Thursday, August 30, 2012
Monday, August 27, 2012
Thanks to the kind people over at Vic Firth here are two fantastic drum solos featuring Peter Erskine:
I really admire the compositional aspect and overall shape and flow that Erksine gets when he plays drum solos like this. One really gets the impression that he is creating an "event" and really making an artistic statement on the instrument rather than just stringing together a bunch of drumistic patterns and licks. He also has a great touch and gets a great sound out of his drums and cymbals. Music on the drums. Beautiful!
Thursday, August 23, 2012
Following one of the big band concerts I performed in a few weeks ago up at Emma Lake, Saskatchewan as part of the UofS Kenderdine Jazz Composers Retreat (see my previous post), Canadian pianist David Braid came up to me afterwards and asked me if I would explain to him a particular pattern that I had played several times over the course of the evening.
Several of the compositions and arrangements we played (including a drum solo on one of my very own big band compositions) used this stock 12/8 Afro-Cuban pattern that has been part of my vocabulary for nearly twenty years now. The hand patterns look something like this:
This is one of many 12/8 Afro-Cuban types of patterns that I commonly use and was initially inspired by things I heard from Art Blakey and Elvin Jones.
Now there are several variations that I commonly use for the feet patterns. This is the most common one that uses a big downbeat played on the bass drum with beats 2 & 4 on the hi-hat:
This is one is basically the same as the last but uses an anticipation on the very last eighth-note, played on the bass drum:
This next variation gives the whole pattern a more overt two-feel:
I find this pattern really can drive an ensemble and creates some nice poly-rhythmic forward momentum:
I picked up this variation from Art Blakey (although he might play the basic hand pattern on the drums slightly different that I do) and it creates a nice sort-of lopsided double-time feel:
I often have a lot of fun with this last one as it implies a cool Max Roach 3/4 "The Drum Also Waltzes" vibe underneath the 12/8 bell pattern (I'd like to thank Jeremy Jones, a great drummer from Seattle, Washington for showing me this pattern many years ago following a gig at the Kennedy Centre in Washington, D.C.)
Monday, August 20, 2012
At the suggestion of a few readers I'm going to make the headline "The Drummer as Composer" a somewhat frequent column here at Four on the Floor. I often get a lot of questions about the music I've written/arranged and I'm thrilled that people are actually interested in what it is I'm trying to do in that regards. This column will feature various aspects and topics related to my journey as a composer and arranger who also happens to play the drums. I'm more than happy to share my music as well as my thoughts about the process of how I write music. Maybe I'll solicit a few interviews and comments from my fellow drumming composers out there as well.
I've written quite a bit of music over the years, some of which appears on my two albums "McCallum's Island" and "Sunalta". The music I've written so far mostly focuses on compositions for smaller groups ranging from trio and quintet to septet and octet, however recently I've started to write and arrange my music for big band and brass ensembles as well. There might even be a piece for strings in the works in the future as well and I'm also interested in writing some compositions for solo drum set.
I recently returned from the University of Saskatchewan's Kenderdine Campus located at Emma Lake in Northern Saskatchewan where I participated in a Jazz composers retreat organized by UofS professor/composer/arranger/trumpet player (and really nice guy!) Dean McNeill. This rustic camp was originally established in 1935 as an artist's retreat by Augustus Kenderdine and was intended to appeal to painters and other artists as a tranquil place to foster their craft. Even John Cage spent some time their in the 60s composing music for prepared piano! Fortunately for us, Jazz visionary Dean McNeill worked very hard to transform this normally quietly and serene spot into a meeting place for Jazz musicians and composers.
We spent five days playing new music for Jazz orchestra and heard daily lectures from several notable Canadian composers about their music, process and vision. In terms of the music and the presentations, the bar was set quite high from the first day. The whole vibe reminded very much of my experience attending workshops at the Banff Centre over the years, however this workshop brought together musicians and composers from a wide range of experience, age and career paths. Plus, there really wasn't a student-teacher arrangement at all, instead Dean acted as a moderator and let things develop as they did within a very loose structure.
The participants in this retreat ranged from seasoned pros to recent university graduates and current students from the University of Saskatchewan. It was really great to learn from some of the more experienced composers/players/educators who attended as well as some of the more younger artists as well. I was really impressed with the playing, writing and enthusiasm from such people as Brett Balon, Jenelle Orcherton, Gent Laird, Paul Suchan and Graham Pritchard.
Over the course of the week we heard many fantastic lectures from the likes of:
I also presented a session entitled "The Art of the Drum Chart" in which I discussed issues related to the mechanics of preparing a functional drum part for your drummer and the overall role and function of a drummer within a large ensemble.
