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«MELODIC JAZZ DRUMMING by Jonathan David McCaslin A thesis submitted in conformity with the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Musical Arts ...»

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This isn’t the way you have to solo over an AABA tune all the time but it’s a way to contrast what’s already been played on the bandstand. This is a way you can make it more effective. If you use this technique you’ll really be able to draw people in and it will really contrast any kind of drumistic approach.104 Ari Hoenig sometimes uses repetition as a compositional tool while improvising a drum solo.

One of his rationales for doing so is that it is an effective way to captivate a listener’s attention and offers an alternative to a drum-centric technical approach to soloing. By repeating simple themes in the context of the established form, a drummer can create a cohesive drum solo statement that has obvious, recognizable melodic content and structure to it.


According to Peter Erskine there are also several, perhaps less obvious elements and techniques that contribute to creating a melodic sensibility on the drums. In his opinion, he claims that the

role that dynamics play is quite significant:

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In general, when you are trying to perform or play a melody on the drums…we don’t have all the notes of a keyboard or that a horn player has or a vocalist. We can do a few things with texture but it’s dynamics that really come into play here in terms of suggesting or inferring any melodic shape…Generally the higher the note of the melody, the more accent you give it.105 According to Erskine, the dynamic nuance given to a rhythmic phrase is what really infers, as he describes, a melodic shape to a rhythmic idea while playing the drums. Providing accents, adding crescendos and/or decrescendos or just simply playing certain parts of a phrase either louder or softer will impress a melodic character, or “shape,” to a rhythmic phrase. In the case of imitating an existing melody, Erskine demonstrates this by accenting parts of the phrase where the melodic pitches rise. The central idea presented here is that a dynamic sense of contrast can play an important role and that melodic phrases are never played with an absence of dynamics.

In terms of a technical approach, Erskine also claims that the sticking patterns a drummer chooses to use while playing a melody on the drums are also an integral part of melodic


Different stickings also make the melodic line roll a little more nicely. Not everything should be just alternating Right, Left, Right, Left.106 While this may represent a very subtle (or perhaps subjective, and to some even possibly insignificant!) aspect of melodic drumming it is obviously important enough for Erskine to consider this in his own assessment. It is possible that Erskine is suggesting that by using a combination of double and single strokes to execute the rhythm of a melody rather than exclusively single strokes, that perhaps a certain legato sensibility can be achieved, rather than exclusively a staccato one. In Erskine’s own words: “Doubles here and there really help give your drumming some melodic shape.”107

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However, while Erskine recommends the use of mixed sticking patterns to allow a melodic rhythm to “flow” more efficiently than relying strictly on single stickings, he also is quick to point out that any sticking patterns and rudimental patterns are never his priority in terms of his

musical attention while soloing:

I’m often asked: “What do you think about when you solo?” Do I think of sticking combinations? No. Because I’ve been practicing this stuff, the stickings kind of come naturally. Because it’s my ear that’s determining what it is that I want to play and what I want to hear. The practicing is the process to get you to the point where you can play what you hear. What do you think of? You think of music. I sing melodies when I play a solo. I don’t think of stickings. I don’t think of rudiments. I’m just thinking of melodies (and of course time and rhythm). It’s like three-dimensional chess. You’re thinking of a couple different things at the same time (but we do that anyways!).108 For Erskine, these technical components while significant, are still secondary to his melodic attention and overall musical thought process while he is soloing. He emphasizes the role that musical “multi-tasking” takes place while playing.

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3.7 ROY HAYNES – “IN WALKED BUD” To put several of the concepts and ideas previously stated in this chapter into a musical context, an example of an improvised jazz drum solo with clear melodic content and organization would be Roy Haynes’ performance of the Thelonious Monk composition “In Walked Bud” from the album Misterioso (1958). This drum solo, based on the 32-bar, AABA structure of Monk’s composition, is two choruses in length and demonstrates how a melodic drum solo can be effectively constructed.

In the first chorus of his drum solo Haynes literally plays the rhythms to the melody “In Walked Bud,” utilizing all the components of the drum set to orchestrate109 and reflect the melodic nature of the composition in addition to its rhythmic construction.

In the first eight measures (Fig. 3.1, measures 1 through 8) Haynes is quite explicit with a clear expression of the original melody. He emphasizes the upward motion of the melody by matching those notes on his upper tom tom, extending from the snare drum (which acts as his central, main voice). Although he is not attempting to match the exact the pitches of the melody, the melodic “contour” of the phrase (such as Riley and others have previously described) is clear.

Interestingly enough, Haynes chooses to omit the use of the hi-hat entirely, or the cymbals for that matter, over the course of his performance, choosing to focus on the drums and bass drum.

Figure 3.1 In the second eight measure phrase (Fig.

3.2, measures 9 through 16) Haynes continues with his statement of the original A section melody to “In Walked Bud” however, he embellishes it with regular bass drum notes played on beat three for the first five measures of the phrase (Fig. 3.3, measures 9 through 13). This, combined with some further slight rhythmic embellishment of the basic rhythm of the melody as the phrase develops, provides a sense of forward motion and subtle development to his solo.

Figure 3.2 Figure 3.

