Thursday, February 25, 2021

Four on the Floor *Live* on Instagram IGTV featuring Jason Marsalis!

Please join me for the next episode of Four on the Floor *Live* happening next Tuesday, March 2nd at 7pm MST (9pm EST), appearing on Instagram IGTV @fouronthfloorblog featuring the great Jason Marsalis!

From a tender young age it was clear that Jason Marsalis had what it took to be great. Jason is the son of pianist and music educator Ellis Marsalis and his wife Dolores, and the youngest sibling of Wynton, Branford and Delfeayo. Together, the four brothers and their patriarch Ellis, comprise New Orleans venerable first family of jazz.

Ellis and Dolores began to cultivate Jason’s interest in music at age three, with the purchase of a toy set of drums. Jason is fond of telling the story of a game he and his parents would play with the drums. “When I was three, my parents bought me a toy drum set and the used to introduce me to an imaginary audience. They would say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen introducing the fabulous Jason!’ and I would come out and start banging away much to my parents delight. I too enjoyed it to the point that I started to go up to my parents unsolicited and say, ‘Dad, introduce me again!’

By age six, not only had Jason gotten his first real drum set, but he was also taking lessons from the legendary New Orleans drummer James Black. At age seven he was sitting in with his father’s jazz group, as well as playing with his trombonist brother Delfeayo. Jason was progressing so rapidly as a drummer that in 1984 his father started using him consistently on engagements. Jason was starting to become a seasoned road veteran before the age of nine, even traveling to the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston for older brother Delfeayo’s recital.

Though Jason had also taken up violin at age five, drums remained his primary focus throughout his grade school years. However, in his last year living in Richmond, VA,it was as a member of a junior youth orchestra that he first discovered the percussion section. The following year, Jason gave up the violin and focused exclusively on percussion. In 1991, he auditioned and was accepted to the acclaimed New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts High School (NOCCA). Throughout his high school years he continued to hone his skills by playing gigs with his father and brothers, as well as studying orchestral percussion techniques at the venerable Eastern Music Festival. Shortly after graduation from NOCCA in 1995, Marsalis ascended to the drum throne of a new group led by virtuoso pianist and former sideman for Wynton Marsalis, Marcus Roberts. Despite a demanding touring schedule with Roberts, Marsalis furthered his educational goals by attending Loyola University in New Orleans, as well as studying composition with notable classical composer, Roger Dickerson.

While Marsalis made appearances with such international jazz luminaries as Joe Henderson and Lionel Hampton, he was visible on the New Orleans scene working with a diverse cross section of bands from Casa Samba (Brazilian), Neslort (jazz fusion) Summer Stages (children’s theater), Dr. Michael White (traditional jazz) and many others. It was in 1998 that he co-founded the Latin-jazz group Los Hombres Calientes. While recording two albums with the group, Marsalis also produced two albums under his own name, Year of the Drummer (1998) and Music in Motion (2000), as well as producing reissues and current recordings of his father on their self-owned label, ELM Records.

In 2000, Jason left the Los Hombres group to attain more focus with the Marcus Roberts trio. It was around that time the Marsalis started to play the vibraphone on gigs in New Orleans. This evolved in yet another chapter in Marsalis’ career as he recorded on the vibes with clarinetist Tim Laughlin and drummer Shannon Powell while starting to lead his own band on vibes. In 2005, Marsalis made a recording of George Gershwin’s “Concerto in F” with the Marcus Roberts Trio and the Saito Kinen orchestra. It was a project that involved fusing jazz and classical music and it was an important moment for the Trio. While this exciting event was taking place in Tokyo, Japan, it was marred by the events happening in his hometown, Hurricane Katrina. Even though his career took a slight hit after that event and living in Brooklyn for a year, Jason returned to New Orleans in 2007 to put the pieces back together. After returning to New Orleans in 2007, his reach with the types of bands widened considerably. Early that year he recorded with John Ellis and Doublewide on a well received album entitled “Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow”.

