Friday, December 29, 2017

Tim Mah's Top Canadian Jazz Albums of 2017

Further to my last blog post, my good friend Tim Mah has once again offered yet another year-end list, this time featuring his favourite Canadian Jazz recordings of 2017. Even more great music here to take check out!

Tim hosts the Jazz radio program "Jazz Today" on CJSW 90.9 FM (Calgary) and it airs every Thursday morning from 5:30 - 7:00am MST. Archives and track lists are available here: https://cjsw.com/program/jazz-today/

This program is also available as a live stream on CJSW.com and the program is available as an iTunes podcast.

So without any further ado...

"Tim Mah's Top Canadian Jazz Albums of 2017"

In no particular order, here are ten of my favourite Canadian Jazz albums from 2017:

1) Matthew Stevens “Preverbal”

2) Emie R Roussel Trio “Intersections”

3) Chet Doxas “Rich in Symbols”

4) Quinsin Nachoff’s Ethereal Trio (self-titled)

5) Ralph Bowen (self titled)


6) Rachel Therrien Quintet “Why Don’t You Try”

7) Rubim de Toledo “The Gap”


8) Mike Downes “Root Structure”

9) Charles Trudel “Fruit”


10) Brad Cheeseman “The Tide Turns”

*Honorable Mentions*

Ashley Summers “True North”

Simon Denizart “Darkside”

Francois Bourassa Quartet “Number 9”

Diana Krall “Turn Up the Quiet”

Luke Sellick “Alchemist”

Ernesto Cervini’s Turboprop “Rev”

Carn Davidson Nine 9 “Murphy”

Christine Jensen & Orchestre National de Jazz de Montreal “Under the Influence Suite”

Bria Skonberg “With a Twist”

Hilario Duran “Contumbao”

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Tim Mah's Top Jazz Picks of 2017

My good friend Tim Mah has once again painstakingly and very generously put together his yearly list featuring his favourite Jazz recordings of 2017. Lots of great music here to take note of.

Tim hosts the Jazz radio program "Jazz Today" on CJSW 90.9 FM (Calgary) and it airs every Thursday morning from 5:30 - 7:00am MST. Archives and track lists are available here: https://cjsw.com/program/jazz-today/

This program is also available as a live stream on CJSW.com and the program is available as an iTunes podcast.

So without any further ado...

"Tim Mah's Top Jazz Picks of 2017"

Below is a list of 50 of my favourite jazz albums for 2017 (released from December 2016 to November 2017) and in no particular order:

1. Kurt Rosenwinkel “Caipi”

2. Cecile McLorin Salvant “Dreams and Daggers”

3. Jazzmeia Horn “A Social Call”

4. Linda May Han Oh “Walk Against Wind”

5. Chris Potter, David Virelles, Joe Martin, Marcus Gilmore “The Dreamer is the Dream”

6. Bill Charlap Trio “Uptown, Downtown”

7. Billy Childs “Rebirth”

8. Aaron Parks, Ben Street and Billy Hart “Find the Way”

9. Nate Smith “KINFOLK: Postcards from Everywhere”

10. Vijay Iyer Sextet “Far From Over”

11. Craig Taborn “Daylight Ghosts”

12. Kamasi Washington “Harmony of Difference”

13. Thundercat “Drunk”

14. Alan Broadbent “Developing Story” (with the London Metropolitan Orchestra)

15. Alan Ferber Big Band “Jigsaw”


16. Blue Note All-Stars “Our Point of View”

17. Terrace Martin Presents The Pollyseeds “Sounds of Crenshaw, Vol. 1”

18. Christian McBride Big Band “Bringin” It”

19. Ambrose Akinmusure “A Rift in Decorum: Live”

20. Nicholas Payton “Afro-Caribbean Mix-Tape"

21. Ron Miles “I Am A Man”


22. Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band “Body and Shadow”

23. Miguel Zenon “Tipico”

24. Christian Scott and Tunde Adjuah “Ruler Rebel”, “Diaspora” and “The Emancipation Procrastination”


25. Antonio Sanchez “Bad Hombre”

26. Binker & Moses “Journey to the Mountain of Forever”

27. Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet “Jersey”

28. Mammal Hands “Shadow Work”

29. Christian Sands “Reach”

30. Keyon Harrold “The Mugician”

31. Becca Stevens “Regina”

32. Fred Hersch “Open Book”

33. George Colligan “More Powerful” (featuring Linda May Han Oh, Rudy Royston, Nicole Glover)

34. Matt Wilson “Honey and Salt”

35. Yotam Silberstein “The Village”

36. John Beasley “Monk’estra Vol 2”

37. Natasha Agrama “The Heart of Infinite Change”

38. Sarah Elizabeth Charles “Free of Form”

39. Portico Quartet “Art in the Age of Automation”

40. Ben Allison “Layers in the City”

41. Walt Weiskopf “Fountain of Youth”


42. Miles Okazaki “Trickster”

43. Kneebody “Anti-Hero”

44. Tigran Hamaysan “An Ancient Observer”;

45. Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra “The Music of John Lewis (feat. Jon Batiste & Wynton Marsalis”

