Okay – big thought today. It’s a concept I put to all my jazz students, accompanied by a series of exercises called “Singing and Snapping.” Check it out and let me know what you think:
When practicing jazz comping figures on the snare, most drummers don’t think about the LENGTH of the notes they’re playing (quarters vs. 8ths, for example), only which BEAT they’re playing ON (the “and of 2,” for example). In other words, rather than thinking of each exercise as a “melody” (the way the other instrumentalists in the band would), they are only thinking about the placement of the notes – more like a math problem than music. What typically ends up happening is that the entire pattern sounds very staccato and the snare is much too loud compared to the other limbs. In order for us to express rhythmic phrases with a JAZZ awareness (meaning, the same as a sax or piano player would), we have to take into account the note LENGTHS (8th=short, Quarter=long) when we play them. The way to create this distinction is to first SING the phrases in the manner or other instrumentalists. Once we start expressing the notes as MUSIC (rather than simply rhythmic ideas), our hands will naturally follow in creating the appropriate feel. Get it?
In terms of be-bop there’s a lot of material out there, but in general nothing had been written about what I was wanting to know. So in the late ‘90s I began interviewing the drummers who had played on these records that had influenced us. The oldest guy I interviewed was Johnny Blowers who was 94 years old at the time. He had played with Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet and had learned press roll patters from Zutty Singleton, who we consider to be one of the first great New Orleans jazz drummers going back to the teens!
One of the ways that I start some of my clinics is I’ll play the first 15 seconds of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” from 1972. Everybody knows John Bonham’s famous drum intro for that song. And then I’ll play Little Richard’s “Keep a Knockin’ (but You Can’t Come In)” from 1956 which literally starts, almost note for note, with the same drum rhythm. Then I put on Louis Jordan’s “Keep A Knockin’ But you Can’t Come In” from 1937 which has a cool little drum lick in it. In 90 seconds I’ve taken the audience from 1972 back to 1937 and shown them a direct lineage of influence and give them kind of an “a-ha!” moment.