My Response to Cruise Ship Drummer

Hey folks this is my response to a blog article on the excellent site Cruise Ship Drummer, which I encourage you to check out. Todd, the author, reposted my How to Really Play Jazz Part One video, and was answering some questions his viewers had about it.

More Cowbell!

More Cowbell!

Because of space limitations in the comments, I'm posting my complete response below. I encourage you to comment yourself, either below this article, or on Todd's thread. Above all, great/flattering that my little channel's starting to get noticed!

"Hey folks somebody just forwarded this thread to me! First of all I'm extremely flattered that people are starting to talk about my videos, and think you have a great blog here. It's also cool/interesting to see some comments from outside the "echo chamber" or my own fans/subscribers. Think we're all doing "God's work" as Dave King puts it.

There are a few things I'd like to clarify - I've said this before in other forums, but I'm not trying to stake a claim that the proverbial baby must be thrown out with the bathwater, or that anyone should stop practicing syncopation, or John's book with the kick drum ghosted, etc. Indeed, I take my coaching students through a very traditional "crash course" on ghosting the bass drum while playing traditional snare vocab from Kenny Clarke or Max or Philly Joe. I made this video to solve a problem I was seeing over-and-over at jam sessions and with students who sought me out for lessons - everybody can play solidly with the hats on "2 and 4", but they've got nowhere to go if they're not doing that. It goes to "bad paul motian imitation" territory really quickly. But modern players, and even the previous two generations (let's say from Roy Haynes/Elvin up through Eric Harland, Jamire Williams, Marcus Gilmore, etc) don't have that same gap in their playing. So I was trying to figure out a simple system to get students into the head of a...say...clarence penn, where they'd be able to play longer phrases and 6-beat phrases without either playing the hats strictly on 2 and 4 or getting a stern look and a foot-stomp from the horn player (assume we've both been there;).

Appreciate the kind words about my own playing. Agree that a demonstration of one's own improvisational ability doesn't necessarily validate a teaching method, because there's no guarantee the teacher owes his prowess to the teaching method. Like personal training/business coaching/diet, etc the best way to test that you're not full of hot wind is to make an educated guess about the mechanism that worked for you (the teacher), then test whether it helps students. I can say with reasonable confidence that the methods in the video have indeed helped students improve their feel and comping in jazz.

There are a couple of opinions I'll push back on a little more - first, the apparent aggravation about simplifying swing feel down to triplets. Apparently I escaped criticism in this video (maybe I forgot to mention triplets;), but I do feel it's a useful concept in general, so I wanted to pen a small defense of the much-maligned triplet.

It's true, there are a million subtleties. My friend and fellow former occasional house drummer at Cleopatra's Needle (though he was leagues ahead of me and an inspiration to watch every time) Quincy Davis has a great channel in which he delves deeply into these subtleties. From where I sit, asking Most drum students to think deeply about the difference between Philly Joe's and Max Roach's ride cymbal placement as much more than an exercise in appreciation (which, if they're listening to the recordings everybody loves/recommends, they're probably doing already;) is tantamount to spending time tending your 20 square-foot azalia garden while your 5-acre lawn is overgrown. Many drummers time is far worse than they think (especially when you coax them out of their 4-on-the-floor comfort zone), and their swing pattern is - this is the killer - Inconsistent. Choose any phrasing you want, as long as you're doing it for musical reasons and with full awareness of how you sound and how you're making the band sound, but I spent years playing "accidental phrasing" because I lacked basic time and self-awareness.

As well, I'll stand behind the assertions that thinking of hip-hop phrasing for the 8ths is useful, and that "top down" is a misnomer that's done more harm than good. In neither case do I contend that drummers shouldn't also be listening to the great jazz recordings, or thinking about leading with the ride cymbal. Part of the reason I've found hip hop so helpful is a lot of novice and intermediate drummers seem afraid to "dig in" with jazz beats, so they end up sounding unassertive. Thinking of a hip hop beat without a backbeat is a mental hack that helped me "give myself permission" to actually play some phrases. (More about playing with assertion instead of floating in uncertain territory here, in my Nasheet lesson.)

Long-story short, I doubt there's that much difference between us as far as what constitutes great playing, but we may just differ slightly on what novice/intermediate players should be focusing on. I felt there was enough material out there telling people to play spangalang with Syncopation, and that the students I was seeing weren't weak in THAT area, but rather had inconsistent feel/time/vocabulary as soon as you took away that scaffold.

Anyway, thanks for reposting the videos, and invite anybody who wants to continue the discussion to comment below:)"