46. SFJAZZ Collective “Music of Miles Davis & Original Compositions Live: SFJazz Center 2016

47. Somi “Petite Afrique”

48. Ulysses Owens Jr. “Falling Forward”

49. Simon Premazzi “Outspoken”

50. Riverside “The New National Anthem"

*Honourable Mentions*

Joe Sanders “Humanity”

David Virelles “Gnosis”

Mostly Other People Do the Killing “Paint”

Phronesis, Julian Arguelles & Frankfurt Radio Big Band “The Behemoth”

Jane Ira Bloom “Wild Lines: Improvising on Emily Dickinson”

Willie Jones III “My Point Is…”

Bob Reynolds “Hindsight”

Josh Nelson “The Sky Remains”

Chris Speed Trio “Platinum on Tap"

Maurice Brown “The Mood”

Harold Mabern “To Love and Be Loved”

Lucas Pino “The Answer is No”

Roxy Coss “Chasing the Unicorn”

MAE.SUN “Vol. 1: Inter-be”

Joey Alexander “Joey.Monk.Live!”

Avishai Cohen “Cross My Palm With Silver”

Katie Thiroux “Off Beat”

Johnny O’Neal “In the Moment”

Edward Simon, Scott Colley & Brian Blade “Steel House”

Jeremy Pelt “Make Noise!”

Dayme Arocena “Cubafonia”

Champian Fulton “Speechless”

Champian Fulton & Scott Hamilton “The Things We Did Last Summer”

Steve Coleman’s Natal Eclipse “Morphogenesis”;

Ryan Keberle & Catharsis “Find the Common, Shine a Light”

Sean Jones “Live from Jazz at the Bistro”

Mark de Clive-Lowe “Live at the Blue Whale”

Rodney Green Quartet “Live at Montmarte (feat. Warren Wolf)”

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra “Handful of Keys”

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra “All Jazz is Modern”

Hear in Now “Not Living in Fear”

Zara McFarlane “Arise”

Braxton Cook “Somewhere in Between”

Hermeto Pascoal & Big Band “Natureza Universal”

Arturo O’Farrill and Chucho Valdes “Familia: Tribute to Bebo & Chico”

Fabian Almazan & Rhizome “Alcanza”

Butcher Brown “Live at Vagabond”

Matt Mitchell “A Pouting Grimace”

Gerald Clayton "Tributary Tales"

Emmet Cohen "Masters Legacy Series, Volume One: Jimmy Cobb"

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Elvin Jones Trio

I've been enjoying these ones lately and would love to hear more of this trio incarnation (according to Discogs there are four volumes from this live date?):

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Jimmy Wormworth

When I was visiting New York City during the late 90s and early 2000s on a fairly frequent basis, I could always count on hearing drummer Jimmy Wormworth (and Jimmy Lovelace for that matter...) down at Smalls at some point during my journey and it was ALWAYS swinging! While not a household name, his accomplishments and playing speak for themselves in my opinion.

Fortunately for us, here's a trio of interviews with this Master drummer, a true living legend:

And special thanks to Chad Anderson who passed along this brief but great footage of Wormworth in action, trading fours with some slick, swinging moves:

Thursday, December 14, 2017

When the Masters Speak...

...we listen.

These clips are all from a forthcoming documentary entitled Artists of Jazz. Check out this website https://artistsofjazz.com for more information and more gems of wisdom, straight from the people who created this art form.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Monday Morning Paradiddle

And...we're back. Well, it's been a minute since our last column but here's an assortment of interesting items for your perusal:

- Tributes to several great drummers who have recently left us:

Grady Tate


Ben Riley


Sunny Murray


- Jazz drumming legend Louis Hayes interviewed by The Trap Set with Joe Wong:


And a feature on Hayes via JazzTimes magazine:


- Jeff "Tain" Watts interviewed over at WGBH:


- A feature on Canadian Jazz drummer Norman Marshall Villneuve from the Montreal Gazette:


- Holy smokes! A bootleg of Old and New Dreams "Live in Saalfeden 1986" with Paul Motian filling in for Ed Blackwell:


- Interview with Rakalam Bob Moses:

I've really been digging Moses' new on-line lessons over at MyMusicMasterclass lately so be sure to check those out here:


- Some brief footage of Lewis Nash in action with Steve Nelson, Mulgrew Miller and Bob Hurst:

- Thanks to Jimmy Katz for providing these next solo clips :

Francisco Mela

Marcus Gilmore

And from Chick Corea's podcast, dig this feature on Marcus Gilmore:


- Some incredible footage of Antonio Sanchez' "Bad Hombre":

Sanchez talks about his latest project here:


- Thanks to Regina's Jim Gallagher for hipping me to this great one of the Oscar Peterson trio featuring the underrated Bobby Durham on drums:

- This is pretty amazing too, The Roots' Questlove demonstrating a Tony Allen beat:

- I asked Ted Warren http://trapdted.blogspot.ca awhile ago to comment on his favourite open drum solos and this is what he had to offer:

