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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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It’s a reference and they (the audience) get that there in their head. It’s a fantastic idea in general, especially for a drummer when coming up with solo ideas, to come up with some themes and variations and to come back to the theme. It does give the listener a lot to relate to.141 Whether or not it was Max Roach’s intention to play the drums in such a way as to communicate to non-musicians is a matter of conjecture. However, undoubtedly his manner of organization and delivery is clear and obvious in the opinion of many drummers who are influenced by him.

Ironically, while Max Roach is often considered and referred to as a prime example of melodic drumming, Roach instead chose to conceptualize and describe his approach to drum soloing as being a “lyrical” or “conversational” approach, not necessarily being a

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definitive “melodic” one. While still played with a high attention to musicality, Roach claims that he was personally more concerned with the “overall architecture and design” of playing a drum solo rather than striving to play specific melodies on the drums.142 In conversations with various interviewers over the course of his career, Roach was asked repeatedly to comment on how he himself viewed his melodic approach to soloing.

Consistent with Riley and Smith’s experiences in talking to him, Roach downplayed the

melodic label often attached to his style:

I am not a melodicist. If I want to play melody I would choose a melodic instrument such as xylophone, vibraphone or marimba. They are for melody. I am an architect, a designer, a composer. When I play, I lay out the design in my mind. I use phrases that speak with punctuation – periods, commas, exclamations – as well as space and timbre. I think of all the devices I can use including melodic pitches.143 Instead of a melodic focus, Roach instead chose to elaborate on his specific attention to how he

would construct a drum solo:

When I build a solo, it’s a design within the structure of something, like creating a poem or a painting. Space and dynamics are important, and things like sequences. How you relate to certain timbres on the set itself is important. That’s how you build a solo.144 Mattingly (1993: 63) Zhang (1996: 8) Spagnardi (1992: 43)

4.3 SOLO DRUM SET COMPOSITIONS Max Roach’s innovations and contribution to the drum set in terms of exploring its possibilities as a solo instrument are significant and should be considered in any serious study and discussion of jazz drumming. Beyond influencing several generations of drummers that would follow, John Riley offered that the whole idea of playing an independent solo piece for the drum set was brand new, something that Roach pioneered: “Drum solo pieces were unheard of when Max first began presenting them sixty years ago.”145 While drum solos were nothing new during the 1940s, Roach became the first drummer to really deal with the drum set instrument in a specific, isolated solo context.146 As Riley further investigated Roach’s solo style in a Modern Drummer magazine feature following Roach’s death in 2007, he described how Roach’s overall body of solo works: “…can be divided into two categories: impressionist tone poems, and song forms/conversational structures.”147 “Impressionist tone poems,” as described by Riley, rely heavily on Roach’s textural explorations and the different orchestration possibilities of the drum set, not necessarily played over a set tempo or structure. Pieces built around specific form structures, in a regular tempo, reflect what Riley labels as Roach’s “conversational” style of drumming. Riley lists many specific

compositions in these two particular categories, as he considered them, in further detail:

Riley (2007: 99) Jazz drummers such as Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, for example, were both popular swing drummers, well known for their flamboyant and virtuosic drum solos during the 1930s and 40s.

Riley (2007: 100) Among Max’s impressionist tone poems are “The Smoke That Thunders,” based on Victoria Falls; “The Pies of Quincy,” based on the old Zildjian factory; “African Butterfly,” based on the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela; “Where’s the Wind,” a selfexplanatory brush solo; “The 3rd Eye,” based on a hurricane; and “Mr. Hi-Hat,” which came about after Max saw Papa Jo Jones close a large drumming event.148 Numerous other recorded compositions are among those that Riley feels reflect Roach’s “conversational” style of soloing.

Riley describes these pieces:

…which are based on specific songs or on the drummer’s concept of conversational structure, includes “For Big Sid,” based on Lester Young’s tune “Mop Mop”; “Jaz-Me,” based on the 7/4 blues “Nommo” from Drums Unlimited; “Billy The Kid,” based on a Billy Harper tune “Call Of The Wild And Peaceful Heart” and played in 9/4; “The Drum Also Waltzes,” based on conversational structure and originally recorded in ¾, though sometimes Max played it in 5/4; and “Conversation” and “Drums Unlimited,” both of which are based on conversational structure.149 From these two lists we can see how Roach valued the drum set as a legitimate vehicle for solo improvisation over the course of his career. Roach was a prolific composer of not only his own compositions for his own bands, but of material for the solo drum set as well. John Riley generally considered the sum of the collection of these pieces to fall into either one of two categories, being either impressionistic “tone poems” in nature or more structured pieces rooted in Roach’s “conversational” style.

4.4 INFLUENCES While Roach was certainly influenced by the swing drummers who preceded him (namely Jo Jones, Sid Catlett and Chick Webb), Roach himself describes two other specific influences that inspired him to pursue the drum set as a solo instrument. In an interview with Modern Drummer magazine (August 1993), Max Roach expressed how his initial exposure to solo North Indian drumming, while still a student himself at the Manhattan School of Music, had a profound

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influence on his own approach to the drums, at least from a conceptual and philosophical


When I was going to the Manhattan School of Music the students could get tickets at reduced rates. So I was able to see Ravi Shankar when he came to town about 1944. This marvelous tabla player he brought with him, Chatur Lal, did fifteen minutes by himself on those tablas, and it was the most fascinating and musical thing I’d ever heard. That gave me the inspiration to deal with the drums by themselves.150 While there is no evidence that Roach attempted to study North Indian drumming and apply these specific rhythms directly to the drum set in a literal way, at the very least Roach was inspired to deal with the drum set instrument in a stand-alone, solo context. While this was a common practice in North Indian music, the idea of a drum solo being played as an independent composition in jazz music was a brand new idea (that is to say, outside or independent of another larger piece of music).

