: an isolated clip of John Bonham playing a half-time shuffle (thank you Andrew Dyrda who hipped me to this awhile ago!):
-Can anybody make me a copy of this? I'm really curious to hear it!
Actually, I believe there might be two volumes of this (on LP) and think they may have come with a booklet as well. Does anybody own this???
-What am I listening to these days?
Roy Haynes "Out of the Afternoon" - Roy Haynes (drums)
Eric Harland "Voyager: Live by Night" - Eric Harland (drums)
Ralf Buschmeyer "Jazz Speak" - John Riley, Jesse Cahill, Jom Anderson (drums)
Paul Read Jazz Orchestra "Arc-En-Ciel" - Kevin Dempsey (drums)
Christian McBride Big Band "The Good Feeling" - Ulysses Owen's Jr. (drums)
Kenny Wheeler "A Long Time Ago"
Hanks Jones "The Trio" - Kenny Clarke (drums)
Jeff "Tain" Watts "Family" - Jeff Watts (drums)
Kenny Drew "The Kenny Drew Trio" - Philly Joe Jones (drums)
Here's a fun photo of myself with Calgary's finest crew of drummers and percussionists from a rehearsal last night. We are very lucky to have the likes of Malcolm Lim, Raul Gomez Tabera, Luis Tovar, Robin Tufts, Rob Maciak, Bob Fenske, Brent Van Dusen, Jonathan May and Jim Johnston in this town. Like somebody said last night: "If somebody dropped a bomb in that room that evening, there would be no more rhythm left in Calgary!"
Have a great week everybody...
Friday, March 2, 2012
Another one thanks to my friend Chad Anderson (who always seems to keep me supplied with the good stuff!) Here is the great Edward Blackwell in a three part duet with saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett:
Blackwell has been a huge influence on me for some time and I really admire his playful way of mixing his New Orleans roots along with Max Roach's bebop drumming and West African inspired rhythms.
If you like these ones, then check out his duo work with Don Cherry on "El Corazon" and Dewey Redman on "Live in Willisau" as well.
Thursday, March 1, 2012
I often get many e.mails and inquiries from different Jazz musicians from across the country asking me about the state of Jazz in Calgary and, in particular, what's going on with regards to the Calgary Jazz Festival (which, regrettably, imploded two years ago!) Fortunately, concerned people have been mobilizing in town and things are looking up. Here is a copy of the recent press release that recently went out that that effect:
--- PRESS RELEASE ---
Calgary Jazz: Summit Seeds Take Root
There’s good news for Calgary’s jazz community. The changes initiated at the Calgary Jazz Summit last September and detailed in the Action Plan endorsed at the Second Summit in October 2011 are moving forward. The new Board of Directors at Jazz Is has begun its work and new programming is on its way.
After the collapse of the jazz festival in June 2010, CADA hosted an open meeting for all people interested in the future of jazz in Calgary. The Calgary Jazz Summit evolved out of this with a group of volunteers organizing an on-line survey and a study of jazz festival best practice that led to the first Jazz Summit in September 2011. The participants of the Jazz Summit articulated their vision for a strong jazz organization that would support a vibrant year-round jazz scene in Calgary and, in due time, consider the rebirth of a festival. See all the Summit results at: www.calgaryjazzsummit.com
A working group was formed after the first Summit to develop an action plan to realize this vision. Recommendations and a first year action plan were resoundingly supported by the participants at the second Jazz Summit in October 2011. These recommendations were to:
- Use the existing Jazz Is structure to build a truly community-based jazz society in Calgary
- Develop a transparent and accountable governance model including a business plan
- Implement a communications plan for the progress of the new jazz society
- Raise funds in order to present events, as well as to sustain and grow the society
- Facilitate further educational opportunities in collaboration with other events and organizations
- Develop a multi-layered approach to the presentation of jazz events.
A Nomination Committee was formed to select the new Board of Directors for Jazz Is. The Summit recommendations and the proposed Board of Directors were approved at the Jazz Is AGM on December 5, 2011. The Board of Directors consists of:
President: Lori Farley
Vice President: David Ward
Treasurer: Greg MacDonald
Secretary: Debra Rasmussen
Artist relations and Event Development: Mark Dejong
Director at Large – Fundraising and Corporate Relations: Larry Litt
Director at Large – Corporate and Government Relations: Lindsay Blackett
Director at Large – Donor Development and Relations: Dr. Robert Sevick
Director at Large – Governance: Keith Greenfield
Director at Large – Event Support: John DeWaal
Director at Large – Education: vacant
These are exciting developments for jazz in Calgary and we need your input and support. If you are interested in contributing your ideas, time or other resources to help Calgary’s jazz community realize its vision for a vibrant and sustainable year-round jazz scene, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the volunteer window on the Jazz Is website www.jazzis.org
Don't miss Ralf Buschmeyer's CD release this coming weekend at the Beatniq Jazz & Social Club.
Ralf is one of Calgary's pre-eminent Jazz guitarists and he sounds absolutely incredible these days. His influences range from the likes of John Scofield, Mike Stern and Pat Metheny to Wes Montgomery, Grant Green, Lorne Lofsky and Peter Bernstein. I've been learning Ralf's great tunes and listening to his CD all week (this also means listening to some GREAT drumming courtesy of John Riley and Jesse Cahill who both appear on Ralf's disc) and I can tell you that you are in for two great nights of world-class Jazz guitar.
The new CD is called Jazzspeak and features Ralf with 3 bands from various regions. The first band is a B3 organ trio, featuring John Riley (drums) from New York and Michelle Gregoire (B3 organ) from Winnipeg. The next group is a Vancouver quartet with Bill Coon (2009 National Jazz Awards Jazz guitarist of the year), Jodi Proznick (bass) and Jesse Cahill (drums). And finally with the Toronto group known as "Folkalarm" featuring Kevin Breit (Norah Jones & Cassandra Wilson's guitarist), Russ Boswell (bass) and Jorn Anderson (drums).
The release party at the Beatniq will feature Edmonton's own Doug Organ on the B3 organ, Jim Brenan on saxophone and Jon McCaslin on drums. This same band will be appearing for the Edmonton CD release at the Yardbird suite on May 26th.
Ralf Buschmeyer's "Jazz Speak" CD Release
Friday, March 2nd
Saturday, March 3rd
The Beatniq Jazz & Social Club
811 - 1st Street SW
Ralf Buschmeyer - Guitar
Jim Brenan - Tenor Saxophone
Doug Organ - B3 Hammond Organ
Jon McCaslin - Drums