"I really like the aforementioned Jack DeJohnette on "Salsa For Eddie G". I like it because even though it's free, it does make reference to the tune and provides a beautiful intro. Plus, all the rimshots on the toms sound fantastic!!!! Secondly, I'll nominate " Steps/What Was" which is Roy Haynes on Chick's "Now He Sings, Now He Sobs". Wow! There's so much to like about this solo. First he opens it with a metric modulation of the jazz ride pattern (I'm not sure if he or Tony Williams recorded it first, but it's certainly a great early example). Then he gets this great interplay going between the rims of all the drums (going down the kit) and the Paiste 602 flat ride he's using, which apparently was owned by Chick (It's also amazing to note, since I don't think he had spent much time with the flat ride, how quickly he grasped it's qualities and sonic possibilities.) Then the floor tom comes roaring in. This solo is sooooo well constructed and exciting. He then plays fast bass drum underneath everything while he's playing all around the drums. He finally ends by taking a single stroke roll from the body of the snare drum to the snare drum rim, then switching to the flat ride and establishing the 3/4 groove for the next tune. It's such a creative beautiful solo that transitions between the two tunes that I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's my favorite drum solo EVER!!!"

- Thanks to Toronto's Nick Fraser for hipping us to this amazing Dexter Gordon/Gene Ammons record that features BOTH Steve McCall and Wilbur Campbell (two very important Jazz drummers out of Chicago) splitting the drum chair:

- What am I listening to these days?

Antonio Sanchez "Bad Hombre" - Antonio Sanchez (drums)

Christian McBride Big Band "Bringing' It" - Quincy Phillips (drums)

Wayne Shorter "Night Dreamer" - Elvin Jones (drums)

Turboprop "Rev" - Ernesto Cervini (drums)

We3 "Amazing" - Adam Nussbaum (drums)

The Three Sounds "Introducing" - Bill Dowdy (drums)

Rodney Green Quartet "Live Jazzhus Montmatre Copenhagen" - Rodney Green (drums), Warren Wolf (drums)

Matt Wilson "Honey and Salt: Music Inspired by the Poetry of Carl Sandburg" - Matt Wilson (drums)

Milt Jackson Quartet "That's the Way it is" - Dick Berk (drums), Milt Jackson (vibes)

Mike Murley & Dave Liebman "Live at UofT" - Terry Clarke (drums)

- And today's Final Word goes to American poet Carl Sanburg (via Matt Wilson's latest release):

“There is a music for lonely hearts nearly always.
If the music dies down there is a silence.
Almost the same as the movement of music.
To know silence perfectly is to know music.”

- Carl Sandburg, "Good Morning, America"

Thanks again to you all for all your continued support. I sure appreciate your interest in what I have to share with the world. Don't forget to check out my ever evolving Instagram page at: https://www.instagram.com/fouronthefloorblog/

Monday, December 4, 2017

Interview with Mickey Roker

Thanks to Chad Anderson for sharing this series of interviews with many Jazz greats, brought to us by the Fillius Jazz Archive at Hamilton College. Pay attention to this one in particular with the great Mickey Roker:

And now check this out, some burning footage of Mickey Roker featured with Hank Jones on piano and George Mraz on bass:

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Erskine Hi-Hat Lick

A post shared by Four on the Floor (@fouronthefloorblog) on

A simple but hip little open/closed/snare hi-hat pattern that Peter Erskine showed me awhile ago.

No proper notation today but a simple way of thinking of this pattern would be to phrase it in triplets with the following sticking pattern:

R L x    L R x    R L x    L R x

( x = hi-hat w/foot)

Then double the hi-hat with the bass drum.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Earl MacDonald: Open Borders

Earl MacDonald is a wonderful Canadian Jazz pianist, composer and arranger, originally from Winnipeg, now teaching in Connecticut. We are both graduates of the Jazz program at McGill University in Montreal however we missed each other by a few years. Fortunately we have many mutual acquaintances and have gotten to know each other over the past few years.

Earl has a wonderful new recording out featuring a concept and instrumentation that really fascinates and resonates with me these days.

Take a listen here:

You can purchase his album here:

He was also kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions about his music:

Tell us about your latest recording!

It’s called “Open Borders,” and all the music is written for a 10-piece band comprised of 2 trumpets, French horn, trombone, 3 saxophones (alto, tenor, Bari), piano, string bass and drums. A guest vocalist appears on one track and a Latin percussionist was added on another. I arranged all the music. Five of the tracks are original compositions, two are pieces by Albertan jazz musicians who commissioned me to arrange their music, and the remaining four songs are arrangements of familiar tunes (East of the Sun, Hit the Road Jack, Appointment in Ghana, Blame It on My Youth).

How did you choose your repertoire and sidemen? 

The repertoire developed organically; I didn’t have an album theme selected at the outset. I formed the 10-piece band around 2009 to work in conjunction with my local jazz society, to help them accomplish their aims and purposes related to audience building and jazz education. I thought it could be a mutually beneficial union, and it was, for about a three-year period (until some grant proposals failed and a theft occurred from within the organization. Then everyone’s enthusiasm fizzled.).