He also recorded and produced an album of Thelonious Monk’s music with his father entitled “An Open Letter to Thelonious”. In January of 2008, the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA) called for him to start teaching the students. He also started working on the traditional jazz scene with musicians such as Lars Edegran and Tommy Sancton at Preservation Hall and Palm Court Jazz Cafe. It was in April of 2008 that Marsalis was asked to play the vibraphone with the legendary Lionel Hampton Orchestra at the Ogden Museum in New Orleans. In fall of that year, he was on a double-bill tour with Double-wide and a jazz-fusion group from Denton, Texas, Snarky Puppy. After that tour, Marsalis would make guest appearances with the group and has developed a following amongst the group's fans.

In 2009, the Marsalis Family would receive the NEA Jazz Masters award. In June of that year, the family would appear at the White House and the Kennedy Center to do a tribute show to their father. The concert was made into an album entitled, “Music Redeems”. Later that year, Marsalis would release his first new album in 9 years and his debut album on vibes, “Music Update”. In 2010, the bassist from the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, Christian Fabien, called him to participate in a recording session with drummer Ed Littlefield and pianist Reuel Lubag. They made two records, Christian’s “West Coast Session” and Ed’s “Walking Between Worlds”. The latter would include folk songs from the leader’s native Alaskan Tlingit tribe from his hometown of Sitka, Alaska. That project inspired the group to be named the Native Jazz Quartet, a group that would arrange folk songs into jazz tunes. Their first recording of that concept was “NJQ Stories”, recorded in 2012. Marsalis was involved in another genre breaking collaboration as the Marcus Roberts Trio released an album with banjoist Bela Fleck. The combination of jazz and bluegrass was entitled “Across the Imaginary Divide” and the unit toured successfully that year.

2013 was a monumental year in which Marsalis released his next recording as a leader on vibes entitled “In a World of Mallets”. The album went to number 1 on the CMJ Radio Charts and also won an Offbeat Magazine award, a New Orleans music magazine, for best Contemporary Jazz Album. Marsalis also participated in a session produced by Bill Cosby by playing vibes for music used in Cosby’s Comedy Central special, “Far From Finished”. There was even recordings from the drum kit as Marcus Roberts released three recordings that year. Two with Wynton Marsalis, “Together Again – In the Studio” and “Together Again – Live in Concert”, and the ambitious original trio suite from Roberts, “From Rags to Rhythm”.

With each passing year Jason Marsalis continues to grow and develop as both a composer and performer. With a fire in his heart and a passion for the music, his will to swing has never been more resolute. The maturity and the command he possesses over his music is clearly evident to those who have heard or seen him.

Monday, February 22, 2021

The Monday Morning Paradiddle - February 2021

Well here we are, a year later, and the world is still turned upside down due to the global pandemic. However, artists are still out there doing great things, persevering throughout all of this and doing their best despite the circumstances. The point of this monthly column (and my whole blog, I suppose...) is to recognize, celebrate and draw attention to many of the great things I come across in the wide world of jazz drumming. Hopefully you'll gain as much inspiration and motivation from these artists as I have.

If you have anything you'd like to share with me, please drop me a line at fouronthefloorblog@gmail.com. I'd love to hear from you.

*Just a quick advertisement before we get started with this month's column. Please consider entering your e.mail address on the right side of the page to subscribe to my mailing list. Don't miss out, subscribe today and receive Four on the Floor directly to your inbox!*

(click on a link that looks like this, located on the right hand side of the page!)

Anyhow, and now on with the show...

1. I've been having fun with my weekly series Four on the Floor *Live* which happens every Tuesday evening on my Instagram page @fouronthefloorblog at 7pm MST (9pm EST).

So far I've really learned a lot and come away inspired by the many amazing guests who've appeared so far including the likes of Adam Nussbaum, Francisco Mela, Ted Warren, Patrick Boyle, Geoff Clapp, Quincy Davis, Tim Mah, Dave Laing, Christopher Smith and Chad Anderson.

Thanks to everyone who has been watching. Tune in this week for my interview with the great Joe LaBarbera!

