«MELODIC JAZZ DRUMMING by Jonathan David McCaslin A thesis submitted in conformity with the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Musical Arts ...»
I think it can even open up listeners to the possibility of what the drums are capable of…and what’s interesting is that a lot of people are surprised when they hear my drum solos. Because when most people hear a drum solo, it’s usually something that’s very fast with no space. Even though I use fast notes as well, I decided to start using slow notes, quarter notes and what I call “memorable phrases.” It’s all melody to me…I’ve found that people react when I play this way, playing very melodically, by using intentional phrases and lots of space. That often shocks people and they say: “We’ve never heard anything like that. That’s amazing. We didn’t know that the drums could sound like that.”115 Not only does using melody in one’s drum soloing offer a tangible musical connection to the other musicians in a band, it can also illuminate in a positive way, the vast musical potential of the drums to the average listener. Furthermore, the idea of playing a drum solo as musically productive as possible, rather than an ego-centric display of fast drum technique, unrelated to the overall musical context,116 was a theme that permeated many of the interviews.
Dennis Mackrel further described how personally fulfilling he finds it to play this way, when he purposely connects his drumming to the composition in question, adhering to the melodic
structure of the piece he is playing:
Marsalis (2011) Adam Nussbaum commonly referred to this as a “Dog and Pony Show”!
One of the nicest compliments that people have given me is that they say that when I am playing, or especially if I am playing a solo, that they can hear where I am in the tune.
I’ve worked very hard at being able to make that happen. And the reason why is because I am thinking in terms of harmonic changes and I am thinking about the melody. I am thinking about how all these elements relate to a musical form.117 Mackrel similarly used the analogy of having a musical conversation, establishing a dialogue
with the other musicians:
You know, when you are playing as a musician, just like when you are having a conversation with someone, you have to be able to speak in a way which is relevant to the subject. One problem that a lot of drummers have is that rhythmically their ideas may be great but a lot of people just kind of zone out. You need to be able to say something that is relevant to the conversation. By playing, for example, a melody, although I’m not saying you should tune your drums to the point where you are making the actual pitches but even just rhythmically play a melody, then people can relate to that. They know what it is. That’s something I like and I get that. That is something where you are contributing to the musical conversation. In order to have a conversation with someone, they have to understand what you are saying.118 Mackrel also emphasized the conversational aspect of improvising from the perspective of playing the drums and doing so in a way that other non-drummers (whether musicians or audience members) can relate to it. As Riley and Nussbaum also claimed, by using musical material that is common to all in an ensemble, a successful musical interaction and dialogue can
take place. For Mackrel this is a fundamental part of his own style and approach to the drums:
A lot of times when I play solos, I’m playing through changes (harmony) even if in what I’m playing you can’t hear specific melodic notes. If I play in that way, mimicking the harmonic structure, that’s something that at least they (the band and audience) know where I’m at and that’s something which you can kind of hear, or at least what I’m implying. It’s all implied. And that is something where when you are working with other musicians, it helps them know where they are. It helps to create more of a cohesive structure and a cohesive idea as far as what the tune is about. That gives you a sense of relevance. That keeps you from being one of those drummers that just kind of goes on and off on a tangent and then everyone has to wait until you’re finished and then they go back to playing music.119
Mackrel’s overall concern is to make music on the drum set, whether soloing or acting as an accompanist (this is of course an overall theme, stressed by others as well). While he admits that his melodic and harmonic statements are definitely “implied” he otherwise values them as being a fundamental part of his drumming and considers it to be an efficient means to “converse” musically with other musicians.
Similarly, Joe LaBarbera mentioned that other non-musicians have commented on how his attention to these same musical elements contributes to an overall melodic implication and
musical coherence while he his soloing:
You know, I’ve had lots of musicians over the years say to me that they can actually hear the chord changes going on when I’m playing a solo. Obviously, it’s not literally possible, but it’s because I’m dealing with the harmony of the song beyond just the melody. I’m dealing specifically with the harmonic construction of the song and I’ve learned from other musicians how they improvise on different forms, how they build their solos to a nice peak and how they get the most out of a piece of music.120 LaBarbera feels that his ability to connect with the musicians around him is actually sometimes a result of his harmonic attention, rather than any specific melodic continuity on his part while he is soloing. However, as discussed before, many drummers do feel that proper and intentional soloing that is consistent with a song’s harmonic structure does in fact contribute greatly to an overall melodic sensibility. Either way, as LaBarbera offered, the net results of this are not lost and are well received by the musicians he plays with.
It is quite significant that any melodic or overall musical approach is, in general, not only valued by jazz drummers when they perform but that these concepts are used as a means to offer a positive way to efficiently perform with other musicians. Furthermore, it is also significant that many drummers consider the specific use of playing with any melodic concept as a means to LaBarbera (2011) connect with audience members who do not necessarily understand the techniques of the instrument. Ari Hoenig summed up that he feels his musical contributions as a drummer, should extend well beyond the drums and the musicians he is playing with: “This music should incorporate everybody. It shouldn’t just be for drummers and musicians. It should be for all people that love music.”121
3.9 SUMMARY Melody can be considered in the context of a jazz drum solo in a variety of different ways, from specific techniques as applied to improvising drum solos to broader conceptual approaches and philosophies as applied during the act of drum soloing.
While many drummers acknowledge the possibility of replicating existing melodic material on the drum set in a direct way, or at least playing the drums in a song-like manner, many agree that the idea of soloing in a melodic fashion on the drum set represents possibilities and considerations that can go well beyond that as well.