To get up and running, I created a body of arrangements using reductions of my big band charts, from the Re:Visions album. Then for each gig, I introduced one or two new pieces, which either replaced one of the original big band reductions or addressed the lack of a certain type of tune within a set, like a ballad or up-tempo burner, for instance. We did about ten performances, in a wide range of venues, and the repertoire grew. In several instances, I continued the practice of reducing big band arrangements, but with newly commissioned works. This was the case with:

· Hit the Road Jack - written for the Westchester Jazz Orchestra

· Dig in Buddy - arranged at the request of the composer Tyler Hornby

· Sordid Sort of Fellow - composed for 2009 Central Massachusetts District Jazz Band

· Smoke and Mirrors - commissioned by Amherst College

· Catch of the Day - arranged for the Grant McEwan University Faculty/Alumni Big Band.

Jackie McLean’s Appointment in Ghana, was arranged because the band and jazz society were Hartford-based, which was Jackie’s home. It was fitting for the ensemble to pay tribute to him, as several people within the band were Jackie’s students… which leads to your other question, regarding sidemen.

Initially, I wanted everyone in the band to either reside in Connecticut or have ties to state, because of the working link with the Hartford Jazz Society. We started out that way, but over time, a few people slipped in from New York and Massachusetts. I worked closely with alto saxophonist, Kris Allen, in making personnel choices. They all needed to be decent readers, strong improvisers, and hungry to play. We also discussed the benefits/importance of working with a diverse set of collaborators.

I wrote an article last summer, describing my relationship with each of musicians who performed on the Open Borders album, which is posted at the following link: http://www.earlmacdonald.com/open-borders/the-musicians/

What inspired you to pursue the vibe and instrumentation that you did? 

I wrangled with the instrumentation for several years. I remember making lists, comparing “little big band” configurations on various albums. Arranging for Maynard Ferguson’s Big Bop Nouveau Band got me thinking about it. That was such a messed-up instrumentation: 3 trumpets (plus Maynard!), trombone, alto sax, tenor sax and rhythm section. The band really would have benefited from a Bari sax or bass trombone to add some bottom end. The poor trombone player had to do acrobatic feats each night, jumping from the bottom to top registers.

I spoke with Rob McConnell about my intent to start a band and asked how he arrived at his 10tet’s instrumentation. His advice was to stay clear of woodwind doubles and French horns, because it made finding substitute players difficult. (He also grumbled something about the personalities of horn players.) I listened regarding “doublers,” but ultimately decided to include French horn, as it adds an unexpected, elegant hue to the group. Horn also bridges the brass and saxes, and widens orchestration possibilities.

Jim McNeely’s “Group Therapy” album from 2001 was a big influence when forming my group. I got to hear this band live at a jazz educator’s conference in New York City, which was inspiring. Jim’s group did include both horn and woodwind doubles.

I wrestled with including a fourth saxophone, knowing that it would facilitate 4-part writing in both the brass and saxes, but then again… if I had done this, I might not have arrived at some of the more interesting instrumental combinations I discovered in the process of problem solving.

With regards to the vibe, I wanted my music to be a natural extension and offshoot from folks like Thad Jones, Bob Brookmeyer, Bill Holman, Slide Hampton, Jim McNeely, Gerry Mulligan and Rob McConnell. I aimed for the music to be informed but not derivative, original but not off-putting. I even wrote down something like this before starting.

Was there a particular message you were trying to convey to the listener?

Not initially. If anything, I just wanted to demonstrate that thoughtfully arranged, acoustic, large ensemble jazz was still viable as an artistic medium.

The open borders thematic idea came later, when there was a need to articulate what made the album unique. I knew diversity within the ensemble was a special, defining factor, but it wasn’t especially uncommon in jazz. I assembled a group of artist-faculty from UConn’s School of Fine Arts for a brainstorming session over drinks and appetizers. Eventually the open borders concept emerged --- along with a lifetime’s worth of song titles and concepts. It is great to be working amid a community of accomplished artists who are open to helping someone get “unstuck.”
I outlined my thoughts regarding open borders, as they relate to life, society and art, in the following essay: http://www.earlmacdonald.com/open-borders/album-liner-notes/

Who are your influences with regards to this style of writing?

For about a decade, I have been leading a 10 to 12-piece ensemble at the University of Connecticut. Each semester we focus on the music of a different composer, so in the process, I have learned a lot by studying the scores and preparing the music of people like Michael Abene, Jim McNeely, Dave Rivello, Rob McConnell, Marty Paich, Gil Evans, Gerry Mulligan, John Mills, Michael Philip Mossman, Nathan Parker Smith, and Bill Cunliffe. I’m looking forward to revisiting Rob McConnell’s 10tet music in the coming spring semester.

What are you practicing/studying/listening to/researching these days?

