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 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:

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

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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:

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:

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:
and blog

Buy a copy of Earl's new album here:

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

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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:

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

- 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.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Tootie for President

Thanks to Roberto Gatto who shared this footage of Albert "Tootie" Heath, taken from "Drummer's Row" at the famed Village Vanguard, while performing with his brother, Jimmy Heath. Dig the very clever Calypso beat that Tootie plays on Blue Mitchell's "Funji Mama":

Monday, September 11, 2017

Carl Allen Speaks

Another masterclass today from the University of New Orleans, here's Carl Allen sharing some words of wisdom:

And to put things into context, here's Allen in some swinging piano trio action with Benny Green on piano and Ben Wolfe on bass:

Monday, September 4, 2017

Shannon Powell Speaks

New Orleans drummer Shannon Powell (The "King of Treme") is an important drummer in my own early development. During the early 1990s when I was first developing ears for Jazz music, Powell was the first Jazz drummer that I saw on television. It was on a Harry Connick Jr. New Year's Eve special from London, England that featured Connick's big band with string orchestra and trio featuring Ben Wolf on bass and Powell on drums. I was quite impressed and inspired by Shannon's Powell's drum feature on Connick's up tempo arrangement of Stompin' at the Savoy and for me the rest, as they say, was history...

Thanks to the kind folks over at the University of New Orleans, here's an hour long masterclass with his majesty:

Thursday, August 31, 2017

George Marsh - Inner Drumming

Back in 2004 I was fortunate to study with Matt Wilson in New York City thanks to a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts. A concept that Matt  often stressed in our lessons was the important idea of "flow" when dealing with the drum set from a physical perspective. This would lead him to also introduce to me some concepts and ideas that he had learned from George Marsh, the author of the book "Inner Drumming".

George Marsh has recently published his book entitled "Inner Drumming" and it consists of a very unique method and approach to moving around the drums. Combining a very clever and boundless approach to coordination combined with a Zen-like approach to movement and how we physically interpret and connect those coordinated patterns , Marsh offers a fresh direction to the drum set which I recommend to everyone. It all makes you think and play outside of your "box".

Here is a recent masterclass with George Marsh from Drum Channel in which he explains and demonstrates the concepts behind Inner Drumming:

Marsh was also kind enough to answer a few questions I had about Inner Drumming, his concepts and the book:

1) What is "Inner Drumming" and what prompted you to publish this book?

Inner Drumming is the study of internal movement from limb to limb when we play drums. It is done very slowly to insure maximum awareness of what it feels like to play with just one limb, then two, then three and finally all four. 

2) How is your method unique from other drumming methods?

It’s the only book that I know of that deals with energy flow internally with extensive exercises to help in that development.

3) What do you hope drummers will take away from studying your book?

I want drummers to realize that the sounds they are creating are part of the internal flow of energy before, during, and after the sounds they make with each limb. This helps remove blockages that get in the way of playing what you hear. And what you hear starts to become one with the increased internal awareness.

4) What other drummers, musicians and/or life experiences and philosophies have influenced "Inner Drumming”?

Jazz music and the call to say something meaningful on the drums has driven me. My need to connect as deeply as possible in my body so that I could let go and create from a timeless place. A way to practice that gets rid of stuck patterns.

5) Who would be examples of other drummers/musicians/artists/athletes that might display the qualities you promote through your book and teachings?

Terry Bozzio, Steve Gadd, Bernard Purdie, Matt Wilson, David Garibaldi, Joey Baron, Elliot Humberto Kavee, Michael Vatcher, Jennifer Wilsey, Garth Powell, Steve Smith, on and on.

6) Any clues as to your next project? (books, performances, recordings, workshops, etc.)

I have a new CD called “Expedition" with Denny Zeitlin which is being received very positively. 