And here's Joe's interview from a couple of months ago with Neil LaFortune for the Gretsch Afternoon Drum Break: 

2. I've also been enjoying a recent collaboration between myself, Ted Warren of Trap'd and Todd Bishop of Cruiseship Drummer in a series we are calling The Three Bloggers. We've each chosen a topic and will be blogging on each other's subjects, offering a collective perspective of each others ideas.

We just finished Round #1 and I asked everyone to contribute their thoughts about "The Hi-Hat".

Here's the links to our individual pieces:

The Three Bloggers - Part 1: The Hi-Hat by Jonathan McCaslin

The three bloggers: the left foot, the hihat by Todd Bishop

The 3 Bloggers: A Ted's eye view of the Hi-Hat! by Ted Warren

Between the three of us, I think we covered a lot of ground!

Look for Round #2 coming soon where we'll be offering our collective thoughts on the seminal Miles Davis album "Milestones".

3. CBC Radio has featured interviews with a number of important artists lately that I'd recommend listening to. These include compelling radio segments with the likes of:

Larnell Lewis

Jack DeJohnette (on the legacy of the late Chick Corea)

Wynton Marsalis 

Jason Moran

4. Thanks to Kevin Turcotte for sharing this insightful 1989 magazine article by Gerry Hemingway entitled Percussion Discussion featuring Milford Graves, Han Bennink and Joey Baron

5. Pittsburgh's Thomas Wendt discusses the life and music of Kenny Clarke and Max Roach

6. Vinnie Colaiuta on the legacy of Chick Corea from his podcast Breakfast with Vinnie

7. A pair of pieces featuring Terri Lyne Carrington including this one from ABC News and a feature from BBC Radio 3 

8. Check out Keith Hall's awesome podcast Real Music Talk and recent interviews with Allison Miller and Billy Hart Part 1 Part 2

9. Joe Chambers has a new record out on Blue Note records. Read about his latest release Samba De Maracatu in this Downbeat Magazine feature

10. The great Milford Graves recently passed away at the age of 79. 

John Zorn referred to the Master percussionist as "a 20th-century Shaman."

“In the cosmos, everything - planets - they’re all in motion. We’ve got so much cosmic energy going through us, and the drumming is all related to the intake of this cosmic energy. That’s the loop that we have with the cosmos.” - Milford Graves (from the 2018 documentary "Full Mantis")

- Here are pieces on Graves from The New York TimesRolling Stone magazine and Ethan Primason's The Drummer, The Healer: A Tribute to Milford Graves

-Thanks to fellow blogger Ted Warren and frequent Four on the Floor correspondent Tim Mah (host of CJSW's weekly radio program Jazz Today) for offering these compelling pieces:

Milford Graves' solo performance from the Hopscotch Music Festival circa. 2019:


Milford Graves and Andrew Cyrille - Dialogue of the Drums:


Jason Moran's conversation with Milford Graves in conjunction with the exhibition Milford Graves: A Mind-Body Deal presented by ICA Philadelphia:


11. Joe Farnsworth pays tribute to his friend and mentor, the late Jimmy Lovelace:

And don't forget, "It's Time to Swing" (always!)

12. Leo Sidran interviews Billy Martin for the Third Story podcast:


13. UNT's Ten Questions Plus interview series with Peter Erskine:


14. Quincy Davis continues to knock it out of the park with his regular Q-Tip series on YouTube, offering invaluable and practical jazz drumming concepts and concise lessons. 

Here are his most recent offerings (these are really great!):

And make sure to check out Quincy's on-going Drummer 2 Drummer live interview series on Instagram IGTV too at @qdjazz

15. Edu Ribeiro continues with his awesome on-going Drum Conversations + Q&A series through Open Studio with Jorge Rossy:


...and Jeff Ballard!

I really admire Edu's enthusiasm and appreciate that he asks all the right artists, all the right questions.

As always, "When the Masters speak, we listen!"

16. The always creative Ferenc Nemeth offers his Morning Walk Drum Solo:

17. Belfast's Stephen Davis offers this solo Piece by Piece #11 in a series produced by the Improvised Music Company (IMC):


18. Lately I've really been enjoying Mareike Wiening's album Metropolis Paradise (Greenleaf Music). Here's a wonderfully clever feature from a series entitled Through Jazz:


Mareike Wiening - Through Jazz from KUBA Film on Vimeo.

