«MELODIC JAZZ DRUMMING by Jonathan David McCaslin A thesis submitted in conformity with the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Musical Arts ...»
Miller’s method is consistent with many of the others previously mentioned in that she offers a multi-step approach to learning a melody while playing the drums. She uses the Monk composition “Bemsha Swing” as a vehicle to demonstrate this method. Miller prefers the use of Monk’s compositions because: “Monk compositions are great…his melodies are very rhythmic and catchy.”217 Miller describes her method in a way similar to Drier’s because it is a progressive approach to playing the drum set. This method incorporates different ways of playing the drums, all while purposely singing the melody to a composition (in this case Thelonious Monk’s “Bemsha Swing”):218 Let’s start by playing jazz time with the metronome at 60 bpm, clicking on beats 2 and 4.
Once you feel relaxed and comfortable, move on to the “Melody Puzzle” below.
1) Sing the melody while playing time. Sing out loud! Don’t be shy!
2) Play the melody with your left hand on the snare drum.
3) Play the melody with your right foot on the bass drum. Are you still singing?
4) Play the melody with your left foot on the hi-hat.
5) Play quarter notes on the bass drum and eighth-notes on the snare drum. Continue singing!
6) Make up your own combinations. The possibilities are endless. Use your imagination and have fun!
7) Try playing time for four measures. Then solo for four measures. Continue trading 4s and remember to sing, especially on the soloing!
Similarly, Ted Warren describes his philosophy with regards to the importance of building a
functional repertoire of jazz compositions and prescribes his own process for learning a song:
If we want to play melodically in our accompaniment and soloing, we need to learn the standard jazz repertoire. The drummer in a band’s main responsibilities are knowing the melody and form of a tune, so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t know lots of tunes.219 In Warren’s opinion, the key to playing the drums in a musical way that reflects a melodic approach to accompanying and soloing relies on developing a repertoire of established jazz compositions. Much like Yoron Israel, Warren also suggests a list of recommended tunes to learn and study. He includes: “A Night in Tunisia,” “A Foggy Day,” “Solar,” “Ornithology,” “Scrapple from the Apple,” “Oleo,” “Body and Soul,” “Impressions,” “Giant Steps,” “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” “Night and Day,” “Milestones,” “So What” and “What is This Thing Called Love?” as examples of pieces that a developing jazz drummer should consider.
With regards to how to learn a given piece, Warren’s approach is also consistent with the multistep, vocal-inspired approach that many others have suggested in order to internalize a melody.
Warren prescribes his method as the following:220
2) Learn the melody and sing it along with the recording.
3) Sing it on your own. Check for accuracy in pitches and rhythms.
4) Now sing the melody along with the head (beginning and end) sections as well as the blowing (solo) sections. In other words, keep singing the melody over and over again through the entire performance. If you can keep your place, you probably have the tune memorized now.
Many jazz drummers continually stress the concept of learning and singing standard jazz melodies, but these melodies can also be combined, in different ways, with technical exercises.
To contrast the progressive, step-by-step melodic drum methods so far described, Adam Nussbaum offered a simple yet effective drum set exercise that still incorporates specific melodic knowledge with the technical study of the drum set, but through a different means. As described by Nussbaum, during his interview, this exercise consists of a drummer simply playing a steady stream of hand-to-hand, eighth-note triplets on the snare drum at a medium tempo, all while purposely and clearly accenting the notes of a melody over top.221
Danny Gottlieb describes how this simple exercise works and its possibilities:
The main idea is to take the rhythms of the melody of the song and then accent that melody while playing triplets, hand to hand… It can be a bit odd at first, but it really helps develop control, phrasing, accents, and solo ideas. You can move the accents around the kit (even playing them on the bass drum).222 Furthermore, Nussbaum also believes that not only will this exercise help develop a sensibility towards musical phrasing on the drums, but it will also instill an authentic triplet-based phrasing
in one’s playing:
I like to play a flow of triplets on the snare drum and then accent a melody. You can do a blues, a standard, whatever you want really. It combines a musical and technical exercise into one, where you start to understand the rhythmic subdivision of what makes jazz special: the triplet. It also helps the drummer think in melodic musical phrases.223 First and foremost, all these methods that have been described emphasize the importance of learning a melody and then in various ways, being able to play the drum set while at all times still considering that melody. The goal that all these methods share is that the melody remains Nussbaum suggests using any standard from the American Song Book or a piece from the jazz lexicon such as Thelonious Monk’s “Straight, No Chaser” or Charlie Parker’s “Bille’s Bounce.” Gottlieb (2011) Nussbaum (2014) the central focus regardless of the technical considerations. Furthermore, the goal is also to encourage a drummer to practice in a way that goes beyond the mechanics of the drum set and consider a broader musical perspective as a jazz drummer.
