Monday, March 20, 2023

Zildjian: A Tribute to Art Blakey

Thanks to the people over at the Avedis Zildjian Company for this wonderful tribute to Art Blakey with commentary and insight from Marcus Gilmore, Kenny Washington, John Riley, Aaron Spears, Billy Drummond and Adam Nussbaum.

As always, when the Masters speak....we listen.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Allison Miller - Melodic Imagination

The act of using Melody to inform ones creative statements and musical choices on the drums is one quite dear to me. I think about this every time I sit down to play the drums or teach a lesson.

Allison Miller is a favourite drummer of mine these days and her approach to using Melody around the drums is compelling, to say the least. 

Check out this brief footage of Miller from her PASIC 2022 appearance in which she demonstrates her melodic imagination, using Sonny Rollins' Sonnymoon for Two as the basis for her improvisation:

And I've shared this one numerous times already but it's really great so here it is once again, Allison's feature on melodic drumming from NPR's Jazz Night in America:

And to quote/paraphrase the great Roy Haynes:

"If you know the song, you'll never go wrong!"

- Roy Haynes (via Joe Farnsworth)

Monday, March 6, 2023

Steve Fidyk - Red Beats

Drummer, composer, author and educator Steve Fidyk recently released his new big band recording entitled Red Lines featuring a stellar line-up of musicians on a diverse and dynamic program of tunes and arrangements.

Steve was nice enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his recent recording project.

Steve Fidyk Red Beats
Four on the Floor Interview - March 2023

1) Tell us about your latest recording! 

Jon, I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you about my latest recording Red Beats. This record features nine original compositions of mine that were presented on my first three solo records (Head’s Up!, Allied Forces and Battle Lines), orchestrated for large ensemble by six different arrangers from the Washington D.C. and Philadelphia region. These guys are all buddies of mine, and over the years, I’ve performed their arrangements and compositions in big bands like the Army Blues, The Airmen of Note, and the Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia. Some of the arrangers featured on Red Beats have even played in my small group and on the original records, so they have intimate insights and knowledge on the development of each song. It’s interesting for me to go back and listen to the original small group recordings and compare approaches in regard to structure, melodic counterpoint, and style. For a big band project like this, the leader usually arranges standards and their original music. One thing that makes this recording unique is that the compositions are written by one person, but the arrangements are reconstructed by a sextet of very talented composers in their own right. The record features soloists Brian Charette, tenor titan Walt Weiskopf, guitar legend Jack Wilkins as well as a host of incredible musicians from Philadelphia, New York, and Washington D.C. It’s a northeast corridor band for sure. 

A portion of the proceeds of each Red Beats CD sold will go to help the nonprofit organization No Kid Hungry. Kids in the US today face real challenges, as families and communities work to recover from effects of the pandemic. Many people aren’t fully aware of the severity of childhood hunger in the United States. Many parents are searching to find resources available in their communities to help feed their children. I feel it’s important to try and use my music as a platform to help raise awareness and do my part to give back to organizations that are doing great work to help the less fortunate. 

On my last recording Battle Lines, that organization was Warrior Beat. A nonprofit that uses professionally facilitated drum therapy to help US Military Veterans who suffer from PTSD, anxiety, and depression. For Red Beats, I’m currently dedicating efforts to our greatest resource- our children. 

2) How did you choose your repertoire and sidemen? 

For projects that I lead, I try to build on experiences and concepts that I learned since my last one. It’s all a process of progress that takes place in very small increments. For Red Beats specifically, each arranger had specific tunes in mind that they were interested in reworking. This project began at the start of the second year of the pandemic, and so many of the guys were excited to be a part of this and contribute their creative ideas. They all have an infinity and respect for rhythm which is one thread of consistency in regard to approach. As far as input, I tried staying out of the creative process because I wanted to hear how each would go about reimagining my original music. I’m proud of these guys. They all did an amazing job with the music. They are my good friends and I’m inspired by their playing, writing and creative energy. They make me a better musician from our long relationships and collaborations over the years. I’m blessed and thankful. 

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

I’ve always wanted to lead a big band session-- a capstone project that features some of the original music from my first three solo recordings. It felt like a logical progression, and a way to acknowledge my past compositional efforts, arranged by friends that enjoy and appreciate creative, improvisational music. 