I am looking forward to hearing more from this talented and creative artist.

19. Check out this awesome piece from Ra Kalam Bob Moses entitled Caravan to the Stars featuring tap dancer Jimmy Slyde:

20. What am I listening to these days?

Red Garland Trio "Live at the Prelude" - Specs Wright (drums)

Red Garland "It's a Blue World" - Art Taylor (drums)

Mareike Wiening "Metropolis Paradise" - Mareika Wiening (drums)

Milford Graves "Percussion Ensemble" - Milford Graves, Sunny Morgan (drums)

Milford Graves & Bill Laswell "The Stone" - Milford Graves (drums, percussion and heartbeat)

Adam Nussbaum "Leadbelly Reimagined" - Adam Nussbaum (drums)

Dave Restivo "Arancina" - Alyssa Falk (drums)

Miles Davis "Milestones" - Philly Joe Jones (drums)

And today's Final Word goes to Albert Einstein...

I've always enjoyed this poem and these lines of inspiration from Einstein (obviously not known for his poetry!) It's a short and eloquent read, but consider replacing the word dance with the word drum and I think it still rings true.

We dance for laughter
We dance for tears
We dance for madness
We dance for fears
We dance for hopes
We dance for screams
We are the dancers
We create the dreams.

- Albert Einstein

Friday, February 19, 2021

Four on the Floor *Live* on Instagram IGTV featuring Joe LaBarbera!

Please join me for the next action packed episode of Four on the Floor *Live* happening next Tuesday, February 23rd at 7pm MST (9pm EST/6pm PST), appearing on Instagram IGTV @fouronthfloorblog featuring the great Joe LaBarbera!

Joe LaBarbera
has performed all over the world with some of the finest names in jazz since his arrival on the scene. From his first professional appearance at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas with Frankie Randall and the Buddy Rich band in 1968 to his work with jazz great Bill Evans and up to the present, he has always been in demand by world class artists and has always been regarded by his peers as a tasteful, musical drummer and a supportive accompanist. Bill Evans summed it up best when he said: “Joe is very dedicated to playing quality music and he’s willing to make the concessions of dues toward that end. He’s a top soloist and he does the right thing at the right time”.

Born in Mt. Morris, New York, on February 22, 1948, his first musical experiences began at home as part of the family band with his parents and two older brothers, saxophonist Pat and trumpeter and arranger/composer John La Barbera. He received a solid foundation in drumming as well as lessons on clarinet and saxophone from his father starting at 5 years of age. After high school, his education continued at the Berklee College of Music in Boston where his teachers included John LaPorta, Charlie Mariano, Herb Pomeroy and the great Alan Dawson.

Joe has been on the faculty at California Institute for the Arts since 1993 and is busy as a clinician and guest artist at many major universities. His residencies have included Centrum Jazz Camp in Port Townsend Washington, Roma Jazz Cool, Capbreton, France, McGill University in Montreal and Cornish College in Seattle.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Joe Chambers with Bobby Hutcherson & Harold Land - Norway 1969

Thanks to Christopher Smith from The Jazz Drum Hang who shared this amazing footage awhile back of the Bobby Hutcherson/Harold Land Quintet from Norway circa. 1969 featuring the great Joe Chambers on drums:

Friday, February 12, 2021

Four on the Floor *Live* on Instagram IGTV featuring Adam Nussbaum!

Please join me for the next action packed episode of Four on the Floor *Live* happening next Tuesday, February 16th at 7pm MST (9pm EST), appearing on Instagram IGTV @fouronthfloorblog featuring my dear friend Adam Nussbaum!