Here’s a link to a review on Huffington Post: 

And another review on Something Else:

I’ve written hundreds of studies dealing with cross rhythms, odd time signatures, roll studies, tuplet studies and I am also thinking about starting a monthly on-line group lesson on Inner Drumming.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Tony Williams Stuttgart 1989

Thanks to Hans Verhoven via the Facebook for bringing this footage of Tony Williams taking no prisoners in Stuttgart, Germany circa. 1989 to my attention:

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Claude Ranger: Canadian Jazz Legend

Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to either meet Canadian jazz drummer Claude Ranger nor hear him play live before he disappeared in late 2000. I moved to Montreal and then Toronto long after he had left those cities but his reputation preceded him. Over the years, mainly through  colourful anecdotes via other musicians that knew and played with him, I gradually came to appreciate and develop a curiosity for this drummer who was as much a mystery to me as he was recognized as being a passionate Master jazz drummer. One thing that I noticed was how all those that did play with him or heard him perform spoke of him with a certain reverence. This intrigued me and I often found myself asking: "Who was Claude Ranger?"

I believe it was pianist/bassist/vibraphonist Don Thompson who first mentioned Claude's name to me over lunch at the Banff Centre during the summer of 1997. I had just played with Thompson for the first time that morning and somehow he knew that I was from Montreal (although transplanted from Regina, Saskatchewan when I was 18 years old...) So when I asked him how he knew that, he remarked that "I played like a Montreal drummer!" Still not clear as to what exactly he meant by that I pressed him for more but all I remember from that conversation was that he suggested that I check out Claude Ranger...

As I gradually became more involved in the Montreal jazz scene during the late 90s and early 2000s, I became more interested in the history of jazz in Montreal and of its historical icons, particularly of its drummers. Claude's name continually popped up in conversations. However, it wasn't until I moved to Toronto in 2007 that I had the opportunity to work with a number of musicians that knew Claude on and off the bandstand during his time in Toronto. After several years of asking around, I am still fascinated by the "legend" that is Claude Ranger but unfortunately limited by the fact that I never heard him and that his available recorded output is quite limited.

Fortunately, a recent book by author and former Globe & Mail jazz critic Mark Miller changes this and does a great job of telling Ranger's story. This publication documents Claude's journey in an exceptional way without relying on any of the romanticized mythology that often surrounds Claude. One really gets a sense of Ranger's personality as well as his contributions and influence in the Canadian jazz scene over the course of his life. Furthermore, Miller's book also offers a wonderful snapshot and insight into the jazz scenes of Montreal and Toronto in the 1960s, 70s and 80s through to Vancouver in the 1990s, all through the lens of Ranger's activities in each of those communities.

In my humble opinion I believe this to be the most important book on a Canadian jazz figure in recent times. Any musician who aspires to play jazz in Canada needs to read this book.

Here is a recent radio interview with Mark Miller from where he talks about his book:

And here's a review from Paul Wells with some personal perspective on Ranger and Miller's book:

This is a few years old now but here is a CBC radio interview produced by Carol Warren on Claude Ranger entitled "Sticks & Stones":

Finally, Mark Miller was very generous to offer a few words of insight into his book. I am very grateful that he took the time to answer my call in addition to providing an insight into one of Canada's most important Jazz figures:

"I knew Claude Ranger. I admired his drumming. I appreciated the spirit and intensity that he brought to the bandstand and to the Canadian jazz scene more broadly. I was intrigued by his approach to music and to life in general, and I was troubled by some of the choices that he made as he reconciled the demands of one with the other.

He struck me as an interesting study in the tensions, rewards and frustrations of the creative life, a study that would challenge me as a writer to, on one hand, balance my personal familiarity with him against my professional inclination toward journalistic objectivity, and to, on the other hand, avoid sensationalizing or sentimentalizing his story in the way that biographical studies of conflicted musicians — well, conflicted artists in every field — so often do.

Choosing to write about Ranger is also, I think, consistent with my interest, as noted on the back cover of the book, in “musicians and narratives that have been lost, forgotten or otherwise overlooked in jazz history.” 