3 The syncopated melodic figures of the original bridge section (Fig. 3.4, measures 17 through 24) are further reflected by orchestrations between the snare drum, bass drum, tom tom and floor tom. This section, continued with the final recapitulation of the A section melody that follows, continues to reflect a relatively accurate interpretation of the original melody to “In Walked Bud.” Figure 3.4 This simple one chorus statement of the melody on the drums effectively establishes the theme and overall tone for Haynes’ drum solo in a clear manner, preparing the listener for further development.

The second chorus of his drum improvisation departs from the original rhythms of the melody immediately, however it still exhibits melodic continuity in its own right even though it deviates

from the original melody. Several elements that contribute to this include:

- Strict adherence to eight bar phrases that reflect the form of the composition “In

–  –  –

- The repetition of rhythmic ideas (Fig. 3.5, measures 37-39)

- Clear phrasing, development and overall resolution of syncopated, eighth-note

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snare drum, providing melodic direction to his rhythmic phrases Figure 3.5 Roy Haynes’ crisp articulation110 and the clarity of his rhythmic execution also greatly contribute to the overall melodic integrity of his improvising. By exhibiting clarity and intentional phrasing to the listener, one can get the sense that he is truly trying to “speak” on the drums in a coherent way and offer some kind of logical rhythmic development over the course of his solo.

Overall, this drum solo by Roy Haynes on Thelonious Monk’s composition “In Walked Bud” clearly demonstrates his ability to successfully interpret a melody on the drum set and improvise in a melodic fashion over the existing harmonic form of a piece of music.

Haynes was so famous for his crisp articulation and high drum tuning that he was often affectionately known as “Snap, Crackle.”

3.8 MAKING MUSICAL CONNECTIONS Expounding upon how drummers improvise melodically in several general and specific ways, it is also important to consider the benefits of playing an improvised drum solo with a melodic approach. This topic is an extension of the philosophies offered in Chapter One and will discuss how many drummers feel that a melodic concept, specifically in the practice of soloing, can act as a link to the overall music, musicians and audience in the wider perspective.

For many, when asked: “Why play a drum solo with any sort of melodic concept?” the theme of making a musical connection was consistently mentioned. Adam Nussbaum placed a very high value on the idea of playing a drum solo with a higher musical purpose in mind (rather than focusing only on the rhythmic possibilities of the drums) and the importance of playing in a way

that “connects” to the greater music context in question:

It’s nice having a connection to a melodic shape and idea so then whatever you’re playing is connected to the song. I mean, when you hear people play Thelonious Monk’s music, it’s not just a good idea to play off the changes of the tune. It always sounds best if you’re referring to the melodic ideas that are presented within the melody. It means that what you’re playing will be more connected.111 For Nussbaum, it is a priority to improvise in a way that somehow makes a deliberate reference to the original melodic and harmonic structure. Melody is a musical tool that allows him to do this and therefore relate to a larger musical consideration. His specific reference to the music of Thelonious Monk is significant and reflects the approach of Roy Haynes on “In Walked Bud,” as previously discussed.

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John Riley also touted the importance of playing in a way that helps better connect with the other musicians in a band and engage the audience members. He described how by either implying

melodic rhythms or referencing the original melody that:

The other players will have a sense of what you’re doing and how you’re developing things if they can hear some melody. Another thing is that maybe the audience would somehow be engaged and have an appreciation for the story you’re telling and perhaps even be a bit surprised because you’re not doing that thing that every other drummer does, which is go ballistic!112 As Riley explains, using a melodic approach to one’s drum solo can help other musicians, and in general, listeners better relate to what a drummer is doing during their drum solo. Since the techniques of drumming are unique in relation to the musical language and techniques of other instruments, Riley asserts that using recognizable musical material that is common to everyone can create a certain musical connection.

The idea of making a connection with non-drummers was also a point raised by many. As

Monson elaborated, the musical potential of a drummer is often misunderstood by casual ears:

The drummer is generally the member of the band most underrated by the audience and least discussed in the jazz historical and analytical literature. Since drummers don’t play harmonies and melodies in the same way as the other instrumentalists, audience members, and even some musicians, have a tendency to deprecate the musical knowledge of the person sitting behind the drum set. Many mistakenly assume that the drummer just plays rhythm and therefore doesn’t participate in the melodic and harmonic flow of the music. From an interactive perspective, however, the drum set represents a microcosm of all the interactive processes…including harmonic and melodic sensitivity.113 Furthermore, Ralph Peterson Jr. echoed this statement by explaining how his musical ideas are

influenced and driven not only by rhythmic ideas but by melodic and harmonic ideas as well:

It comes back to people’s ideas or perspectives of the role of the drummer, you know, and only being able to relate to the drums rhythmically. You know a lot of things I play, I play from a chordal, melodic statement…and the reason I play a lot of things I play have more to do with what’s being played harmonically and melodically than rhythm.114 Riley (2011) Monson (1996: 51) Monson (1996: 60) Jason Marsalis also commented on how the average listener often underestimates the musical potential of a drummer, and specifically, that of a drum solo. Further to Riley’s comment about how people expect a drummer to go “ballistic” during their drum solo, Marsalis commented that he’s received numerous surprising reactions from audience members following his own performances that intentionally use what he feels are melodic approaches to his soloing. He

explains the benefit of playing in such a way:

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