Benny Golson visited UCONN this past semester, so I learned and reviewed a bunch of his tunes in preparation. I’m now trying to expand the number of Thelonious Monk tunes I have memorized and am comfortable performing.

I’ve been taking trumpet lessons with my 11-year-old son, and we practice together every day. I transcribed a bunch of Blue Mitchell solos and we’re now learning to play them. On occasion, I will pull out my trumpet at the jam session I lead at the university, and will play a blues. I’m enjoying this new challenge and I believe it has made me more aware of the physical demands of playing the instrument, which will improve my arranging.

I listen to a wide variety of jazz. Recently I pulled out “Mel Lewis & the Jazz Orchestra: Make Me Smile and Other New Works by Bob Brookmeyer.” It made me question if my writing is becoming too conservative. I may need to up the ante to reflect my political angst.

What other current and future projects do you have on the go at the moment?

At the moment, I am in recovery mode after an intense period of writing under a deadline. I just finished two big band commissions – one for the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra and the other for the University of Massachusetts Amherst Jazz One Ensemble.

The WJO piece was part of a suite celebrating Canada’s 150th. Ten jazz composers from across Canada (plus me in the role of expat) were commissioned to write one movement each. I titled my movement “Cirrus,” and described it by saying:

“I miss the prairie skyline. In New England, where I now reside, one has to consciously look up to see the sky. But on the prairies, with no buildings or trees blocking the view, one is struck by the immensity of the blue sky we all share, and how disproportionally small we are, beneath it. Its vastness is equally comforting and disconcerting, providing perspective beyond ourselves.”

The piece for UMASS, entitled “By Our Love,” is more politically charged. It is a reaction to the political tribalism in America which compelled three-quarters of white, evangelical Christians to support a presidential candidate who is seemingly the antithesis of all the things Jesus taught and lived. Elements of my piece are derived from a frequently sung hymn entitled, “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love,” composed in 1968 by then-Catholic priest Peter Scholtes. There is a disturbing paradox to the hymn’s title in the current era, when allegiance to political party appears to take precedence over the tenets of one’s faith.

I plan to revisit this piece and further develop it after some time away from it. I applied for a grant where in conjunction with an illustrator, a musical and visual multi-media experience will be created, to be performed as a catalyst for dialogue. Dialogue will encourage contemplation of the current polarized political climate in the US, and its relationship to faith practices. The music will be performed while the visual plays. An invited interdisciplinary panel of sociologists, political scientists, clergy of different denominations, etc. will use the preceding performance as a springboard for discussion and commentary.

Needless to say, this project really excites me. I think there is potential for selling it as a reproducible event (similar to theatre productions) which could be presented on campuses or churches across the country. We’ll see.
Other than composing, I’m playing a bit, here and there. I enjoy my monthly big band gig with the New London Big Band, which is comprised mostly of US Coast Guard musicians. They play a few of my charts and I’d like to write more, specifically for them. I like the idea of writing simple yet strong, easy-to-follow charts, that can be sight-read on the gig (even after a beer or two).

I have a bunch of guest conducting gigs coming up, with high school and middle school regional ensembles. I truly enjoy this type of work, which typically spans a weekend. For a while now, I have been planning to write a series of educational big band charts. It’s just a matter of prioritizing it, and carving out the time. Someday I will make it happen.

How do the drums factor into your compositions and concept?

I think about drums a lot and go through phases when I practice on drum set. When I see bands perform, I am usually fixated on the drummer. Drums are definitely not an afterthought in my writing; they are in the forefront of my imagination. I am very aware of how they can affect and impact everything else. Sometimes I imagine specific drummers playing my music, as I write it. A big part of my writing process is singing imagined rhythmic figures (sometimes complete with drum fills), into a recording device for later transcription and reworking.

What drummers do you admire?

Nasheet Waits is a drummer that interests me on recordings. He’s someone I’d like to experience playing with at some point. I think some of Fred Hersch’s most inspired playing is with Nasheet.

Rogerio Boccato is the drummer/percussionist I like using with my C.O.W. ensemble. He has a special magic to his playing that brings the music to unexpected places, but nothing ever feels forced. I can’t imagine playing that music with anyone else. It’s nice to see his career taking off, and that he’s appearing more and more frequently alongside Brian Blade, and within Maria Schneider’s band, for instance.

I am becoming more and more interested in Max Roach, and only in recent years have started becoming acquainted with his work as a leader following the years with Clifford Brown. “We Insist” for example, is so incredibly deep!

There are so many drummers I could name, but I’d be here forever and might just be recreating a list of all the greats. I will offer that Elvin Jones is probably my all-time, historic favorite.

What do you look for in a drummer?

For my 10tet and the “Open Borders” recording session I thought more about forming a cohesive rhythm section than about a drummer specifically. I like how Ben (Bilello) and Henry (Lugo) play together. It feels good, they are consistent, and the tempos stay put. Both of them take care of business and prepare ahead of time and they are eager to please. The two of them make me laugh and keep me feeling loose, so I knew their presence would help ease tensions during a long recording session.

