Saturday, February 20, 2010

A New Feature: Product Page

When I cite a product in this blog (or my Snare Drum Addict blog), I will also include that product in my online store so that visitors can quickly track down items about which I write and/or recommend.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Going Back in Time: Videos of the Greats

One can grab a metronome, practice pad and head to the woodshed, as well as load up an iPod with the downloads I recommended in the three previous posts (hopefully both). However, reading a transcription from a book, while a precise way of communicating 'how to', is brought to life by actual video footage of some of the drummers who got us to where we are today. This post is going to focus on some videos I recommend. Each is a compilation of the work of many different drummers. At some later time I'll post on individuals, and the aggregate of the recommended videos is a panoramic view of the history of US drum kit playing.

To start off, there are three videos from Hudson Music that I have spent hours watching (many hours in fact.) In them are well known drummers who we remember today, as well as drummers who were well known in their era, but today are sadly forgotten. The videos are:

  1. Classic Jazz Drummers: Swing and Beyond-DVD - Highlights include films of the legendary Sid Catlett with Louis Armstrong, Ray Bauduc with Jack Teagarden, Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich with their own orchestras, Gus Johnson with the rarely-heard Count Basie small group, Joe Harris with the pioneering Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra, Panama Francis with Cab Calloway, Lionel Hampton, never-before-seen solo footage of Philly Joe Jones, Stan Levey with a small group, the groundbreaking bop of Kenny Clarke and many others.
  2. Classic Drum Solos and Drum Battles DVD - Sonny Payne, Rufus Jones, Buddy Rich, Sam Woodyard and Louie Bellson; and small group giants Art Blakey and Joe Morello. Drum battles include meetings between Gene Krupa and Cozy Cole, Buddy Rich and Ed Shaughnessy, Chico Hamilton, Gene Krupa and Lionel Hampton; Elvin Jones, Sunny Murray and Art Blakey; and a once-in-a-lifetime battle between Buddy Rich and Jerry Lewis.
  3. Classic Drum Solos & Drum Battles Volume 2 DVD - drum solos from legends like Buddy Rich, Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa, 'Papa” Jo Jones, Art Blakey, Shelly Manne, Sonny Payne, Sam Woodyard, Rufus 'Speedy” Jones, and others, spanning the years 1947 to 1989.

The format is both sparse and simple: a name and date are flashed onscreen, followed by a clip of the drummer, mainly in a musical context. The good news is you get to see these masters in action in typical musical settings and contexts; the bad news is you will not get much history or biographical information beyond the performance itself. Fortunately we have google and Drummerworld's page of drummers to use to drill down into the true history of these pioneers.

My personal favorite DVD set is Legends of Jazz Drumming, which is a two DVD set that is narrated by the late Louis Bellson, with additional commentary by Roy Haynes and Jack DeJohnette. Tiger Bill's excellent review covers this DVD so thoroughly and accurately that there is little more I can add without being redundant.

I liked New Orleans Drumming for a number of reasons, foremost among them is Earl Palmer is featured. Also, Herlin Riley's drumming and his explanation is like traveling back in time despite the fact that Herlin is relatively young. Moreover, the additional demonstrations and discussions by Johnny Vidacovich and Herman Ernest clearly show a direct link that can be traced back from modern New Orleans drummers to Louis Cottrell, Baby Dodds and the other jazz pioneers who literally started it all. Cottrell is credited with using the press roll as a time keeping element of early jazz grooves, and Baby Dodds is probably the most influential drum kit player in history (by no means the best, but he influenced just about everyone who probably carried that influence on to other generations of drummers.)

Last on my list is Steve Smith-Drumset Technique/History of the U.S. Beat DVD. Steve is not only an amazing drummer, but a respected historian of drum kit playing. This DVD set is in two parts, with the first DVD purely instructional (and darn good too!) The second DVD is the history lesson in which Steve imparts his vast and impressive knowledge of the pioneer drummers and the music they played. He demonstrates the evolution of American popular music from early ragtime to jazz to swing and beyond. He used period correct configurations used in each era, and adeptly and accurately demonstrated each style. I strongly recommend this DVD for both the history lessons (and demonstrations), as well as the instructional segments. My copy is a treasured part of my DVD library.