That same interest is evident in my biographical studies of Valaida Snow, Herbie Nichols and Lonnie Johnson, in my survey of the pioneering American musicians who took jazz around the world in the 1910s and 1920s (Some Hustling This!) and indeed in the other books I’ve written from a variety of perspectives about jazz in Canada. Canadian jazz musicians have been chronically overlooked in jazz history and Ranger, for one, although well known inside the Canadian jazz community, enjoyed little recognition beyond it.

The key, though — the reason for writing the book at all — was ultimately the music that Ranger made and the influence/impact that he had on the Canadian scene from the mid-1960s through the mid-1990s. As a drummer, bandleader, teacher and mentor, he set a demanding standard for his contemporaries, and a compelling example for younger musicians — first in Montreal, then in Toronto and finally in Vancouver. 

He wished from his bandmates the same determination that he himself displayed to, as he liked to put it, “go further.” Some of his bandmates followed and some resisted, but he moved jazz forward in each of those three cities, challenging the status quo at every stop but also, in time, finding himself marginalized — and, equally, marginalizing himself — in the process.

In narrative terms, his career path across Canada also offered me a structure within which to investigate and illuminate the history and practice of modern jazz in this country during the late 20th century. This, as seen from Ranger’s relatively contrarian perspective, one that I share, which measured the worth of music by its originality rather than its popularity and by its commitment, not its compromise.

Of course, Ranger’s disappearance from Aldergrove, B.C., in late 2000 only adds to the story’s intrigue. His fate remains unknown 17 years later, and perhaps this book will provide a little of the closure that we, as members of the Canadian jazz community, have all needed. 

It was the Vancouver drummer Dylan van der Schyff, one of many younger Canadian musicians to benefit from Ranger’s support, who initially encouraged me when I was wondering whether or not to write the book. “Don’t just do it for Claude,” he told me, “do it for us.” Only now, with the publication of the book and the response to it, am I realizing just how many of “us” there are."

- Mark Miller 2017



When I asked Miller to recommend some recordings of Claude Ranger's drumming to the uninitiated,  this is what he replied:

"As far as recordings are concerned, little if anything is available. Quite a few exist only as LPs; those that were reissued on CD, or were recorded as CDs in the first place, are by and large out of print, although I note that has a couple of copies of the Brian Barley LP/CD, 1970, with Claude’s Le Pingouin. So that’s something. Amazon also has a few new or used copies of Jane Bunnett’s In Dew Time and P.J. Perry’s Quintet, but the Amazon listing for Don Thompson’s Forgotten Memories is incorrect; the cover and track listing are for someone else’s record altogether…"

If you are interested in purchasing and reading a copy of Claude Ranger: Canadian Jazz Legend, it can be found here:

Monday, August 21, 2017

Buddy Rich 1974

Thanks to the intrepid user who posted these three clips of Buddy Rich circa. 1974 recorded at the ETCETERA Club in Washington D.C.

The first one features some great brush playing in a trio format on "What is This Thing Called Love?" with pianist Kenny Barron, reminiscent of his earlier trio recordings with Nat King Cole & Lester Young and Art Tatum & Lionel Hampton:

*Notice how nicely this one swings....and no drum solos!

Of course, Rich makes up for it here (!) on two unaccompanied solo features from the same club date:

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Legacy of Jim Blackley

Jim Blackley, perhaps best described as Canada's most influential Jazz drumming educator, passed away on July 16, 2017 at the age of 90. 

Originally from Scotland and who would later emigrate to Canada, Blackley was the author of such acclaimed books as "Syncopated Rolls for the Modern Drummer" and "The Essence of Jazz Drumming" (a personal favourite in my library...) He was also a prolific teacher whose teachings have, in my opinion, had a significant influence on the state of Canadian Jazz drumming over the past 50 years.

Unfortunately I never met nor studied with Blackley myself however I did study and find myself spending a great deal of time with several major Canadian Jazz drummers that did (including the likes of Chris McCann, Terry Clarke and Barry Elmes.) I had heard Blackley's name mentioned for many years but it wasn't until I moved to Toronto ten years ago that I was able to connect-the-dots and realized what an impact Blackley had on our nation's legacy of Jazz drumming. For comparison, I'd say that Blackley was the Canadian equivalent of Alan Dawson and other significant teachers.