Overall, many drummers contributed various considerations with regards to developing a drum
solo with a melodic component. The following themes emerged from these discussions:
- In terms of expressing, imitating or implying existing melodies, playing the rhythms of a melody are considered to be adequate without actually needing to focus on the expression of specific pitches. These will imply a clear melodic statement if they are phrased appropriately and imply the overall direction of the changes in pitch.
- The change in pitch of a melodic phrase can be implied by using higher and lower parts of the drum set, but does not necessarily reflect the absolute changes of pitch.
- Several drummers felt that if the melodic and overall musical intent of a drummer’s ideas are clear, then this will translate at some level, to the listener and reflect itself in
- While some drummers acknowledged the importance of considering melody, they instead choose to use the term “linear drumming” with the focus being on playing clear, defined and developed phrases and ideas with an obvious “beginning, middle
- Adherence to the composition’s overall form and structure while soloing, is considered to be an important component of melodic drumming.
- Reflecting not only the form of the composition but being able to improvise in specific phrase lengths (i.e. numbers of bars) and execute musical ideas that last a defined numbers of measures is considered to be a part of melodic soloing.
- The use of repetition demonstrates an intentional, logical, overall organizational approach to one’s improvising. Repeating ideas, offering subtle variations, and establishing reoccurring themes all offer a sense of unity, logical development to one’s soloing and an overall sense of melodicism.
- Dynamics are considered to be an important part of “shaping” a rhythmic phrase
- The use of different sticking patterns (rather than exclusively using alternating hand patterns) is said to help a rhythmic phrase “open up” and sound more “lyrical.” These elements, while not necessarily rooted in the idea of playing actual pitch-for-pitch melodies on the drums still represent concepts, that when implemented, are felt to contribute to a melodic approach while improvising on the drum set.
As demonstrated in the analysis of the transcribed drum solo of Roy Haynes on the Thelonious Monk composition “In Walked Bud,” a melodic sensibility can be achieved through imitating a melody on the drum set by playing the rhythms of the melody and orchestrating them appropriately around the drum set in a relatively simple way, reflecting the overall shape and contour of the original melodic statement. Furthermore, Haynes’ subsequent improvisation on the same piece demonstrates many of the elements previously described by the other interviewees (such as clear phrasing over the form of the piece, adhering to eight-bar phrases, motific development, the use of accents and dynamics and finally, the orchestration of ideas on the drum set).
The drummers surveyed also agreed that consciously incorporating melodic elements into one’s improvisations as a drum soloist can allow for a certain common ground to be achieved between other musicians, and significantly, the members of an audience. The idea of playing in a way that connects what a drummer is doing to the greater musical landscape and relating to other musicians and an audience was felt to be quite important and a relevant cause.
Overall, the idea and practice of soloing with these melodic considerations was viewed as an important part of embracing a positive, musical approach to the drum set, in particular, when playing a drum solo. This is an important contrast to playing the drums without any greater musical consideration, playing without any regard to the musical potential of the drum set or even dismissing the opportunities that melody can provide to a jazz drummer in the first place.
CHAPTER 4 – MAX ROACH “Max Roach was known as THE melodic pioneer of bebop drumming!”122
- Danny Gottlieb
4.1 THE INFLUENCE OF MAX ROACH Organizing rhythmic ideas on the drums into melodic statements is emphasized heavily when considering the drumming of Max Roach.123 The name of jazz drummer Max Roach constantly came up during the conversations with the many drummers who volunteered their insights and opinions over the course of this research. It was quite clear from these discussions that not only was Roach’s overall approach to jazz drumming considered an enormous overall stylistic influence on many, but specifically that his perceived melodic approach to drumming has had a profound impact as well.124 His contributions cannot be ignored nor dismissed. Any discussion about melodic jazz drumming that fails to recognize Roach’s contributions to the drum set should be considered incomplete.
For example, Billy Drummond described the influence of Roach’s drumming as being a source of inspiration for him from an early age, and how this immediately spoke to his own emerging
Gottlieb (2010: 121) Refer to Burt Korall’s Drummin’ Men: The Bebop Years (2002) for an in-depth biographical overview of Roach’s career.
For a comprehensive technical study of Roach’s solo style, refer to Rande Paul Sanderbeck’s “Homage to Max: A New Work for Solo Drum Set Based on the Style of Max Roach” (1997).
I would guess you’d say I’m a devotee of some well-known and obvious melodic drummers, namely Max Roach. He is one of the guys who was one of my earliest and still most prevalent influences since I was a little kid. He’s always been somebody that loomed very large in my musical life and hearing him play drum solos and use the pitches of the tom toms, bass drum, snare drum and cymbals melodically and rhythmically speaking just kind of always touched me. It’s something that I immediately heard and went about trying to figure out how to play like that, to a certain degree.125 For Drummond, Max Roach’s style represents a significant formative influence. Furthermore, in his opinion, Roach also represents a logical evolution of the style of swing drumming that preceded him. Drummond described this in terms of his own impressions of Roach’s relationship
to the style of swing drumming:
He is, you know, a continuation of swing drummers Papa Jo Jones and Big Sid Catlett, two other guys that came before him, but he crystallized it and in my opinion, tried to duplicate what was happening in the music that he was involved in at the time, the socalled bebop music that Charlie Parker, Bud Powell and Dizzy Gillespie were cultivating.