Recommended for your iPod/MP3 player - Part 3

Although not jazz per se, those of us who learned drumming in the late 1950s and early 1960s were heavily influenced by a few drummers. Some we knew about, which are listed below, and others we didn't because they were on nearly all of the hits of the day as behind-the-scenes session drummers whose names are finally surfacing. More about them later.

Every aspiring young drummer, and many inspired to take up drumming, were influenced by Sandy Nelson. Among his hits that received much air play are Let There Be Drums, Teen Beat, and Birth of the Beat. Sandy's idol - mentioned further on - was Earl Palmer.

Cozy Cole played with musicians ranging from Louis Armstrong's early New Orleans style jazz to bebop. He was one of the few who managed to make the transition from early jazz to swing to big band to bebop. He had a top 10 hit with Topsy, making him one of the very few drummers to have a top hit on a drum-centric recording.

While there were many groups that played a role in the surf music craze in my era, the most popular was The Ventures. They went through a few drummers early on, but Mel Taylor's amazing, if somewhat simplistic, grooves influenced us and it was reflected in our playing. Back in the day a lot of teen and garage bands were strictly instrumental groups playing at local sock hops and teen clubs. Vocals didn't become required until the British Invasion.

The unsung drummers I mentioned above - those prolific session drummers who dominated all of the hit records - influenced us all even if we didn't know who they were. Bear in mind that this was long before the world wide web where you could look up the musicians on a recording (or a wiki page), and there was no Rolling Stone Magazine. The only periodicals that covered music for the masses were Downbeat Magazine, the excellent and short-lived, The Jazz Review (not to be confused with the British journal Jazz Review, and local publications, all focused on jazz.

Hal Blaine is one of those unsung drummers who, today, is a legend. His resume includes this amzing list of recordings Hal played on, and much of his story is told in Hal Blaine and the Wrecking Crew: The Story of the World's Most Recorded Musician (Book).

Equally as prolific and sadly no longer with us is Earl Palmer. Fortunately Earl got the recognition he richly deserved, and his life story can be read in Backbeat: Earl Palmer's Story. There is a CD titled Backbeat: The World's Greatest Drummer, Ever! that has 30 songs on which Earl played that will give you a sense of history and Earl's accomplished playing. It's safe to say that had Earl not come along many grooves we associate with popular songs from back in the day would not have happened. Earl was that inventive and good.

The final session drummer who had a significant influence over my generation is Panama Francis. Had he never stepped foot in a studio to make an early rock or pop record he would still be remembered as one of Cab Calloway's best drummers, as well as a highly respected jazz drummer who evolved with the music. His studio work and contributions to rock and pop recordings are still relatively unknown, so I am hoping that folks who stumble upon this blog will dig deeper into this remarkable man's career and contribution to music.

In my next post I'll recommend videos of some of the old timers and giants of bygone times. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a video is worth a million.

Recommended for your iPod/MP3 player - Part 2

Continuing from my previous post, here are some more recommendations to expand musical horizons. Again, my recommendations, while jazz-oriented, are to expose drummers young and old to the shoulders of those giants upon which we stand. Of course, for the jazz aficionados the names will be familiar, as will most of the albums and songs to which I have linked for download. These - and the ones listed in Part 1 - are the musicians to which Ginger Baker, Steve Gadd, John Bonham, etc. listened. Bonham, by the way, was heavily influenced by Joe Morello and the Dave Bruubeck Quartet!

Modern Jazz Quartet - drummer Connie Kay is the primary drummer in the MJQ's extensive body of music. This group managed to fuse together classical and jazz to a point, and the playing required a great deal of restraint on Kay's part. His playing is a study in dynamic range and how to maintain a solid swing feel in complex musical structures.