Furthermore, Roach was impressed with the great jazz solo pianists of the day and this motivated

him to investigate whether or not this solo approach was at all feasible with the drum set:

I would go watch Art Tatum play piano by himself on 52nd Street and wonder if it were possible to do that with the drum set. And when Segovia or Pablo Casals would play by themselves in a huge concert hall and just mesmerize an audience, I knew there had to be some way to do that with the percussion instrument.151 The fact that Roach drew inspiration from a variety of musical sources, beyond those of other drummers, demonstrates how one can gather ideas and conceptual approaches to an instrument, regardless of its source. It also speaks to the depth of Roach’s musical sophistication and curiosity. Furthermore, this demonstrates that Roach was actively searching to expand not only his own musical potential but to further the musical potential of the drum set instrument as well.

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Roach would describe how his initial attempt, an unaccompanied solo piece, was received with

mixed reactions:

My first solo piece was called “Drum Conversation,” and people would ask me, “Where are the chords? Where’s the melody?” And I would say, “It’s about design. It isn’t about melody and harmony. It’s about periods and questions marks. Think of it as constructing a building with sound. It’s architecture.”152 As described previously, Roach claims that when performing solo drum compositions such as “Drum Conversation,” his intention was not to play explicit melodies on the drum set. Instead, his priority was to create explicit forms and structures, playing with a sort of question and answer format within those forms.

4.5 “CONVERSATION” Many aspects of Max Roach’s solo drum set composition “Conversation” from the album Deeds, Not Words (1958) can be used to illustrate some aspects of his self-described “conversational” or “lyrical” approach to improvising on the drum set, which in turn many people recognize as being melodic. Furthermore, his piece captures many other concepts of melodic drum soloing that have been described over the course of the previous chapter by other drummers and captures elements of Roach’s solo style that have influenced so many. An analysis of Roach’s solo composition “Conversation” will reveal many specific elements of melodic drumming in a drum solo context.

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The main theme of “Conversation” is stated in measures 2-9 following a brief snare drum roll that acts as the initial introduction to the piece.153 This theme is represented by a four-bar phrase repeated twice, with a variation played the second time at the end of the phrase. Overall, this theme is mainly stated on the snare drum with offbeat, syncopated accents on the bass drum.

Figure 4.1 This main eight-bar phrase is then repeated a second time during measures 10-17, this time on the high tom tom instead of the snare drum.

The bass drum continues to accent the off-beats, in particular during the last two bars of each eight bar section.

Figure 4.2 Interestingly enough, this opening buzz roll starts as a confident forte dynamic level and decrescendos, getting quieter, to offer not only an introduction, but also suggest a sense of suspense intended to catch the listener’s attention.

Because there is no obvious sense of time or pulse, a certain “suspended” feeling is achieved as we wait for the initial tempo to be stated.

A contrasting section of new material (or a “bridge”) is introduced in measure 18 using a sixteenth-note figure that is repeated three times, completing the phrase with another swung eighth-note line that features syncopated accents on the +’s of beats 2 and 4, emphasized on the bass drum.

Figure 4.3 Measures 26-33 return to the original, swing eighth-note feel of the first sixteen measures of the piece.

While the actual rhythmic material of the phrase is different, it strongly relates to the original theme at least in spirit and its general continuity.

Figure 4.4 Significantly, this eight-bar phrase represents a wholly developed independent theme on its own, as it is a rhythmic phrase repeated three times with some slight variation.

The very last two bars of this section reveal a pattern that Roach frequently returns to at the same place in his phrasing.

In its simplest form, this phrase is represented by two eighth-notes on the snare drum, followed by one eighth-note on the bass drum played on the off-beat.

FIGURE 4.5 This phrase is also frequently played by adding the downbeat on the snare drum over the course of the entire solo.

FIGURE 4.6 This pattern represents an alternation of swung eighth-notes between the snare drum and bass drum and is a rhythmic device frequently used by Roach.

With the bass drum emphasizing the last up-beat, rather than the downbeat, a feeling of forward motion and development is achieved.

Overall, the form suggested until the end of measure 32 implies a 32-bar, AABC form given the repetition of the first eight-bars and subsequent contrasting material that follows. This form can also be further broken down into four, clear eight-bar phrases.

The subsequent improvised material from measures 34-98 is also organized according to eightmeasure phrases and, while not necessarily reflecting a strict AABA form, still lasts for exactly the duration of 32 bars. This is significant because it demonstrates that not only is Roach thinking in terms of eighth-bar phrases, he is consciously expressing them in the context of a larger, consistent form as well.

Roach continues an extensive use of motivic development over the course of this section. For example, in measures 50–53, 62-65 and 82-89 certain rhythmic motifs are clearly repeated and developed.

Figure 4.7 Figure 4.

8 Figure 4.9 In measure 99 the introduction of a significantly faster tempo creates a new tempo and a radically different mood. Roach introduces this new tempo by means of playing a fast ride cymbal pattern in conjunction with a 3-over-4 polyrhythmic figure between the snare drum and bass drum.

Figure 4.10 Roach’s main rhythmic vocabulary between measures 107 and 194 are eighth-notes, executed in a straight eighth-note (as opposed to swung eighth-notes) interpretation to accommodate the faster tempo.

Again, all the presented material is organized into clear eight-bar phrases.

Several phrases are repeated extensively as well, with slight rhythmic variations or orchestrations around the different drums. For example, measures 123–130 and 179–190 demonstrate how Roach would take a one- or two-bar rhythmic phrase, repeat it and play it on a different surface.

The result of this repetition and orchestration are long phrases that have a logical development and organization to them.

Figure 4.11 Figure 4.

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