While I didn't get it directly from Jim, his concept of playing very slow and deliberate time on the ride cymbal, to this day, remains the basis of my own foundation as a Jazz drummer. I'll be forever be grateful for Chris McCann for introducing me to this concept and patiently putting me through my paces. From what I observed, Blackely's teachings were profound and emphasized the importance of musicianship, time and swing above all else.

Here's a few words of Jim's wisdom that I've compiled following his passing last month. Special thanks to Mark Micklethwaite and Morgan Doctor who shared many of these words of wisdom from Jim via Facebook:

"One of the most important qualities we must develop is patience. Developing the ability to stay with the obvious requires both patience and determination. If the band is popping through a simplistic groove, do not be tempted to add anything." 

"Knowing where you are in the music at all times, and generating a swinging time feel is what it is all about. Do not imagine you have come to change the course of music, and that your time is beyond question. Continually investigate your time and feeling. The polishing of the time should be like that of polishing the heart to a state of purity. The endeavour is an endless one." 

"Irrespective of the heights you reach as a musician and instrumentalist, irrespective of how outstanding your fellow musicians are, the most important ingredient that all can take to the stand is good human qualities, of love, patience, compassion, and tolerance, and the treating of all lives as once's own." Jim Blackley

"Being a top musician is no big deal. Being a true human being is a very, very big deal. That’s what it’s all about. The more true human beings we become, the more that quality will emanate from our music."


I also posted this piece before but re-posting now, here is an interview with Blackley circa 1984:

"An Interview with Jim Blackley"

Interview by T. Bruce Wittet - Modern Drummer magazine: March 1984

Interviewing Jim Blackley was a treat…. The talk was smooth, ample and of considerable substance. Most of all, it had heart, which is very important to Jim. He simply refuses to do half a job…. He has traversed continents and musical boundaries, he has sacrificed willingly the material amenities – all in a journey toward a life of honour, proportion, balance and excellence. I left his house clear headed and relaxed, notwithstanding having held off on cigarettes and coffee for several hours…. I’d had my first lesson with Jim Blackley.

Jim is something of a curiosity to many musicians. Billed the “Swinging Scot” during one of his spells in New York, he is well respected by the upper circle of Toronto drummers, many of whom make return visits for chats, repairs and inspiration. While Jim’s system arises from the best of Scottish and American drumming traditions, it is a true method for any instrument. Never before, perhaps, has music been stressed so much at the expense of technique. Jim believes that if you know music – really know music – and can hear it at any tempo and grasp it’s inner logic, you will discover surprising technique. And nobody leaves Blackley’s once a month sessions with any doubt about what it takes to make music….

But don’t rush to buy a ticket to Toronto, Jim’s home. There is a waiting list. It all seems to work out nicely though. Jim is helping others turn craft into art, and he spends his time enriching his musical and spiritual being. Although you’ll seldom see Jim perform in public, let me assure you, the man can play!

Q: Someone once told me that there are certain patterns that you can learn, but never really pull off authentically…. You can practise them and play them, but they never actually become part of you. Do you feel that one can learn to master a style, or is that facility innate?

JB: I think that environment is one of the most important things in development. Music is a language and has to be learned…. If you’ve never heard Spanish spoken, then you’re not going to learn to speak Spanish. If you want to be a jazz drummer and have never heard jazz being played, then you’re just not going to learn to play jazz. You have to expose yourself to the jazz language. The first thing any musician should be taught is the art of listening. It’s excellent if everything starts off in a natural way and you grow up in a home where parents are playing music morning to night, like my kids are. My oldest son Keith is the only one who is a professional drummer, but my other sons Brian and Scott are also excellent musicians.