The big band presented two concerts over the course of the week, performing works composed and arranged by members of the orchestra. One of the highlights for me was Allan Gilliand's arrangement of a piece written by singer/songwriter Eileen Laverty for full big band (written in basically a day!) Eileen is a very talented artist from Saskatoon (originally from Northern Ireland) who brought a very fresh musical perspective to the experience. I also really enjoyed a few jams with her and Mike Rud (it was very refreshing to play some quiet back beats with my brushes after driving the big band hard all day!)
Friday's concert finished off with a solo piano recital by David Braid, one of Canada's rising stars of Jazz piano, performed in the dining hall. David is an absolute creative force and he moved us all with numerous pieces which included a composition for prepared piano and a rousing tribute to Oscar Peterson. What a great way to end the week!
Overall the whole experience was great and very inspirational and informative. I'm always quite excited to get together with any group of creative people and come away with inspired ideas of my own afterwards. I am also always honored to spend time with such a group of dedicated and creative individuals. Often it's easy as a composer to hide away and do your own thing so opportunities like this are very important in terms of networking and in terms of widening one's creative perspective.
It was a wonderful way to spend the week and I certainly hope this retreat becomes a yearly event.
Here's one of the tunes I recently wrote this summer and workshopped during my week at Emma Lake:
This piece is still somewhat a work in progress (!) but it's loosely based on a set of harmonic changes that Montreal pianist Oliver Jones showed me while sitting together at a piano last spring in Calgary. I believe it's an old standard but I never caught the name of it and Oliver never actually played the melody for me either (!) I just liked the feeling of it and had Oliver teach it to me (in particular I like the fairly straight-forward changes in C major but with some interesting twists in the second ending...)
I wrote the tune as the title suggests, late one July afternoon. I always find that Sunday afternoons and evenings always have a particular vibe about them, something about bringing the week to a close and preparing for the week ahead.
I was hearing this piece played at a medium to slow waltz tempo and with a broken swing feel. It should all be pretty loose and laid back, nothing overly aggressive (except perhaps at rehearsal letter C and the repeated section at the end of the solo form. Those can be played with a little more push and groove as compared to the rest.)
Thank you to David Braid for his great insights with regards to this piece (David was kind enough to sit down with me one afternoon to play through my tunes and offer a few suggestions) and to Darren, Bill, Jenelle, Gent, Paul and Graham who workshopped this tune with me.
It's always great to hear your music played!
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Just a quick mid-summer update here today. Most of the office staff over here at Four on the Floor are still on summer holidays so blogging will be sporadic until early September. However, there are still many great things to report in the world of Jazz drumming and here's a few cool things to check out.
-Drumming phenom and recent MacArthur Genius grant recipient Dafnis Prieto talks about his latest activities and his group the Proverb Trio over the fine blog Nextbop:
Prieto also alludes to a new multi-volume drum method book of his that is in the works. I look forward to checking that out but I can only imagine what crazy independence patterns and concepts he'll come up with!!!
-Vanguard Orchestra drummer and educator John Riley shares some thoughts about using the melody as a tool while playing time and comping with a rhythm section:
As always, I'm impressed and inspired by Riley's great playing and his ability to clearly articulate his ideas and concepts.
-Thank you to Kenan Foley who recently forwarded me these two pieces featuring the great Michael Carvin. Here's Carvin in a radio interview over at WBGO:
And here's a very informative article from allaboutjazz.com:
Here is some footage of a solo drum set performance that Carvin gave in Pittsburgh a few years ago:
This next clip (that I've blogged about before) is from a recently released Jazz Icons 1973 Freddie Hubbard concert recored in France:
I love everything about this solo and this entire concert (which consists of THREE extended songs!) I've been playing this DVD around the house quite a bit lately and I really admire the intensity, power, spirit and commitment that everyone, and in particular Michael Carvin, play with on this recording.
I don't believe that this particular band recorded a CD together (?) but I strongly suggest picking up the DVD.
-What am I listening to this summer?