Thelonious Monk - Monk had some of the best drummers of his day, and his son (T.S.Monk) is a drummer himself. Monk's music is complex to say the least, and is ideal for drummers who like playing with a lot of space. I think Frankie Dunlop epitomized the style of drumming that complimented Monk's music, although luminaries such as Roy Haynes and Philly Joe Jones also are on some of Monk's albums.

Charlie Parker - everyone who was someone had the drum chair at one time with Bird. Roy Haynes was one of his early drummers, as was the great Stan Levey (more about him in a later post), Max Roach and ... the list goes on. However, Bird is worth listening to for the music alone, and in that context you can clearly hear the birth of bebop and how elements persist in other genres of music. Parker, like Armstrong before him, revolutionized music.

Chico Hamilton - Another highly innovative drummer who, like Art Blakey, had his own group and the creative control over his material. Chico's music was off the beaten path, with some similarities to the Modern Jazz Quartet with respect to dynamic ranges of the music, but also almost spiritual in content. One could learn much in the way of groove construction, integration with the music and even harmony from a percussion perspective from listening to Chico's work and music.

Shelly Manne - one of the proponents of "West Coast Jazz" in the same basic style of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Shelly's career ranged from big band to Dixieland to more modern forms of jazz. He was all about fitting drums totally into the musical context of what was being played. At one point to achieve the sound he wanted he sprinkled rice on his snare drum head to get subtle sustain from that instrument. As an aside, Shelly portrayed Dave Tough in The Gene Krupa Story

I'll finish up in Part 3, covering three major influences of we baby boomer drummers who got our start in the late 50s/early 60s (I started playing in 1964.)

Recommended for your iPod/MP3 player - Part 1

Regardless of the type of music you play (or even normally listen to), it all sprang from jazz and the music that came before jazz to create that amazing American art form. If you are a drummer, some of the jazz drumming greats and the music they played will give you fresh ideas about grooves, solos, and the structure of some great music that came before you. Here are my recommendations, and why:

Art Blakey - Art and his Jazz Messengers not only showcased Art's amazing and influential drumming, but Art's group was an incubator of musicians who went on to form their own successful groups and continue the evolution of jazz.

Max Roach - while the father of bebop drumming was Kenny Clarke (affectionately called "Klook"), Max Roach took Kenny's ideas and techniques and significantly advanced them. His playing continues to influence drummers to this day.

Dave Brubeck Quartet - Joe Morello, the drummer, is one of the few jazz drummers who is readily recognized, especially when "Take Five" is played (and it still gets a lot of airtime over a half century since it was first released). More about Joe on his web site, as well as in this post of recommended practice materials.

Tony Williams - Child prodigy who started with Miles Davis at the tender age of 16, Tony spent the rest of his [all too short] life taking jazz and drumming to heights that have influenced drummers from all genres of music. His ride cymbal patterns are simply amazing and his playing inspiring.

Philly Joe Jones - Another major influence and a character in his own right, Philly Joe was the drummer to emulate - and many did until they found their own sound. Philly Joe toured as a fill-in drummer for Buddy Rich, as well as played on countless recordings with the best musicians of his day. Listening to his drumming is an education, and hearing it in the context of the music is like getting a post graduate degree.

Roy Haynes - Roy's long music career spans pre-bebop, a stint with Charlie Parker, and just about every major musician to this day. He has a very unique sound, both from his playing and how he tunes his drums, and is one of the few of the old masters remaining.

I'll continue my recommendations in a new post later today. For now, if you aren't familiar with any of the musicians or their work, go exploring, listen to some sound clips (or look them up on Youtube), and start filling your player.

A Great Day in Harlem

A Great Day in Harlem is an iconic group portrait of 57 jazz musicians by Art Kane. Iconic is an adjective that has been long associated with this photo to the point of being a cliche, but it is [to some of us] a touchpoint in the history of the music I - and many like me - love. Here is the photo for reference:

I personally own two, one of which hangs in my living room and the other a spare.

Here is a full list of the musicians in the photo, including the drummers, of course.