I don’t approach teaching from the learning of rudiments. Not that there isn’t any value to rudiments, but the important thing you must give the student is direction about understanding structure, listening to chord changes, listening to the bass line, how to play the time and punctuate the phrases – these are the things that the musical player must learn. It has nothing to do with playing the rudiments. I could direct students into being outstanding jazz drummers without ever teaching one rudiment, yet I could cover everything that’s being played in jazz, because everything develops from playing TIME. My whole concept is based on approaching everything from the TIME. All rhythms and figures are first developed as cymbal patterns. Students learn to hear the musical line, played over chord changes, the bass, and the melody line. And then, they learn how to take that single musical line and explore the total drumset…. They are playing musical lines, not rudiments!

The first two things students of jazz have to learn are the 12 bar blues and the 32 bar chorus. Those two things cover a large portion of jazz composition. Listening to singers in order to learn lyrics is another important aspect. When you learn all the tunes through the lyrics, you develop a natural foundation for the form, not an intellectual one. When you’re playing and singing the song, you may not intellectually know where you are, but you just feel where you are. I’m a believer in learning all the bebop heads, and learning to sing them, because if you can’t sing the head from beginning to end, it’s impossible to accent properly.

When students come to study with me, I’ll sit them behind the drums, play a very basic 12 bar blues record, and ask them to play some time. Next, I’ll play something with a 32 bar form and ask them to play to that. Then I will ask if they know where they are in the music? All of them will say “Oh yeah, I hear it….” And I’ll say “Fine”. Then I’ll drop the needle at random on the record and ask them to tell me which bar of the tune they’re on. Eight out of ten cannot tell where they are, they can hear the beginning and the turn around, but they can’t tell whether they’re on the fifth, ninth or eleventh bar. The Jamey Aebersold instruction records have been an invaluable aid for the students because they were designed for professional development. The student gets the opportunity to clearly hear the bass and chord changes.

I can truthfully say that there are very few students who have come to me who don’t have the potential to be first class players. I’m not saying that everyone has it, but everyone has it at different levels. We must be very, very careful at the beginning about assessing the potential of any student. People who have not been exposed to any listening at all are not going to respond when you sit them down behind a set of drums to play with a jazz track. You have to educate their listening habits while you’re fostering their technical habits. If I find that a student is developing a very high technical and musical proficiency, but is not performing, I’ll stop the lessons until that student goes out and does some playing. It’s disastrous for a student to pursue years and years of study without any musical outlet. I know numerous teachers who tell the students to wait four or five years until they get all of their chops together before they go out and play. My philosophy is the opposite: I want the students out playing from the very first lesson. Even if they can only play quarter notes on the cymbal, I want them out playing from the beginning. I tell them that, if they get a call to play while they’re practising, they should throw the books in the garbage, and go out and play!

Q: Do you find that kids who have grown up listening to rock music have a hard time relating to jazz?

JB: I don’t find anything negative about the kids who have grown up playing rock music, I find that it has been an excellent stepping stone for introducing young players to jazz. It gives them the opportunity to perform with other human beings, and that’s what it’s all about. We should be thankful for rock music introducing young people to performance.

Let’s be very frank about it: The artistry needed to be a top flight jazz player overshadows the musicality needed to be a rock player. On the other hand, to me, the most important things to be captured in any aspect of playing are the feeling and the groove. If you can’t get the groove, you may as well stay at home and phone it in. It’s sad, but the majority of drummers just don’t swing. It’s not that they’re not capable of swinging, it’s that they don’t understand the elements of swinging. It’s not too intangible to discuss. There’s been so much nonsense through the years about how you either have it or you don’t, and that no one can teach you to swing. That’s absolute nonsense! Swinging is not an accident, there are definite ingredients in swinging that have to be understood.

First of all, there are far too many drummers playing jazz who are not playing with a jazz feeling – they’re playing with an eighth note feeling, instead of off the triplet. The triplet feel is basic to jazz performance, and the perfect example of that is Elvin Jones. His playing is rooted in the blues. From the first time I heard him, I found his playing so basically simple and so beautiful. The problem is that very few people know how to listen to Elvin Jones. His whole playing is centred off the anticipation of beats 1 and 3. Listen carefully, and you’ll discover this. When you can hear that in his playing, it makes it so simple.