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

My tune titles tend to shed light or expose the politics in our society and government. I’m not a political person but performing and living in the Washington DC area for so many years has certainly influenced my outlook. My original music is somewhat contemporary, but with strong roots in traditional swing and bebop. 

5) Who are your influences with regards to your style of writing and playing? 

I like a good strong melody that hooks the listener, much like a pop tune would. My compositions are simple vehicles for improvisation. That’s it. If the soloists like the progression and the groove, chances are they will feel liberated to improvise freely. If a horn player has fun improvising over the progression I came up with, then I feel like I did my job. Playing in the moment, listening, interacting, and initiating dialogue are essential elements. 

Early drumming influences included Buddy Rich who was the first jazz drummer I saw perform when I was eight years old. Next came the music of Dave Brubeck, which was anchored by Eugene Wright and Joe Morello. The journey of influence and discovery continues to this day. 

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

I continue to work on fundamental maintenance exercises for tone and dynamic balance at the kit. I'm always experimenting with polyrhythms orchestrated between my hands and feet, improvising on both sides of the polyrhythm for variety and tension. 

I always return to the classic drummers like Philly Joe, Art Taylor, Kenny Clarke, Jo Jones, Max Roach, Shelly Manne, Mel Lewis and Joe Morello for feel, phrasing and intensity. These players created musical tension at all dynamic levels. I’m always amazed by how they could swing a band and achieve that soft intensity...You don’t hear that kind of dynamic playing as frequently today on record. 

I’m also looking forward to checking out the new Kendrick Scott record Corridors with Walter Smith III. 

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

In addition to my teaching at Temple University, The University of the Arts and The University of Maryland, I’m booking record release shows for Red Beats. 

I’ve also begun writing music for a new small group project, with plans to record sometime next year. Please stay tuned and check my web site and socials for updates. 

8) How does the drums and your overall approach to rhythm factor into your compositions and concept? 

Many horn players have pointed out that my tunes have interesting rhythmic ideas and counterpoint, with listenable melodies. It’s a natural extension because I’ve been playing drums for so long. Each composition I write is different, in that sometimes I begin with a chord progression, sometimes a bass line, sometimes a drum groove and sometimes a melody. 

9) What drummers (or other musicians) do you consider as influences? 

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge my teachers. Without their help, advice, and guidance, it would be very difficult to navigate a career in music-- Angelo Stella, Ed Soph, Joe Morello, Bob Grauso, Kim Plainfield, John Riley and Ralph Peterson were all very patient and encouraging. Unfortunately, some of these men have left us, so I try to carry on their message through my music and teaching. I’ve been influenced by so many wonderful people, but it all started with my parents. They provided opportunities and encouragement to study music and believe in myself. I’ve had so much help along the way. 

10) What advice do you have for younger, aspiring jazz musicians and jazz drummers? 

Study and learn as much about your instrument and the music you inspire to play. It takes dedication and lots of hard work, and even then, goals and aspirations are sometimes not met. You really have to LOVE the music and listen to the musicians that have more experience than you in order to grow. Study with a reputable teacher in your community, trust what they are giving you to practice, and EXCEED their expectations by being prepared. The path to success isn't always a straight line, but if you keep your eyes and ears open, you will learn something new about the music and yourself from every twist and turn.


For more information about Steve Fidyk and his music, please visit www.bluecanteenmusic.com

Monday, January 30, 2023

The Monday Morning Paradiddle - January 2023

And...we're back.

Thanks for tuning into the January 2023 edition of the Monday Morning Paradiddle (first one of the year!), your monthly jazz drumming variety column. Things are about to get really busy around here with a variety of projects on the go and then a couple of small tours on the horizon so this will be my last blog post for the foreseeable future. Regular blogging will resume in a month or so. In the meantime, there's lots of great interviews and things to check out in my blog post below (or pay a visit to Todd Bishops Cruise Ship Drummer! or Ted Warren's Trap'd and you'll find plenty of great things to practice over there!) Please enjoy.

Thanks for your support and see you in March!

BTW I've literally only got a small quantity of the classic black Four on the Floor t-shirts left in stock! (And once they're gone, I don't know when I'll be printing another run so...) 

