Monday, December 9, 2013

Jazz Drummer's Resource

You've probably noticed a new banner/link on my blog that will send you to a very fine website entitled "Jazz Drummer's Resource" http://lessons.justinvarnes.com. Maintained by Justin Varnes, this website contains a wealth of online video lessons that deal with a variety of subjects related to the art of Jazz drumming. I was first introduced to Justin's teachings via his weekly youtube lessons "52 Licks" in which he introduces and dissects a drum pattern from a different drummer each week (ambitious!) His explanations are very concise, clear and I've learned a lot from watching these.

In addition to Justin's weekly lessons he also maintains a website which contains a wealth of practical information and knowledge that can be immediately applied to your own drumming. After perusing his site I've quickly discovered that I'm going to require quite some time to check out all the great information he has amassed.

Justin was kind enough to take some time from his busy schedule to answer some questions and tell us all about his unique Jazz drumming educational website:

1) Tell us all about the Jazz Drummer's Resource. What is it all about?

Jazz Drummer's Resource is a website I put together designed to help jazz drummers who are at a point where they don't have a private teacher, but still want to be getting better. I post video lessons weekly on everything from jazz-specific techniques, to soloing ideas and phrases, to professional advice such as getting better at reading charts, and how to do a quick warmup before a gig when there isn't much time. I'm working on some beginner-level stuff as well, but currently the site is set up more for someone who may feel "stuck" without access to intermediate and advanced jazz concepts on a regular basis. It's like a jazz drummer's workout series! 

2) Why did you decide to pursue this project? 

Between my own touring schedule and trying to to teach students that don't live close to me, I started shooting video lessons for private students. I got so much positive feedback from it, that a few of them who had moved away or had gone off to college in a different city asked me to keep doing them and one suggested there are probably more people who might benefit from putting up these lessons online. They're fun to make and I got into the idea of someone desperately wanting to learn more about jazz, but not having the benefit of a jazz teacher or even a jazz scene in their area, and me being able to help them.

3) What were the logistics involved in putting together such a project?

It started with one camera, a few mics, and my office at Georgia State University. Then I had to learn how to host a website! That's been the biggest logistics issue. I've been studying jazz for years...not studying web design! ugh. Lots of research on how to host videos, lots of re-shoots after realizing I talk too fast, or I babble on and on...well, that part hasn't gotten much better!

3) What can you tell us about your background as a musician, Jazz drummer and educator?

I grew up in a house where jazz was played all the time. I however, listened to bad 80's music and played in a progressive rock band! But jazz music never left my ears and I eventually became entranced by it. I studied at the University of North Florida, then moved to NYC where I studied at the New School. I had a chance to study with some of my heroes: Jojo Mayer, Greg Hutchinson, Vernel Fournier...I even took lessons from legendary bassist Reggie Workman. I've played with lots of random artists of all genres, haha.  Mose Allison, David Sanchez, Wycliffe Gordon, Sachal Vasandani, Marcus Printup, even some pop artists like Five for Fighting and Gavin Degraw.  Educator-wise I hold down the drum chair at Georgia State University in Atlanta. 

4) How did your musical background and experience shape and inform your ideas about developing The Jazz Drummer's Resource?

The biggest factor was my access to great teachers and great players. I obsess about this music and the drums. I ask questions and want to take lessons from everyone. I ask bass players on gigs what they prefer behind their solos. I ask vocalists how they like to be accompanied on ballads. I'm in love with the idea of jazz drumming, and the minute I learn something, or discover something on the bandstand, the "teacher" in me wants to pass that info along. I'm the drumming equivalent of the guy who flashes his lights to tell you a cop's up ahead. "Hey guys! Bass players like it when you stay on the ride for their solos instead of the hi hat!"

5) What have been some of the highlights and challenges while working on this project?

The biggest highlight has definitely been all the positive feedback. It's fulfilling to hear that it's actually helping people. The biggest challenge is how time consuming it is. Between being a father, a full time musician, a private teacher, and a college music professor, it's been challenging to do the site and the "52 Licks" series on YouTube.  But I'm getting faster at it, and the more the site grows, the less private teaching I'll do so that I can devote more time to the site. 

6) What does the future have in store for your website?

Lots!  I'm doing a "Personal Trainer" series starting in 2014, where we work out our hands, work on playing faster tempos, and work through some famous jazz drum exercises such as the "Rudimental Ritual."  Also, I'll be bringing on some special guests to lend their expertise to things like Brazilian drumming, and Afro-Cuban drumming. In addition to those things, I'm going to be producing a "Rhythm Section" series where we bring in a pianist and bassist and work through some common rhythm section issues.

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