Max Roach once referred to the drum set as being the "Four-Limbed Monster", speaking to the coordination and independence skills required to play it (and yes, I realize that the animation above depicts a drumming octopus who definitely has more than four limbs!)
Anyways, I've got a long and evolving list of things I've been practicing since the pandemic hit last March and I thought I would share with you a concept that I've been having fun with lately.
One of the goals as a drummer should be, in my opinion, to achieve a certain sense of unity and balance between all parts of the drum set. This is often easier said than done!
These are a couple of comping exercises that I've been messing around with. These have helped me towards developing a deeper sense of time and a unified sense of 4-way coordination.
Play both of these examples with the standard ride cymbal beat:
Rhythmically, both of these phrases are a series of syncopated, poly-rhythmic eighth-note figures that create an over-the-bar-line loop. This is challenging enough on its own, playing these figures with just one limb against the ride cymbal beat (for what's it's worth, this eighth-note figure was inspired by some Alan Dawson concepts I came across. You should practice this too!) but my exercise splits the rhythm in a sequence between the snare, bass drum and hi-hat.
The order of the orchestration between the snare, bass drum and hi-hat isn't by accident either and intentionally by design. I won't spoil it for you so play through these two examples and see if you can figure out the logic of each pattern.
I've also found this to be a helpful way to incorporate the hi-hat into my comping phrases (i.e. Roy Haynes).
Play it slow.
Balance the limbs dynamically.
Use a metronome.
Relax and strive for a sense of flow.
Make it swing!
* If you have any questions please let me know!*
** If you might be interested in taking a lesson with me and learn about more exercises and concepts such as these and more, drop me a line and we'll connect!!**
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I was recently reading about Cindy Blackman Santana's latest album release "Give the Drummer Some!" in the pages of Jazz Times magazine this month. It seems like every November they like to feature drummers in particular and I think this is just fantastic (in fact, it's one of the very few magazines in print that I actually buy anymore. I can't even find a place to purchase a physical copy of Modern Drummer these days!)
Anyways, it was a great feature, I really look forward to hearing her new music and this also prompted me to dig around a bit and see what she's been up to these days.
The first time I heard Cindy play was actually in a short segment from a documentary about Art Blakey in which she was playing drums, subbing for Bu, in a rehearsal with the Jazz Messengers. While it was brief, it was swinging! Fast forward to the mid-90's when I first heard her band play at the Salle de Gesu in Montreal and I was completely blown away and unprepared for the power and energy that she played with. I've been a fan ever since!
Here's a few pieces featuring this wonderful musician:
- A recent interview and feature from PBS NewsHour:
- A solo feature from the 2020 DRUMEO Festival:
- And finally, I've really been digging this ongoing series of videos from the Drum Compilations YouTube channel (and will likely share more of these featuring other drummers in the future!) Here's Cindy's latest compilation:
Today's post features the great Joe LaBarbera, a fantastic drummer, overall musician, selfless teacher and a wonderful human being. This piece was filmed at the Professional Drum Shop in Hollywood, California:
I've really been digging the Pat LaBarbera/Kirk MacDonald album Trane of Thought lately, a tribute to the music of John Coltrane which features Joe on drums.
Pat and Kirk have been leading an annual birthday tribute to Coltrane at The Rex in Toronto for a long time now (20+ years?) Unfortunately it didn't happen this year for obvious reasons but I was happy to see that this project was finally documented when it was released last year.
I really appreciate the intensity with which Joe plays on this album, keeping the energy up and the engine fires stoked all without overplaying (in my experience, it's all too easy to get caught up in the energy in musical situations like this so you've got to be mindful to listen carefully and play the "long game" so to speak...) Joe's drumming on this album is a great lesson in musical accompaniment.
When Joe plays, it's all about the music, all the time!
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I shared this one several years ago (10 years ago in fact!) but I keep on returning to it and find it compelling and inspiring. This short film also comes up in conversation from time to time with several of my colleagues in the dance world so I figured I would share this once again.
"Life has a rhythm, it's constantly moving.
The word for rhythm (used by the Malinke tribes) is FOLI.
It is a word that encompasses so much more than drumming, dancing or sound.
It's found in every part of daily life.
In this film you not only hear and feel rhythm but you see it.
It's an extraordinary blend of image and sound that
feeds the senses and reminds us all
how essential it is."
- Thomas Roeber
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*Just a minor piece of housekeeping now that I've got your attention: I have added a SUBSCRIBE option on the right hand side of this page. Just enter your e.mail address (I promise not to spam you!) and you'll receive regular updates via Mailchimp in your Inbox whenever I publish a new blog post (isn't technology grand?) Stay connected and don't miss out!*
Anyways, now back to our regularly scheduled programming....
As I was reviewing my monthly Monday Morning Paradiddle column from a few weeks ago, I was prompted to revisit Terri Lyne Carrington's incredible Grammy award-winning album MoneyJungle: Provocation in Blue.