Adam Nussbaum is considered one of the finest drummers working today. He's played with a virtual "Who's Who" in the jazz world. Longtime associates have included: John Abercrombie, Michael & Randy Brecker, Eliane Elias, Gil Evans, Stan Getz, Vic Juris, James Moody, John Scofield, Joe Sample, Ohad Talmor, ‘Toots' Thielemans, Kenny Wheeler & NHØP, as well as freelancing with prominent artists of every generation, being a major asset no matter where he appears. Nussbaum has recently formed the Lead Belly Project. He has also joined forces with other musicians to form such groups as “BANN” w/Seamus Blake, Jay Anderson & Oz Noy, “We3” w/Dave Liebman & Steve Swallow, "The Impossible Gentlemen" w/Gwilym Simcock, Steve Rodby & Mike Walker, “The Nuttree Quartet" w/John Abercrombie, Jerry Bergonzi & Gary Versace and "The ZZ Quartet w/Ratko Zjaca, Simone Zanchini & Martin Gjakanovski. He's been on hundreds of recordings, including the Grammy winning "Don't Try This At Home” recorded with Michael Brecker.

In addition, Nussbaum reaches out to the next generation. He is an in-demand educator doing Clinics and Master Classes, teaching at such institutions as Berklee, NYU, State University of New York, the New School, and at numerous Conservatories around the world.

His abilities have brought opportunities for him to work with the finest makers of all things drum-related. Working with Sonor drums, he helped design a line in the “HiLite” series. In conjunction with Zildjian cymbals, Nussbaum helped developed the “Renaissance” & "Pre-Aged” K. Zildjian cymbals. He also coproduced with Hudson Music, "The Art of Playing Brushes."

He was born in New York City and grew up in Norwalk, Connecticut and started to play drums at age 12 after studying piano for five years; he also playing bass and saxophone as a teenager. He moved to New York City in 1975 to attend The Davis Center for Performing Arts at City College. He eventually focused on drums…

Monday, February 8, 2021

The Three Bloggers - Part 1: The Hi-Hat

This is the first of a series of blog posts, a collaborative initiative between myself and Ted Warren, author of the blog Trap'd, and Todd Bishop of Cruiseship Drummer.

Awhile ago I proposed to these two accomplished and prolific bloggers that we each choose a subject and then each offer our own respective blog posts on each others topics. Hopefully between the three of us we'll have a collection of diverse ideas, concepts and perspectives to consider coming out of this. I am really looking forward to seeing what both Ted and Todd have to say and come up with!

For the inaugural post and topic I personally suggested exploring ideas about playing The Hi-Hat.

*I realize that this is a pretty vague and wide open topic but I actually did that on purpose!*

Anyways, here's a few ideas to get started, beginning with a collection of personal anecdotes and lessons I've learned from several amazing teachers over the years:

The Hi-Hat: A Series of Wake-Up Calls

by Jonathan McCaslin

Art Blakey is one of my all-time favourite drummers and always has been. One thing that appealed to me, even early on, was his driving sense of swing that really propelled the music forward. I was also really drawn to his approach and emphasis on the hi-hat when playing 2&4 with his left foot, which I think, along with a rock solid cymbal beat, greatly contributes to that propulsion that I mentioned (in fact, I read somewhere that Max Roach claimed that before Art came on the scene drummers didn't really play the hi-hat like he did, in terms of volume and emphasis). I also really enjoyed listening to Art and others play incredibly sophisticated and swinging drum solos, all while keeping a steady 2&4 on the hi-hat (and I think that when done right it's a great skill to have). Suffice it to say, this overall approach to playing the hi-hat with my left foot has served me well and something that I diligently worked on. I think it's an important skill and option to have, especially if you want to play straight-ahead jazz.

But, as I was soon to find out, there's also much more to it than that...

1) Hi-Hat Wake-Up Call #1

Rewind to the Summer of 1997 when I was attending the Banff Centre's annual jazz workshop and I found myself on stage with Kenny Wheeler during one of his composition workshops. I was playing the drums and about to read down his 3-horn sextet arrangement of a reharmonization he had written on the standard "What is This Thing Called Love?"

His arrangement started with a 16-measure drum solo and he counted it off only to stop the band and cut me off after my brief introduction. This happened about 3-4 times in a row (!)