I hired Winard Harper recently for a gig I did in New York. We have worked together for the past three summers at UMASS Amherst’s Jazz-In-July program. I like the energy and personality he brings to the music. I hear plenty of tradition in his playing (Max Roach especially), but with him, I don’t feel boxed into having to play in a certain manner, replicating a past era. At times his accompaniment surprised and prodded me; I was pushed out of my routine and forced to really improvise. I love this, and it made for an inspired performance. At the same time, he is flexible and listens. Some drummers are creative, but there is no flexibility; it’s their way or the highway, which can be a drag after a while.

There are so many functional jazz drummers, but few that are “special.” The special ones bring something extra to the music and inspire others to play at their best. They’ve got personality. There’s nothing worse than playing with a drummer who is polite and doesn’t put him/herself out there. The flipside is that some of the drummers with strong musical personalities have equally strong and abrasive personalities off-stage. I could name several drummers I have wanted to hire, but have been warned by other players to stay clear of them, because they are problematic.

Dynamics are another pet peeve. I hate having to play a whole night where I am forcing my sound in order to project. I despise the feeling of lactic acid buildup in my forearms, stemming from fighting a drummer, that prevents me from playing anything beyond eighth notes. Obviously, it is desirable to achieve balance between being forceful and gently expressive, so I try to work with drummers with a sufficiently wide range of dynamic control.

What advice do you have for younger, aspiring jazz musicians?

Get off your phones and get some serious practicing in while you can!

*Learn more about Earl MacDonald and his music at his website: www.earlmacdonald.com
and blog www.earlmacdonaldmusic.com/blog/

Buy a copy of Earl's new album here: https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/earlmacdonald5

Monday, November 20, 2017

Ben Riley

Unfortunately I just heard that the great Ben Riley passed away this weekend at the age of 84. Not only was his work with Thelonious Monk very influential on me but hearing him play live once also really changed my life and my overall perspective of Jazz drumming...

During December 1998 I took my first trip to New York City, by train from Montreal, to hear Elvin Jones play at the Blue Note for the better part of his week-long residency. My good friend, and brilliant tenor saxophonist, Kelly Jefferson (who was studying at the Manhattan School of Music at the time) offered to let me stay at his apartment for the duration of my stay. Kelly met me at Penn Station once my train arrived and after a quick bite to eat we headed to the Village Vanguard. Ben Riley was playing that night with the band Sphere, a great band that also featured Kenny Barron, Gary Bartz and Buster Williams. It was of course a special evening of music being my inaugural experience at the Vanguard but I was also blown away by Riley's light touch and ability to swing the band at such a low dynamic level. I'll never forgot how he started the 2nd set of music with a drum solo and as the audience (many tourists of course...) gradually dinned in volume how I could see Riley's hands moving furiously and low around the drums before I could hear him, gradually crescendoing into a highly swinging wall of sound that propelled the band into a roading rendition of Monk's Rhythm-ning...

Here's a few nice articles about Ben Riley and his legacy:



- Ted Panken's "Today Is The Question"


- Ethan Iverson's "Do The Math"


- A transcription and analysis from Todd Bishop's Cruiseship Drummer:


- Modern Drummer


And from a 2005 Modern Drummer interview (via Mark Griffiths), this quote pretty much sums it all up:

“I came up in an era of accompaniment. I enjoy that more than soloing, because each person I’ve worked with has had different attitudes, songs, and styles of playing. I never come on a job thinking: "I’m going to play this or play that." I wait to see what they’re going to do and then fit into that picture.”

My experience hearing Ben Riley play was, of course, consistent with his description. However, as you can see below, he was a great soloist too!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Interview with Max Roach

From the same series of interviews as the Philly Joe Jones one from earlier this week, now here's Max Roach!

Thanks again to Rochester's Mike Melito who found these gems.

And while we're at it, here's a GREAT Max Roach album we should all familiarize ourselves with:

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Interview with Philly Joe Jones

Alright. Just stop whatever you're doing and watch this. Right now.

Thank you to Rochester's Mike Melito for finding this one!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Left Hand 3-2 Rumba Clave Exercise

A post shared by Four on the Floor (@fouronthefloorblog) on

This is a short little exercise that I practice to develop my left hand accents. This is based on something that Joe Morello showed me in a lesson ten years ago. This is a great little ditty you can use to develop your left hand traditional grip but you could also play this using matched grip, unison/hands together or any way you want, really. 

I like using some kind of a clave pattern because it also gets me thinking of a melodic phrase while at the same time addressing a technical issue (I thank Billy Martin for pointing this out to me...)

People (students, teachers, fellow drummers, etc.) often ask me about my own use of traditional grip and I am always willing to share how and why I do it. As a student of Jazz drumming, I believe it is important. Hand technique (ie. traditional vs. matched grip) can be a very personal and contentious issue but I find playing traditional grip has been tremendously valuable to my own playing as a Jazz drummer. 