In addition to the photo, which is available for purchase by clicking Harlem Jazz Portrait ~ A Great Day In Harlem ~ Art Kane Photo ~ 24x35, you can also purchase or pay-per-view the documentary that describes how the photo came to be, as well as interviews with many of the 57 musicians who were captured on film that day: Great Day in Harlem

There is also a book, The Great Jazz Day, that is ideal for fanatics such as myself, and even a t-shirt (see Jazz Portrait T-Shirt ~ A Great Day In Harlem ~ Photographer Art Kane ~ Hanes Pre-Shrunk Cotton ~ Size L) for the the truly faithful.

Back to the video, here is a short clip that gives a taste of what's inside:

Jazz on a Summer's Day

I took an exquisite 84 minutes out of the weekend to immerse myself in Jazz on a Summer Day.

What a treat. It is not a music video, nor is it exactly a documentary of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. Instead, it is a mixture of Americana, people watching, music and Newport itself. In fact, a lot of the scenery - aside from the town of Newport - is of regattas. I felt as though I were wisked back to 1958 (I was 9 at the time of the festival). So, the good news is you go on a trip down memory lane. The bad news is the camera isn't always on the performers.

Headliners: Jimmy Giuffre, Thelonious Monk, Henry Grimes, Sonny Stitt, Sal Salvador, Anita O'Day, George Shearing, Dinah Washington, Gerry Mulligan, Big Maybelle Chuck Berry, Chico Hamilton, Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Mahalia Jackson.

Supporting musicians: David Baily, Bob Brookmeyer, Buck Clayton, Bill Crow, Eric Dolphy, Eli's Chosen Six (short segment), Art Farmer, Harold Gaylon, Nathan Gershman, Terry Gibbs, Urbie Green, Jim Hall, Peanuts Hucko, Jo Jones, Ray Mosca, Armando Peraza, Max Roach, Rudy Rutherford.

Set List (my favorites are marked with a star):

Train And The River (The Jimmy Guiffre Trio)

Blue Monk (Thelonious Monk)

Loose Walk (Sonny Stitt)

* Sweet Georgia Brown & Tea For Two (Anita O'Day) Sweet Georgia Brown was in a strange tempo, but when Tea for Two got underway a real highlight - aside from Anita's great singing and good looks - was when she traded phrases with the drummer. I don't recall any shots of the drummer, unfortunately, so that would have been a disappointment except the camera cut to some cuties in the audience. Of course, those cuties are now in their 70s and 80s or dead.

* All Of Me (Dinah Washington) This was the highlight for me. Dinah, at one point, picked up a pair of mallets and did a duet with the vibe player (with a smiling Max Roach looking on). Max was in great form and Dinah did a remarkable job on the vibes! Oh, and this rendition is probably her finest. If you've ever listened to a Dinah Washington compilation album with All of Me on it, this may be the cut you heard.

Catch As Catch Can (Gerry Mulligan) Great 50s style jazz.

I Ain't Mad At You (Big Maybelle) Blues epitomized!

* Sweet Little Sixteen (Chuck Berry)Until I watched this video this was my favorite clip. I discovered it on YouTube and it's the first post in Post Your Favorite YouTube Videos thread. Jo Jones on drums. Chuck doing his skip-walk across the stage while Jack Teagarten is looking on not knowing what to think, and the unidentified clarinet player getting into it.

Blue Sands (Chico Hamilton Quintet) On the fence about this one. Chico is a great and innovative drummer who did some amazing mallet work (now I know why he used concert toms). The piece, though, was a cross between Carribean and New Age. It definitely grew on me.

Up A Lazy River, Tiger Rag, Rockin' Chair, When The Saints (Louis Armstrong) The drummer, Danny Bercelona, was a chops monster with great taste. The duet with Jack Teagarten and Louis was great.

Walk Over God's Heaven / Didn't It Rain, The Lord's Prayer (Mahalia Jackson) What can I say? - there never was nor will there ever be again a Mahalia. What a grand finale.

The DVD was worth every penny and I'll be watching it again soon. There is too much on too many levels to take in during a single viewing.