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And now, and without further ado, here are today's offerings:

1. Check out my recent "Five Minutes With..." interview and artist feature with the Calgary Guardian

2. Wonderful and insightful features on Ralph Peterson Jr. and Joey Baron from Vinnie Sperrazza's Substack series Chronicles

3. From the Library of Congress Courage and Improvisation: The Max Roach Papers by Ingrid Monson

4. Max Roach featured on a 1998 radio episode of NPR's Piano Jazz with Marian McPartland

5. Irish bassist interviews Gerry Hemingway on his podcast The Art and Science of Time:


6. Jack DeJohnette featured on The Stick People podcast:

7. John DeChristopher interviews John Riley in an episode of his Live From My Drum Room series:

8.The 80/20 drummer with some thought provoking commentary on feathering the bass drum:

9. And here's Gregory Hutchinson demonstrating this very important concept...


...and some Afro-Cuban grooves in the stye of Art Blakey and Elvin Jones:

10. Michael Brecker on drums from a 1984 lecture at North Texas State University:

11. UNT's Quincy Davis continues with his prolific and always informative Q-Tips YouTube.com series:

12. The Pace Report featuring Joe Farnsworth:

13. Bassist Rodney Whitaker discusses the importance of developing a strong quarter-note feel:

14. Dr. Jazz Samo Salamon interviews Ted Poor, Franklin Kiermyer, Gene Jackson and Ferenc Nemeth:

15. Jazz Talk interviews Mike Clark:

16. Vancouver's Jesse Cahill interviewed by James Danderfer:

This is a great interview. I've known Jesse for a long time and he has some great things to share in this wonderful ongoing weekly Instagram series.

17. Danny Barcelona featured with Louis Armstrong on "Stompin' at the Savoy" in Stuttgart circa. 1959:

18. Lenny White with Kenny Barron (piano) and Ron Carter (bass) from the Tokyo Jazz Festival circa. 2010:

19. What am I listening to these days?

Mark Turner, Jeff Watts & Orlando Le Fleming "Misterioso" - Jeff "Tain" Watts (drums)

Roy Haynes "Birds of a Feather: A Tribute to Charlie Parker" - Roy Haynes (drums)

Goldings Bernstein Stewart "Perpetual Pendulum" - Bill Stewart (drums)

Ahmad Jamal "Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse 1965-66" - Chuck Lampkin (drums)

Danilo Perez "Panamonk" - Jeff "Tain" Watts

LP Percussion "Drum Solos: Vols. 1-3"

20. And today's Final Word goes to guitarist Pat Metheny (someone who knows a thing or two about drummers...)


You heard it here folks!

Monday, January 23, 2023

Brilliant Corners: Kenny Clarke

Thanks to Pittsburgh's Thomas Wendt for sharing this wonderful and well researched three-part web series on the musical legacy of Kenny Clarke: 

Monday, January 16, 2023

Brian Blade!

Last April 2022 Brian Blade performed at Koerner Hall in Toronto with Joshua Redman's Mood Swings band featuring Gerald Clayton on piano (filling in for Brad Mehldau) and Christian McBride on bass. Former Toronto and now St. John's, Newfoundland resident and drummer Mark Micklethwaite was in attendance and offered a very thoughtful and articulate post-concert summary via Facebook. He was also kind enough to allow me to share his thoughts here below.

Observations of Brian Blade by Mark Micklethwaite (April 2022)

1. Play for the Room.

Brian can play at every volume, from a whisper to a roar. In a resonant concert hall, drums can take over really easily. Even when he bashes, it doesn't sound too loud. This is not easy to do.

2. Intensity vs Volume.

As per above, you can have great intensity without bashing. Brian's intensity is beyond compare.

3. Explore Every Sound. 

He used sticks, brushes, mallets with sticks on the other end, and some kind of soft plastic brush thing as implements, moving back and forth as needed. He kept his bass drum case to the right of his floor tom and would often toss what he was done with and grab something else. He also had a tambourine (didn't play it) and a few handfuls of bells and jingles that he used during his own rubato / free piece.

He also had a couple of thin towels that he used on the snare (snares on and off) and floor tom, with varying degrees of muffling. He'd put them on and take them off in the same song, as needed. Sometimes he'd move it to his leg for a while and then put if back on later.

4. Cymbals. 

He gets a million sounds from every one. Every cymbal can be a crash, a ride, a gong, a triangle and a shimmer. All sounds are available if you want them.

His touch is unparalleled. He can bash a cymbal and hold the stick against it so it doesn't fully resonate, so you get the crash but not an endless wash.