Now, I don't think you have to necessarily play traditional grip to be a good Jazz drummer (in fact, my good friend and fellow blogger Ted Warren is a great example of this and, of course, many other current Jazz drummers exemplify this as well...) but given the history of the grip and its use by the great drummers who created the language of Jazz drumming, I do believe that it is worth checking out and seriously considering at some point in one's development. It may not be necessary but it IS significant and, I believe, worth exploring. Personally, I use both traditional and matched grips as the situation dictates and I'm glad to have that option. I feel that both grips each have their advantages/disadvantages so the more you can do, the more you can do!

New York Jazz drummer Vinnie Sperezza wrote this very thoughtful column on why he plays traditional grip and, personally, I can relate to this very much:

Some drummers have been very dogmatic about this subject (on both sides of the traditional vs. matched debate) but at the end of the day, as long as the musical purpose is served first and foremost, you are welcome to hold your sticks/brushes/mallets any way that you want! 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Jazz Drums @ Lincoln Center

Thanks to the kind people over at Jazz at Lincoln Center, we have a wealth of concerts streaming, for our convenient perusal, via their YouTube channel. Lots of great current and legendary Jazz drummers to check out here:

Ali Jackson Jr.

Rodney Green

Willie Jones III

Ulysses Owens Jr.

Nate Smith

Joe Farnsworth

Louis Hayes

Herlin Riley

Jerome Jennings

The Cookers (featuring Jabali Billy Hart)

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Buddy Rich Warm Up

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This was shown to me by Joe Ascione, a great drummer with ridiculous hands, whom I took some lessons with in New York City back in 2004, in the basement of the Ed Sullivan Theatre.

*Some people have asked me WHY this is called the "Buddy Rich" exercise...Well, Joe Ascione, who showed this to me, also travelled with the Buddy Rich band when he was younger and would move and set up Buddy's drums for him. Joe told me that this was the closest thing to a warm-up routine that he ever saw or heard Buddy play. This is what Joe showed showed me and what I've demonstrated above. Obviously this isn't exactly what Rich played but, from all accounts, something very similar...

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Happy Halloween!

Trick or Treat...

Happy Halloween everybody!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Denny's Combos *Redux*

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An oldie but a goldie....Find the full explanation here:

Monday, October 23, 2017

Jon Christensen Up Close

A rare, up close glimpse for you today of one of ECM's most definitive drummers, the great Jon Christensen:

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Paradiddle 1-2-3

A simple but sideways little exercise today that I've been messing with on the snare drum lately.

This one consists of literally one single paradiddle followed by one double paradiddle followed by one triple paradiddle (with accents!) all played consecutively. However, the challenge is to keep a steady two-beat pulse underneath with the bass drum and hi-hat (sorry...the bass drum isn't very audible on the clip below!)

The paradiddle combination is an 18-note cycle (that switches hands back and forth, each time) and it moves around the beat in a somewhat unpredictable way so you really have to concentrate to keep your rhythmic balance centred.

I supposed you could also up the ante as well by orchestrating the accents of each paradiddle around the drums and changing the bass drum/hi-hat to a samba foot pattern (paging Mr. Dawson!)

Monday, October 16, 2017

Falling Forward with Ulysses Owens Jr.

Ulysses Owens Jr.'s recent release "Falling Forward" is a wonderful vibraphone trio exploration, following the spirit of other great vibe trio albums such as Gary Burton's "New Vibe Man in Town" and Victor Feldman's "The Arrival of Victor Feldman".

The Open Studio Network has also recently released an instructional series featuring Ulysses that will certainly be worth digging into: https://www.openstudionetwork.com/project/fyb-overview/

Owens was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his recent album and other projects of late:

1) Tell us about your latest recording! How did you choose your repertoire and sidemen? What inspired you to pursue the vibe and instrumentation that you did? Was there a particular message you were trying to convey to the listener?

My latest recording is a trio record and I am really excited about it. I really feel for the first time that I have an album that really showcases who I am and where I am artistically in the moment. It’s a place of freedom. It features Reuben Rogers on bass and Joel Ross on Vibraphone. I really wanted to do a trio album because I feel that it’s the most natural context for me. The overall goal was to create an album of great music and display the awesome chemistry between all of us. There is so much music happening beyond the music.

2) Who are your influences, on and off the drums, and why?

My influences on the drums are Papa Jo Jones, Philly Joe Jones, Lewis Nash, Frankie Dunlop, Roy Haynes, Kenny Washington, Steve Jordan, Al Jackson Jr. Non drummers: Quincy Jones, Rickey Minor, Joe Henderson, Monk, Mulgrew Miller, Christian McBride, Ella, Sarah, Billy, Dinah Washington. I love Brazilian Music, Afrobeat Music, Jamaican Music, etc…I am influenced by people’s personalities, and their emotions. I am wide open man!

3) What are you practicing these days?

I am always practicing, trying to play with better time and sit in the right place in the beat. I am always keeping my ears open and wanting to be incredibly tasteful and musical.

4) What other current and future projects do you have on the go at the moment?

Current projects include:

- "Songs of Freedom Project" featuring the music of Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell and Abbey Lincoln, of which I am the music director.