"Don't play the hi-hat on 2&4" he said (politely of course) and remarked "...it's like you are trying to take a nap and there's this little cricket chirping, making all this noise, keeping you wide awake but you have no idea where's it coming from. And it's annoying."

Point taken.

Well, I tried (several times in fact) but I couldn't really do it! Up to that point my entire concept had relied on playing 2&4 on the hi-hat with my left foot and hadn't really considered otherwise.

I brought this up with Joe LaBarbera who would join the faculty later that month. His conceptual approach to using the hi-hat (both in terms of how and what to play, as well as his left foot technique) was a real eye-opener for me. "Keep it light and focus the time on the ride cymbal, otherwise the time can feel heavy, lop-sided" he remarked.

2) Hi-Hat Wake-Up Call #2 

Fast-forward a couple years later and I found myself playing with Dave Liebman during a workshop at McGill University, where I was a student. I guess I hadn't completely figured it by then either (!) as he stopped us half way through the first tune, shook his head then proceed to take my hi-hat stand away and put it on the far side of the room (!) He counted off the tune again, we played and after a couple of choruses he turned around and remarked "That's much better!"

3) Hi-Hat Wake-Up Call #3

I heard Leon Parker play duo with guitarist Charlie Hunter at the Saskatchewan Jazz Festival around 1999-2000 (?) The collective grooves and interplay between these two were absolutely incredible and there wasn't even a hi-hat stand or a pair of sock cymbals in sight! (as I soon learned, Leon never plays with hi-hats)

I've also heard the great Roy Haynes play live on numerous occasions over the years. Not only was it common to see Roy not play his hi-hat, but often he would rest his left foot on the mid-part of the hi-hat stand for the better duration of a solo or the tune itself!

So, what does this all mean? Is the hi-hat an overrated timekeeping tool?


Well, not so fast now...

4) Hi-Hat Wake-Up Call #4

Around 2003 I found myself on stage playing with the great trombonist Curtis Fuller, performing as part of Betty Carter's Jazz Ahead program at the Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. The interesting thing about this is that, for him, I couldn't play the hi-hats on 2&4 loud enough! ("Give me that Blakey thing!" he constantly reminded me).

Similarly, when I had the opportunity to play with pianist Oliver Jones years later, his only comment to me was: "always give me lots of 2&4 on the hi-hat."

So what's the point of all these biographical musings you may ask?

Well, as I've learned, when it comes to using the hi-hat I think it's about all context and being able to access different musical options.

Playing a steady 2&4 is great and something we should all practice and use (to a certain extent anyway) but, as I learned the hard way (!) if you are playing music that requires more openness, rhythmic looseness and space, it's not really going to work (definitely not if you are playing it loud, anyways). The last thing you want to do is box anyone in rhythmically but if they are looking for that hard swinging, finger-popping groove, then give it to them!

"Let the punishment fit the crime" - Art Blakey

It's good to have options and the more you know, the more you know and can draw from.

Listening extensively to Roy Haynes, Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Paul Motian, and Jack DeJohnette should all offer tangible examples to learn from (and don't forget Bill Stewart!) For me, these are the drummers that really expanded and explored how the hi-hat could be used in different ways. But don't dismiss 2&4 either. Listening carefully to drummers like Art Blakey and other great straight-ahead jazz drummers will inform your appreciation for how it can contribute to the groove and overall feeling in a positive way.

"You've got to listen to the music from the inside out!" - Kenny Washington

I think there is a lot that could be discussed here in terms of actual hi-hat vocabulary, coordination exercises, patterns, etc. but there is already a lot of great examples out there to practice (perhaps Ted and Todd might have some to offer). Overall I think having a fundamentally broad and flexible concept will always steer you in the right musical direction.

However, I will offer this idea, which has served me well over the years (I'm still working on it, in fact...) In addition to developing a conceptual approach and a vocabulary that allows for a broad use of the hi-hat in different musical situations, a significant thing for me has been...to learn how to play with a strong sense of groove, swing, rhythmic feel and flow without using the hi-hat at all!

That's right, you heard me correctly. 