Here is a live performance of her Money Jungle project, interpreted by Carrington and her band (this music was originally recorded in 1962 featuring Duke Ellington, Max Roach and Charles Mingus):
I've really been enjoying Andrew Cyrille's solo works of late and this took me down a bit of an internet rabbit-hole (which is always a good thing!) I find Cyrille's drumming to be very compelling and since I've been playing a lot of solo drums on my own these days (while also playing with records, play-a-longs, loops, the metronome, etc.) I've taken a lot of inspiration from Cyrille's musical approach to dealing with the drums on their own (and of course I will say the same about his playing with others as well...I was also really inspired by a recent trio set featuring Joe Lovano and Ben Street, live-streamed from the Village Vanguard).
I've shared a few of these items before but for my own sake and interest, here they are again plus some others.
Anyways, here's a few pieces that inspired me lately:
And here are a series of articles and interviews worth reading:
- Jazz Times Magazine features Andrew Cyrille: Art & SciencePart 1Part 2
Quincy Davis, Assistant Professor of Drum Set at the University of North Texas, recently released his latest musical offering Q Vision.
These are challenging times to say the least and my hat is off to all those artists who have chosen to release their new music in the face of our current circumstances. Despite the fact that the usual means for artists to perform, tour and promote their music in person have pretty much vanished (for now...) I still think there is tremendous significance in what these artists are offering and I think it takes a lot of courage to do so. In times of adversity we need these artists, such as Quincy, who are standing up, leading by example and offering us a sense of hope. When I hear compelling new music these days, such as Q Vision, I am inspired and reminded that "this too shall pass" and that we have much to be thankful for and much to look forward to.
With that in mind, I am reminded of this quote:
"Music is medicine!"
- Ra Kalam Bob Moses
I've always been a big fan of Quincy's drumming and of his original music. Quincy has played as a side person with many jazz greats over the years and I think this has really informed his own personal approach as a band leader and as a composer. He brings together a lot of different modern influences to his music while also still deeply rooted in the tradition.
Quincy was kind enough to take some time out of his busy teaching schedule at UNT to answer a few questions about his music (thank you Quincy!):
Quincy Davis Interview - Four on the Floor November 2020
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?
For Q Vision, I wanted to move away from the vibraphone/sax quintet configuration of my first album (Songs in the Key of Q). But I did not want to completely abandon the quintet sound because I love it so much. So I decided to have both configurations on this album.
The music is all original music that I wrote specifically for this album and with these wonderful musicians in mind. I wanted to write music that was “easy on the ears” yet engages the brain, is fun to play and contains various aesthetics of the blues. I am always trying find the perfect balance of these elements. All of the musicians on this album are musicians who play with both intelligence and a lot of heart and soul. These traits are very important to me when considering someone for my band.
Q Vision is all about having vision of many different perspectives all at the same time: The drummer’s vision of their instrument, musician’s vision of music as a whole, vision from the music enthusiast’s perspective and vision and consciousness of things that are happening to people in the world.
2) Who are your influences, on and off the drums, and why?
My biggest influences include Billy Hart, Gregory Hutchinson, Bill Stewart, Philly Joe Jones, Carl Allen, Ed Blackwell, Dave Weckl and Clyde Stubblefield. All of these musicians are grounded in the tradition while playing in a very forward-leaning manner. Tradition is extremely important to me but I never want to be stuck only playing in that way. Jazz is ever evolving and I want to evolve with it. In addition, European classical music from the romantic and 20th century periods have influenced my overall perspective of music and composition quite a lot.
3) What are you practicing and listening to these days?
I’m doing a lot of metronome displacement exercises to improve my natural sense of time and pulse. My listening skills and ability to stay aware of what’s going on with the time and feel are also strongly challenged when doing these exercises.
4) What other current and future projects do you have on the go at the moment?
The biggest future project that I am working on is a method book. I am hoping to have a book come out in 2021. This book will incorporate many of the concepts I have been using in my teaching for the past 10 years. It will also be used as a part of the University of North Texas drum set curriculum.
5) What advice do you have for younger, aspiring jazz drummers?
If you want to play jazz professionally, understand today’s jazz drummer needs to be able to play many different styles comfortably so listen to as much music as possible. Also, study and KNOW the history of the instrument and the music. You can’t learn that stuff on Instagram!
Well, it's been a minute since our last monthly column. Welcome back, thanks for checking in and I hope you are all keeping safe out there.
Fortunately, despite the challenges of our current circumstances, many great musicians are still doing and sharing really great things on-line these days. If so inclined, there is no lack of really great resources to learn from out there. I'd encourage all of you to take advantage of these opportunities and support those artists who are trying to make the best of the situation.
Onwards & Upwards!
Anyways, here's a collection of items, old and new, that have been making the rounds lately and caught my attention:
1. Hey look I now have a proper website! Thanks to Andrew Millar who did a fantastic job putting this together. You can click on the link on the sidebar on the upper right hand side of this page or visit: www.jonmccaslin.com (btw Four on the Floor will be staying right here but you'll be able to access it through my website as well...)