- Ulysses Owens Jr. THREE which is my trio featuring Joel Ross and Reuben Rogers

- My company UOJ Productions is currently in the middle of producing several projects slated for release in 2018.

- I am also on faculty at the Juilliard School.

5) What advice do you have for younger, aspiring jazz drummers?

Really focus on the basic fundamentals. Really master your rudiments, play with great time and the metronome, limb development/balance and making the band sound good. You are the engine so as the engine functions so should you. Work on having a consistent groove that is so heavy and powerful that people sign up to play with you. Don’t worry about soloing and fills. Just focus on being a solid drummer. Lastly, practice patience and all good things will come to the faithful and those who are willing to work for it.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Art Blakey and the Jazz Warriors

Since today would have been Art Blakey's 98th birthday I thought it
would be appropriate to post this documentary featuring Bu and the Jazz Messengers featured along with a troupe of British Jazz dancers, The Jazz Warriors:

Personally this documentary was an important resource for me during my teens, one of my first introductions to the music of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, thanks to the diverse Jazz audio and visual collection at the Regina Public Library circa. 1994.

*Please check out my new Four on the Floor Instagram page:


I will be posting here every day (hopefully...) but only the videos will be linked and show up here, on my regular blog page.

Check back often for photos of my favourite Jazz drummers, short 1 min. instructional videos and various other "Easter eggs".

Thanks again for your support and all the gloriousness that modern social media currently affords us*

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Brush Comping Exercise

A brief demonstration of an exercise I like to practice that involves playing up beat accents, in the context of a 4/4 swing brush pattern:

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I usually stretch out each variation over the course of a two measure phrase but had to condense it to fit Instagram's one-minute time limit for videos (but I think it all still makes sense...) Hope you dig it!

Monday, October 2, 2017

A Tribute to Buddy Rich

Thanks to the kind folks over at the Avedis Zildjian cymbal company, here's a three-part tribute to Buddy Rich (who's 100th birthday anniversary was celebrated this past week) with commentary from Armand Zildjian and Lennie DiMuzio:

And in case we needed a reminder of what a genius Rich was...

Wednesday, September 27, 2017


Hey folks, Four on the Floor is now on Instagram!


I'll be posting photos and short videos on a fairly frequent basis, a personal companion to my existing blog. Hope you dig it.

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Monday, September 25, 2017

The Monday Morning Paradiddle

And....we're back. I hope that your respective summer month's were productive, restful and now getting into the swing of things now that the fall season is upon us. With students and teachers going back to school in September I always feel inspired to start new projects and work on brilliant new ideas. Onwards and upwards. The learning never stops.

The minions over here at the Four on the Floor offices have been hard at work lately and here's what we've compiled for you with the latest edition of the The Monday Morning Paradiddle. As always, thank you for your support and enjoy!

- Check out Jack DeJohnette's latest cover feature from Modern Drummer magazine:


I found this piece quite interesting. In particular, when asked if he had any advice for young Jazz drummers, Jack replied:

"I recommend that they have knowledge of a melodic instrument..."

- From Scott K. Fish a similar sentiment from Max Roach on the importance of learning a melodic instrument:


- Paul Wells recently compiled this excellent listening list of 50 Jazz drumming recordings to check out, for Modern Drummer magazine:


- Seattle's Matt Jorgensen interviewed by workingdrummer.net:


- Antonio Sanchez speaks about his latest offering "Bad Hombre":


- An archived radio interview with Max Roach from NPR's Hot Air:

-  Another suggested listening list, this time it's Elvin Jones from DRUM! Magazine:


 - More Elvin goodness, this time interviewed by former Santana rhythm man Michael Shrieve:


Thanks to Todd Bishop over at Cruiseship Drummer for this find!

- Kendrick Scott is interviewed over at the Drummer's Resource podcast:


- Dennis Mackrel is an incredible drummer that I've always enjoyed listening to. Here he is interviewed by Drummer Nation:


And also from Drummer Nation, here's Eastman drum professor Rich Thompson interviewed:


- Not one, not two but THREE interviews with the great Art Blakey":


- More Jack DeJohnette, this time in a little "percussion discussion" with percussionist Don Alias:

- An Interview with Jeff "Tain" Watts from The Trap Set:

- Christian McBride offers some important advice drawn from his own life experience:

- What am I listening to these days?

Dexter Gordon "A Swingin' Affair" - Billy Higgins (drums)

Brad Mehldau & Joshua Redman "Nearness"

David Friesen "The Name of a Woman" - Alan Jones (drums)

Ulysses Owens Jr. "Falling Forward" - Ulysses Owens Jr. (drums)

Steve Lacy "Only Monk"

Brandi Disterheft "Blue Canvas" - Joe Farnsworth (drums)

- And today's Last Word goes to the immortal Art Blakey (via Bobby Sanabria):

"What the people want is FIRE." - Art Blakey

Thursday, September 21, 2017

John Riley en Italia

From earlier this summer, here's John Riley in a masterclass in Italy (with translation!) As always, John's playing is great as is his ability to break down, explain and demonstrate many important concepts.