In my humble opinion, I think that if you can develop a strong sense time without having to rely on your left foot, then you'll build a strong foundation and set yourself up for all sorts of options, no matter if you want to play with the Kenny Wheeler's and Curtis Fuller's of the world or take a cue from Leon Parker.

Anyways, lots to think about and in the meantime, here's the great Peter Erskine with some great open/splash hi-hat techniques of his own: 


Okay, over to you Ted and Todd...

Friday, February 5, 2021

Four on the Floor *Live* on Instagram IGTV featuring Francisco Mela!

Please join me for the next action packed episode of Four on the Floor *Live* happening next Tuesday, February 9th at 7pm MST (9pm EST), appearing on Instagram IGTV @fouronthfloorblog featuring Francisco Mela!

I am looking forward to my conversation with Francisco and finding out more about his recent album release MPT Trio Volume 1 as well as his upcoming on-line solo performance on February 13th at the Soapbox Gallery. 

For tickets and more information click here.

Francisco Mela is a favorite amongst jazz's elite instrumentalists, among them, Joe Lovano, McCoy Tyner, John Scofield, Cooper Moore, Willian Parker, Ingrid Laubrock, Esperanza Spalding, George Garzone, Kris Davis, Frank Kimbrough, Kenny Werner, Chucho Valdes, Hery Paz, Kenny Barron, Gary Bartz, Anthony Coleman and Juanma Trujillo, all of whom cite his charisma, sophistication, and life-affirming spirit as an extension of his incredible talents as a composer and drummer. Born in 1968 in Bayamo, Cuba. He moved to Boston in 2000 and, quickly thereafter made a name for himself on the Boston scene, becoming the house drummer at the legendary Wally’s Café Jazz Club. It was at Wally’s that Mela began developing a concept for his own band, one that would feature the sounds of modern jazz with the traditional music he grew up with in Cuba. World- renown saxophonist, Joe Lovano, heard Mela and was immediately impressed, hiring him shortly after to play in his quartet. Since 2005, Mela has been an integral part of Joe Lovano’s quartet and his new group, “Us Five,” a two-drummer quintet. Their 2009 Blue Note Records recording, titled Folk Art, was considered by many critics to be Lovano’s most adventurous to date. In 2009, he was tapped by jazz legend McCoy Tyner to join his trio. Said Tyner of his new young drummer, “Mela is just a fantastic player. He has his own style and his own sound, which is what I look for in a drummer.”


Monday, February 1, 2021

Peter Erskine - "Always Compose When You Play!"

A few pieces today from the ever musical Peter Erskine. I always learn something new whenever I hear Peter play or talk about music (incidentally, don't forget to check out Peter's excellent lesson series on ArtistWorks

In his highly recommended autobiography No Beethoven Erskine recounts how Joe Zawinul encouraged him to "always compose when you play" and I think this is great advice for anyone. Rather than spewing sticking patterns and rudiments around the drums just for the sake of it, it's always better to attach musical meaning and purpose to whatever you are playing when you are improvising. And I think Erskine's musical drumming is a great example of this as well.

Furthermore, here's another similar piece of musical advice in the same spirit to consider as well:


One thing that I've been working on and practicing lately is exploring the idea of ostinatos, specifically using different bass drum and hi-hat patterns while improvising with my hands around the drums and cymbals.

This is something that is: 

a) a unique aspect to drum set playing and a possibility that we should all consider and take advantage of in some form or another


b) something that I find incredibly difficult!

Anyhow, keeping in mind the mantra from above, here is a great example of Erskine "composing" while he is playing and improvising over a foot ostinato:


Personally, I find this a great exercise and hopefully I will eventually be able to incorporate this concept and vocabulary into my playing in a musical way. One thing is for sure: playing this way sure forces you out of your comfort zone and requires you play things you don't know (and that's always a good thing!)

Quincy Davis also offers this great interview with Peter from his wonderful ongoing Q-Tip series, full of engaging pieces of wisdom to learn from:


And finally, take some time to enjoy this feature from the Sam First Solo Series. The production quality is excellent and, combined with his information and presentation, Erskine sets the bar pretty high in this day and age of on-line live streams and webinars.