Very soon I will be publishing a book which will explain the essence of jazz drumming through the years (the now acclaimed “Essence of Jazz Drumming”). It will be a whole study of jazz time and jazz rhythm to show how musical lines are developed, and how all the figures come from the time. Any young player interested in playing jazz should investigate the triplet very, very thoroughly, because therein lies the essence of jazz time. One of the biggest faults I hear with many jazz drummers in their playing of the ride cymbal is their accenting of the cymbal on beats 2 and 4. The feeling should be one of 4/4, because the main duty in playing the ride cymbal in this manner is to complement the bass line – the 1,2,3 and 4 of the bar should have equal stress. The hi-hat will stress the 2 and 4 as much as necessary.

Forward motion comes from the quarter notes being played with an even pulsation. The minute you start leaning on 2 and 4, as most books instruct you to do, it will sound like someone walking with a wooden leg. Already I can hear someone saying “Elvin Jones doesn’t play with a feeling of four….”

Ah, Elvin Jones doesn’t play his CYMBAL off that particular concept, but if you listen closely to the embellishments that Elvin does around his cymbal rhythm, you will find that creates a feeling of four and gives it forward momentum. His cymbal, which plays off the anticipation, gives it that feeling of going back, and that’s why Elvin’s time has that wonderful laid back feeling…. The message you get from Elvin depends on which part of his line you are hearing.

One of the most confusing things that we can encounter is a transcription of a drum performance because, when put down on paper, it gives a completely false impression of what’s being played. What you see is a single line, not the totality of what’s being played.

A most difficult aspect of playing is to play a straight ride beat devoid of any accents or variations. Some horn players like the time behind them to be very straight and simple. If you have not developed the control to handle this type of playing it can be very embarrassing. Mastery of this concept will give your playing a solid foundation from which to grow, although this is certainly only one approach to playing time. Jake Hanna is an excellent example to listen to. As I mention often, you have to listen to the right people, and one of them has to be Tony Williams. Tony definitely brought his own sound to the instrument, coupled with outstanding musicality. When it comes to big band playing, I feel that Mel Lewis is one of the top exponents. His ability to play the musical line knocks me out. He understands the difference between the horizontal and the vertical, and hears and responds to consonance and dissonance…. A very musical drummer indeed.

Q: Do you feel that for the time to feel good, it has to be metronomically perfect?

JB: When we are involved in musical performance, there is such a thing as emotional rushing or dragging. This is musically acceptable as long as it’s something that the band feels and does collectively. When only one member is doing it, it becomes a “tug of war”. But if it is stemming from the whole concept of the music and the emotion that’s coming through the music, then it’s beautiful. You’ll find that with some of the great players, ballads will tend to get slower – within reason, of course. When you’re playing a moderate or bright tempo, there is nothing wrong with the time moving up slightly. But when you find performances where they practically double the tempo by the end of the tune, then I don’t consider that musical at all, that’s really just a lack of control.

Q: Do you ever recommend the use of a metronome?

JB: Of course….. I’ve never met anybody yet who couldn’t benefit from the intelligent use of a metronome. But don’t become a slave to it. The metronome should be used to check out your time. What you will find is that you have three or four tempos that you feel very comfortable and natural with. What the metronome is good for is making you play through the other tempos – the “blind” tempos, as I call them – to make yourself persevere and master tempos from one end of the metronome to the other. The hardest thing is playing slow…. The essence of my teaching is built on that premise. I never talk to a student about playing fast. The slower you can learn to play, the happier you’ll make me. You will never be able to play slow enough to satisfy me. The essence is in the space between the notes. Once you can hear the space with confidence you can start to do unbelievable things from within that space, and the up tempos become very easy to play. Naturally, you have to practise playing fast as well, but the emphasis is on playing as slow as possible. Usually, quarter note equals 40 is where I have my students practise their material. We build it up from there. To me, the whole conception and feeling for space comes from the art of playing slow.

Q: What led you to write your book “Syncopated Rolls”?