5. Feathering the Bass Drum. 

This was a revelation for me, having seen him many times but never his right foot for the entire concert. Some say feathering is 'old school' but he played the bass drum on quarter notes almost constantly throughout the night. Felt but not heard. Beater hitting the head ever so lightly and muffling so briefly. In a loud room, bass drum control is uber important.

6. Know the Music. 

Everyone else had sheet music (Gerald got it two days before...) but Brian had everything memorized. And he knew the songs and forms and hits / shots and caught every nuance when needed.

7. Communication. 

Brian was looking at all the members of the band, giving smiles and visual cues. This was especially evident with Gerald. Since it was his first gig ever with the band, Brian seemed to pay extra attention to him, especially the first few tunes. He was smiling and nodding, letting Gerald know that he was welcome in the band and nailing the music. Which he was, in a big way.

Joshua has always been very active as a listener onstage, even when he's standing side stage not playing. He's listening, tapping his foot, reacting to the music, encouraging. Brian cued the end of one drum solo VERY LATE and the only reason Josh caught it was because he was listening and watching and jumped in at the last second with the head out.

8. Process not Perfection. 

This aspect was huge for me, and I'm not sure I can put it into words, but I'm going to try:

From the full view of his every move, I was amazed at how many times he "missed"; how he'd go for a fill up the toms (or down) and miss the crash at the end or flub somehow. And after a brief pause (or not) he'd just keep going. It was as if the trying and missing was part of the point; going beyond what you know, pushing ahead beyond what you can already play. And even when he'd miss, you'd be right there with him, because the intensity and the intent is all right there. One time near the end he almost fell off the stool going for something and I just about leapt out of my seat to try and catch him. Such intensity. So in the moment.

9. Joy. 

People talk about this all the time, but it's true; he translates joy in every way. His body language, the smile on his face, the reverence for the music. It's captivating. Inspiring. Everything.

10. On the drum rider, always request a comfortable seat!

Mark Micklethwaite is an accomplished musician, educator, historian, and administrator. His work experience in the music field includes positions at the Banff Centre, Greenleaf Music, JAZZ.FM91, and Manhattan School of Music. He has facilitated events at various venues including Glenn Gould Studio, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and Blue Note Tokyo, working with such artists as Dave Douglas, Vijay Iyer, Sheila Jordan, Lee Konitz, Joe Lovano, Pat Metheny, and Oscar Peterson.

As an educator, Mark has developed innovative community and educational programming for students of all ages and facilitated relationships with schools and community groups to present many engaging programs. He has taught classes, workshops, and ensembles in various settings including the Halton, Peel, Durham, and Toronto school boards, Queens College, University of Toronto, York University, and University of Waterloo. Mark helped develop the jazz appreciation curriculum at JAZZ.FM91 and taught 6-week interactive courses to over 300 students.

A successful freelance drummer for over twenty years, Mark has performed at clubs, concert halls, and festivals throughout North America, Europe, and the Middle East. He has performed with musicians such as Guido Basso, Phil Dwyer, Joel Frahm, Dave Frishberg, Molly Johnson, Christian McBride, Donny McCaslin, Mike Murley, Ted Quinlan, Kevin Turcotte, the Turtle Island String Quartet and Kenny Wheeler. He completed his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Music at York University and his Masters of Music at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City.

His work experience in the music field includes key positions at the Manhattan School of Music , Greenleaf Music, York University, JAZZ.FM91, and the Banff Centre. He is currently on staff at Memorial University in St. John’s, NL where he coordinates venues and concerts and also teaches in the School of Music.

Check out Mark perform with Montreal pianist and composer Marianne Trudel on January 26th as part of the Newfound Music Festival at Memorial University January 26-27 


And while we are on the topic of Brian Blade, check out this recent interview with Norah Jones on her Playing Along podcast:


And finally here's another favourite that I've shared before, Brian Blade featured on Daniel Lanois' Burning Spear:

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Happy Birthday Max Roach!

And....we're back.

And there's not a better way to start off with my first blog post of the year 2023 than to wish a very happy 99th birthday to Maxwell Lemuel Roach who was born on this day January 10th, 1924.

Here's a few recent favourite clips to celebrate Max's artistry including:

...a solo with mallets:


...and some solo drum audio recordings circa. 1996:

This particular concert footage filmed at the Newport Jazz Festival circa. 1992 is very dear to me as it was one of my very first introductions to Max Roach and his music:


And finally, here's some dynamic footage of Max putting his Italian-made Hollywood Tronic drums though its paces:

Happy Birthday Max!