I've been enjoying quite a bit of great music lately and driving across Western Canada has afforded me the time and opportunity to check out some really great CDs:
Duke Ellington "Unknown Session" - Sam Woodyard (drums)
PJ Perry & Kevin Dean Quintet "Ubiquitous" - Andre White (drums)
Lewis Nash Quintet "The Highest Mountain" - Lewis Nash (drums)
Kenny Wheeler "Music for Large and Small Ensembles" - Peter Erskine (drums)
Kenny Wheeler "Deer Wan" - Jack DeJohnette (drums)
Kenny Wheeler "Gnu High" - Jack DeJohnette (drums)
Dexter Gordon "GO" - Billy Higgins (drums)
Bobby Hutcherson "Dialogue" - Joe Chambers (drums), Bobby Hutcherson (vibraphone)
Ulysses Owens "Unanimous" - Ulysses Owens (drums)
John Ellis "It's You I Like" - Rodney Green (drums)
David Kikoski "Consequences" - Jeff "Tain" Watts (drums)
John Coltrane & Don Cherry "The Avant-Garde" - Edward Blackwell (drums)
Wynton Marsalis "Black Codes From The Underground" - Jeff "Tain" Watts (drums)
Milt Jackson "Bag's Groove" - Dick Berk (drums), Milt Jackson (vibraphone)
-Portland-based drummer Alan Jones is one musician that everybody should know about!
-I'm also always interested in what Cuban-born drummer Francisco Mela is up to these days. A recent conversation with Boston/Toronto pianist Carmen Spada prompted me to search up his name on youtube.com again. Here is in a great and spirited solo with McCoy Tyner and Esperanza Spalding from a concert in Central Park:
-Jack DeJohnette recently performed at the Newport Jazz Festival and fortunately for those of us who couldn't make it (!) it was recorded and here it is for all to enjoy:
-My good friend Matt Wilson is making his debut as a leader at the Village Vanguard during the first week of September. Don't miss it!!!
I hope you are all having a great summer and please be patient and enjoy the occasional post until we are back full-time in September.
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
I just received word that the great West Coast Jazz drummer Larance Marable passed away earlier this July. Marable was not a household name by any means but certainly played an important role in the West Coast scene and, notably, as the drummer in Charlie Haden's Quartet West group for many years.
In fact, when I was in grade 12 my high school Jazz band travelled to the IAJE conference in Anaheim, California in 1995 and I heard Larance playing drums with Haden's iconic group. His drumming really spoke to me and I was really influenced and moved by his clear and swinging cymbal beat and some very tasteful accompaniment on the drums. His style and approach fit that band perfectly.
I distinctly remember Larance taking an extended drum solo with mallets that, for me, was the highlight of the concert and really brought the house down. Charlie was going NUTS on the bass afterwards, he was so excited. That was the first time I'd ever heard a drummer play a solo with mallets and ever since it's been one of my favorite things to do during a drum solo.
Thank you Larance.
Here's a clip of Marable in a 50s trio date with West Coast pianist Carl Perkins and the underrated Leroy Vinnegar on bass:
With great thanks to Ethan Iverson over at his very fine blog Do The Math here are some words from Charlie Haden on his relationship with the great drummer, Larance Marable:
"I first met Larance Marable in the late fifties when I was playing with Paul Bley at the Hillcrest Club in L.A. and Larance was playing gigs around town. We soon started playing together with Art Pepper, Hampton Hawes, Sonny Clark, Paul Bley, and would often drive up to San Francisco to play with different musicians including Chet Baker. I still remember the stories he told on that drive, about Bird and other great musicians. In fact, on our Quartet West album Now Is the Hour there's a picture of him at a birthday party for Bird in Watts, sharing ice cream and cake.
He was a beautiful person that loved to laugh. My daughter Tanya once played him several games of ping pong when we were in Paris. When she missed a point, she'd say, "I'm going to get you, Wabbit" like she was talking to Bugs Bunny, and Larance would crack up.
This guy had something that was magical. I experienced it from the first time we started to play. The thrust of his cymbal was so strong. Strength is not the right word. Maybe power is right. It would happen anytime, anywhere. You could always rely on him. He had a lot of dynamics in his playing. You can’t explain it, but he had it. He functioned in my Quartet West like Jimmy Cobb functioned for Miles Davis, especially on Kind of Blue.
In 1986 or thereabouts, in Hollywood, there was some kind of benefit or reception for the movie Round Midnight. Billy Higgins was there, and he and I were talking and Higgins said, "Look over there, it's Larance Marable." Way across the room! Larance Marable! I went over to him, and we hugged. We had't seen each other in many years. I said, "Man! Are you playing?" He said, "I always loved playing with you!" and I said, "Now that I found you, we have to play together!"
First Larance subbed with Quartet when Higgins couldn't make it, but then, when Billy started touring with the Round Midnight band a lot, Larance joined my band full time. His cymbal beat was perfect: It was earthshaking when he came in with the time.
In Quartet West he was the other part of my heartbeat."