JB: Back in about 1959, Charles Mingus came to Vancouver. From the first moment, I was fully aware of what was going on in that band, and what Dannie Richmond was doing. Dannie and I struck up a beautiful friendship, and I invited him to my home. When he came over, I played him some solo pipe band drumming records that were made in the 40’s, and after Dannie heard them he said “I don’t care what you call that, man, that’s jazz!” I then proceeded to show him some of the ideas and concepts I had developed for drum set. When I finished playing he threw his arms around me and said “You’re the first white drummer I’ve met in my life who plays black!” His enthusiasm for my concepts resulted in my writing Syncopated Rolls. You know, it’s interesting to see the way things go, for it seems that many players are just beginning to realize the depth of musical material in these books. It goes way beyond what the title suggests. The new two-volume edition seems to be hitting the right spot’.

Q: What are your personal goals as a player, a teacher and a person?

JB: Being a top musician is no big deal. Being a true human being is a very, very big deal. That’s what it’s all about. The more true human beings we become, the more that quality will emanate from our music. There’s no such thing as gaining spirituality from the music. The spirituality comes from within as we develop the qualities of God and surrender to that power. The thing is, I’m not someone who just sits here teaching. I only teach one student a day, and I only take one student one day each month. I could have hundreds of students if I wanted, but I’m not interested in making money. I’m interested in helping to contribute, through God’s grace, to another human being’s life. If I do my duty to God properly, then I’ll do my duty to every human being I encounter. If I can bring something to someone else’s life, then that’s really good.

Now don’t misunderstand. I spend hours every day playing and practising. I’ll never be satisfied with my playing! I was down in my basement the other night for three hours practising something I was trying to get. I made a comment in my book that developing time to a state of perfection and feeling is like polishing the heart to a state of spotless purity… It’s an endless endeavour.

My students are not just people who come here and pay me a few dollars. No. They are very important people in my life. They contribute so much to my development. I learn so much from every student who comes here – not only about music, but about life. It’s like a family relationship with all of the students I’ve had over the years.

We get together as a group three or four times a week to play. It isn’t a tea party, we play! They work their buts off. We don’t just play dance music, we play jazz. A lot of what I hear is well played, but there is no improvising. There are no chances being taken, and that’s not what jazz is all about. If you’re going to improvise you cannot be right all the time. Miles Davis is one of the classic examples. He turns what people would call wrong into a musical gem. That’s the thing that I’ve always liked about Elvin’s playing: There’s that raw jungle type of sound and feeling. There’s a roughness to it, but although there’s a roughness, let me say that Elvin has one of the finest touches of any drummer playing. People talk about Elvin playing loud, but he’s one of the most sensitive and delicate drummers I’ve ever heard in my life. Listen to some of the ballads he plays – that lovely loping feeling he gets from those slow blues things he did with John Coltrane. He’s been playing the same things for the past 20 years, but every time he plays them he makes them sound as if he’s inventing and creating them at that particular moment. He has such a brilliant and fluid way of using his drumset that is always sounds fresh. Now that is artistry!

Improvising is the ability to take a two-bar motif and play it through a composition and have no one know. Or being able to take simple ideas and turn them inside out, upside down, move them around, and make a total composition from a simple two-bar phrase. That’s what Max Roach was a master of…. He could develop a whole composition from a two-bar phrase. When you’re talking about top players it’s nonsensical to pit one against the other. If you cannot go out and listen to Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Max Roach, Jake Hanna, Philly Joe Jones, Mel Lewis, Terry Clarke, Keith Blackley, Shelly Manne or Dannie Richmond and enjoy them for what they are, then you’re not interested in music. You’re going for some other reason….

In every type of music there is a groove. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing country, funk, rock, Viennese waltzes, or polkas, there’s a groove. The thing is to find out what really creates the groove. That’s the thing that must be investigated, and that’s what’s not being investigated enough. To be sure, there are various ways to generate the time, and the swing within the time, but it seems to me that swinging is being confused with excitement, and excitement is being confused with getting excited. The aim is to become a musically exciting and swinging performer, irrespective of the idiom.

Artistry is not an accident. Artistry is not built on ignorance. Artistry is built on wisdom...