If you need someone to put together a website for you, I can't recommend Andrew highly enough and you can reach him through his own website www.andrewmillardrums.com.
Oh yeah, Andrew is a pretty mean drummer himself (as you'll see below) and he was always one of my favourite drummers to listen to during my brief time in living in Toronto (2007-2009):
2. Russ Gleason and Neal Wilkinson are doing really great things over at Drum Hangs, presenting weekly Zoom webinars with the world's greatest drummers. These are really well curated and I'm consistently impressed with the drummers who are invited and the discussions that take place. Some of the great drummers they have featured so far include the likes of Jeff Hamilton, John Riley, Adam Nussbaum, Bill Stewart, Martin France, Zildjian's Paul Francis, Mark Guiliana, Steve Gadd, Simon Phillips, Ed Soph, Terri Lyne Carrington, Peter Erskine, Johnathan Blake and many, many others.
Upcoming sessions include guests such as Ari Hoenig, Bernard Purdie, Jeff Tain Watts, James Gadson, Kenny Washington and Antonio Sanchez so don't miss out on these opportunities to virtually rub shoulders with these Masters and ask them questions.
Thank you Russ and Neal and keep up the great work!
3. Anders Mogensen has been offering great things to practice with his Weekly Drum Diary project. Check that out here and sign up for his mailing list to receive weekly lessons in .pdf with examples posted on YouTube.
Anders always has interesting and challenging exercises to offer!
4. Check out these recent JAZZ.FM91 Session Notes features with Ted Warren and Morgan Childs, two more really great jazz drummers from Toronto that I always enjoy listening to.
5. Jazz Profiles features the great Frankie Dunlop, an underrated drummer (in my humble opinion) and someone all jazz drummers need to study.
6. A series of articles from pianist Ethan Iverson on rhythm and jazz drumming:
This is a blog about jazz, jazz drumming and all things unrelated. Thanks for stopping by!
A Bit About Me...
Jonathan McCaslin was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba and raised in Regina, Saskatchewan. Jonathan began playing the drums at the age of nine. He progressed through the Regina Lions Junior Band and the music program at his high school, Campbell Collegiate, soon developing a passion for playing the drums and jazz. Ultimately, Jon's interest in music led him to enroll in the Jazz Studies program at McGill University, graduating with distinction in 1999.
While at McGill Jon had the opportunity to study with some of the finest jazz educators in the country including Gordon Foote, Kevin Dean, Jan Jarcyzk, Chris McCann, Andre White, Michel Lambert and Dave Laing. He also attended the prestigious summer jazz workshop presented by the Banff Centre for the Arts in 1997, where he performed with Canadian jazz greats Hugh Fraser, Don Thompson and Kenny Wheeler.
Jon has also been fortunate to have performed with many of Canada's jazz elite including Charlie Biddle, Brian Hurley, Louise Rose, Alaister Kay, Mart Kinny, Gary Guthman, Mike Rud, Hadley Caliman, Greg Clayton, Chase Sanborn, Andre White, Tilden Webb, John LaBelle, Kevin Dean, Dave Turner, Ralph Bowen, Don Thompson, Dionne Taylor, Jim Vivian, Kelly Jefferson, Ian McDougall, Brad Turner, Jim Brenan, The McGill Jazz Orchestra, Jeff Johnston, Lorraine Desmerais, Steve Amirault, Hugh Fraser, Chucho Valdes, Kieran Overs, The Altsys Jazz Orchestra, Pat LaBarbera, The Regina Symphony Orchestra and The Montreal Jazz Big Band.
In the spring of 2002 McCaslin completed his Master's in Jazz Studies at McGill University where he studied jazz drumming, improvisation and composition.
In January 2003 Jon released his debut CD, “McCallum’s Island”. Featuring his quintet, the CD contains an exciting collection of McCaslin’s original compositions, featuring himself and his band. The release of this CD was followed by a twenty-day tour of Western Canada, performing to enthusiastic, capacity audiences. During March of 2003 Jonathan was the recipient of a fellowship from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and attended the “Betty Carter Jazz Ahead” residency in Washington, D.C. Along with twenty other distinguished young jazz artists, McCaslin was featured with such jazz icons as Terence Blanchard, Carmen Lundy, Winard Harper, Curtis Fuller and John Clayton.
McCaslin’s quintet performed at the 2003 edition of the Montreal International Jazz Festival and was nominated for the General Motors Grand Prix du Festival (awarded to the most outstanding Canadian group). From 2004 until 2006, Jon toured North America, Asia and Europe with the high-energy, critically acclaimed music production troupe “Barrage”. Featuring a cast of seven world-class fiddlers and a four-piece band, this dynamic show featured high-energy music and fiddle traditions from around the world set to upbeat choreography and movement.
In 2015, Dr. McCaslin received his Doctorate through the University of Toronto and completed his dissertation on the conceptualization of contemporary melodic jazz drumming. He is currently based in Calgary, Alberta where he maintains a busy performing and teaching schedule across Canada.