I recorded yesterday with a 10-piece band called What’s Cookin’. We laid down the tracks at Mile High Music Recording Studio just outside of Denver – in Wheat Ridge. Some tunes were straight ahead jazz and others were more funk-oriented. I had been considering taking two different bass drums (see the post entitled “Hybrid Drum Set Set-Up”). I ended up opting for one bass drum, for simplicity’s sake. I took the bigger (22×18) of the two. The engineer was happy with that choice. He indicated that he could scale back the bigger drum for the jazz tunes much easier than trying to beaf up a smaller bass drum for the funkier stuff. Whew! Good choice.
Putting the bass drum size to the side, I play differently on the bass drum when playing different styles anyway. That helps, as well. Please check out another post of mine, entitled “Felt Rather Than Heard” for a discussion about this.
This music was hard and fun at the same time. Now — off to a gig with that same band for more fun!
I first heard a flat ride cymbal many years ago while listening to a Chick Corea album entitled Return to Forever. The great Brazilian percussionist, Airto Moreira, played drum set on this recording. His feel and groove on the drum set still amaze me to this day. One thing in particular that was very unique to me at the time, was Airto’s ride cymbal. It was not like anything I had heard before. There was so much stick definition! It was airy, tight, dry and just wonderful. I had no idea that he was using a flat ride or flat top ride cymbal. There’s no bell on this kind of ride cymbal, thus giving it these different sonic properties. It was quite a few years later that I learned of Roy Haynes and his use of a flat ride on another Chick Corea classic recording, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs. This recording has been credited as the first recording of a flat ride. Wow!
I take a flat ride these days to my jazz gigs — it doesn’t fit so well with louder groups. I continue to completely dig this sound and sometimes even use more than one at a time. I saw the Pat Metheny Group with Antonio Sanchez a few years back, and was inspired not only by the playing but also with the setup that Antonio used — two flat rides. His predecessor in that group, Paul Wertico, did this as well. Some of those fast ride patterns are performed by having both hands on two different cymbals at the same time. It’s not as easy as it may sound to make those fast patterns work well like this. It’s time to practice again!
I’m doing a recording soon and I’m really looking forward to it! Some tunes are very much in the jazz tradition, while others require more of a pocket-oriented drumming approach. So, bring two drum sets? Well, if I was paying for the recording then, yes! However, I think I’m going for more of a “hybrid” drum set. I’m really enjoying my Yamaha PHX kit, but the bass drum isn’t what I’d prefer to play for the jazzier stuff. I’m thinking that the band could record all of the funk stuff and then take a break. During the break, I’ll swap out the bass drum for a smaller bass drum without a port in the front head. I’ll also change a few cymbals, and possibly the snare drum. If we start with the jazz tunes, then I’ll simply do this in reverse.
I’m calling the recording engineer to go over this first. I’m sure the “no surprises” clause applies here! It shouldn’t take too long to make these few changes, and then I’ll end up with a different sounding kit without too much of a hassle. I’m still playing around with this at my teaching studio, and it’s coming together nicely. Fun will be had!
It’s time for my toms to sing a bit more, so it’s time for new drum heads. For some reason, I somewhat dread changing drum heads. It’s almost like saying goodbye to a friend. However, I love hearing the difference after changing to new heads. They feel better, they sound better, and just make me want to play the drums even more. I don’t have a hard and fast rule about when to know it’s time, but I seem to know. Usually, after changing heads, I say something along the lines like, “why did I wait so long?”
On the other hand, I know other drummers that hardly ever change drum heads. At least part of their sound seems to be based on the years of dirt and wear that the drum heads endure. I believe that whatever works for you is the best thing. You may not know what is best for you until you change a few drum heads, and hear for yourself. Don’t part with the old heads. They can be used as spares, or they can be put back on the drums!
I always enjoy the first get together with a prospective new student. Like many teachers, I offer a complimentary first lesson. At the end of the lesson, students will have a good idea of my approach to the instrument, and I should have a good idea of their abilities. We discuss their interests, strengths and weaknesses and, together, we can set realistic goals.
It’s at the first meeting that we both get a chance to get to know each other. I really try to understand where they’re at, musically, and go from there. For me, it’s mostly about finding a comfort level and relating to them. This applies as much to the five year-olds as it does to the forty-five year-olds. We’re all people, and I always respect that.
In general, when I play jazz (bebop or “straight ahead”) I like approaching the bass drum with the “felt rather than heard” approach. I play quarter notes very lightly on every beat when playing time. This technique is called “feathering” the bass drum. If the bass drum is not played at all, then the music sounds empty. If I play too loudly on the bass drum, it sounds… well, too loud and too heavy.
I’ll play this way even if it’s not a jazz gig, but the leader calls a jazz tune. The group immediately can feel the difference when I do this, and (usually) it’s appreciated. The feel is much lighter and the time tends to float.
This technique took me quite a while to master and to achieve a certain comfort level. Be patient with yourself and listen to the true masters of this music. Swing hard and quietly (especially that bass drum)!
I’ll be recording with a 10-piece band near the end of the month and want to be as prepared as possible. Today, I learned which charts we’ll be doing which is really helpful. There will be one rehearsal before the recording, but I plan on picking up the charts ahead of time. I will organize my practice schedule around those tunes. Even though these are charts I’ve played before, I want to be on top of my game in the studio. I’m looking forward to playing this challenging music and getting it recorded at the same time.
Ideally, for the jazzier tunes, I would want to have a bass drum without a port in the front head. I tend to like that open sound for the swing tunes. For the funkier stuff, I plan on having a bigger bass drum with a port with minimal padding. However, it’s not my project and time is limited, so I’ll call the engineer first and discuss this. I may just end up trying to keep it simple — one bass drum for all the tunes. Time is money and that’s all too true in the recording studio. I want to make sure that the actual takes are good without spending too much time fussing over the drums. I’ll be prepared either way and that’s a good thing!
Recently, after a sound check at a fun gig, the bass player approached me and commented how nice it was to simply play music together. He talked about how neither of us were trying to impress the other — that we were both there to play music. There’s a maturity that has come along for me in my life. Yes, I’m physically older (we all are!), but I seem to have a better understanding of what is called for at any given moment. I really like that. I still have so much to learn and master on my instrument, and that’s such a cool thing. Yet, at the same time, this bass player and I have both learned to weed out extraneous notes and unnecessary rhythms. We both have less of a need to prove anything or show-off and play something simply because we can. We want to play something because it means something at that particular moment. It gives me great joy to not play something these days. Twenty years ago was a different story! Hopefully, I can keep learning new things and finding the right places in which to use them. That’s my goal!
Happy New Year everyone!!!
I hope everyone gets a chance to play some fun music this year. Follow your heart, have fun, and practice those drums!