6.3 LEARNING INSTRUMENTAL SOLOS Several drummers, including New York drummer and tabla player Dan Weiss, furthered the notion of incorporating melodic vocal aspects into one’s drumming practice routine and development. While Weiss incorporates a vocal component similar to the other methods previously discussed, his approach differs in that his choice of vocal material is drawn from actual improvised jazz performances rather than the specific melodies they are based on. Weiss
described his unique approach:
Throughout the years, I’ve done a lot of memorizing and playing along with jazz instrumental or vocal solos. I’ve done a lot of that through the past 15 years where I’d learn a solo and first be able to sing it. They could be Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown, Louis Armstrong, Lester Young, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, Bill Evans or Art Tatum or many others. I’ve worked on that very hard. And then just trying to play those melodic lines on the drums, it could be just a snare drum or the whole drum set, but really I’m trying to get the shape of the solo (more for the phrasing) and really trying to internalize the jazz language. That’s something that I recommend a lot to my students.
It’s something I’ve been doing for a long time now and continue to do. The last one I was working on was an Art Tatum piano solo on “I’ve Got Rhythm.” It takes a long time, maybe a few hundred times to listen and to learn these solos.224 It is significant to note that Weiss has chosen a similar yet slightly different method to develop and apply his melodic sensibility on the drum set. He has decided to use non-drum specific musical ideas and information to influence and inform his own jazz drumming concept and vocabulary. However, instead of using standard jazz repertoire (which we will assume that he has also done) to inform and shape his ideas as a drummer, he has furthered the overall concept and philosophy shared by Dawson and others by taking the time to learn and memorize actual Weiss (2011) improvised and recorded solo performances by other jazz instrumentalists.
The benefit of this approach, as Weiss states, is that he can develop his rhythmic phrasing on the drums in a way that relates to the melodic and rhythmic phrasing of other vocalists and instrumentalists. He feels that the larger benefit of this is that his drumming is not restricted to drum-centric patterns or concepts, but rather it reflects a much broader musical phrasing in scope.
When asked to describe his process and if he would transcribe specific solos and write them
down Weiss responded:
I have done that in the past, but lately for the past 5-6-7 years it’s just been a matter of being able to sing it, really trying to get the phrasing of it and to get the intonation like dead on. And I found that that’s really helped me internalize the language you know and it’s given my playing a broader melodic sense. So it could be Thelonious Monk or Keith Jarrett…it could be a piano player or it could be a trumpet player or a vocalist like Sarah Vaughn, Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Oscar Peterson, Nat King Cole, anybody really. I really make a study of it.225 From Weiss’ experience and process of transcribing and learning melodic vocabulary from a variety of non-drummers (including various instrumentalists and jazz vocalists) we can deduce that not only composed melodic material, but also improvised melodic material, can be used as source material. The benefit, as Weiss described, is that: “It’s given my playing a broader melodic sense…that emphasizes phrasing.”226
6.4 BIRD SONGS – THE INFLUENCE OF CHARLIE PARKERSimilarly, Bob Gullotti (who, like Alan Dawson, John Ramsay, Yoron Israel and Ralph Peterson Jr., is also a Boston-based drummer and educator) has long incorporated into his teaching method the use of solo transcriptions of alto saxophonist Charlie Parker found within the Charlie Parker Omnibook (1978), a book of 60 transcribed melodies and solos recorded by Parker.
Gullotti has his students learn to sing the rhythms of Parker’s solos and play them on the snare drum, then around the drum set, using various assigned sticking patterns, dynamics and accents to mimic and approximate the phrasing of Parker’s playing (both his written melodies and improvised solo lines). Like Dan Weiss, Gullotti has chosen to seek musical information beyond the drums derived from an instrumental jazz soloist in order to develop a melodic sensibility on the drum set.
When asked to expand on how he came to use the Charlie Parker Omnibook as a teaching tool,
About ten years ago I had a student studying with me who was a bass player and towards
the end of the lesson as we were done with the material that I had given him and I said:
“Let’s play a little bit” and so he took his bass out and a copy of the Charlie Parker Omnibook fell on the ground and I said: “What are you doing with that?” He replied “It’s great for bass because it gets me around the fret board really good because of Birds227 lines.” I said: “Okay play one.” So I was just accompanying him and playing time and watching him read this piece and he was getting most of the pitches good but his rhythmic accuracy was off so I started to play the rhythms of Birds solo with him and, man, like bells went off in my head! I said, wait a minute, this sounds like Max Roach and after investigating it more, of course Max was in Bird’s band and they obviously developed that bebop language together as a group. If you take Parker’s solo on the blues called “Chi Chi,” even if you just play just the rhythms without even playing along with the music, it sounds like a Max Roach drum solo. So then, I said: “Wait a minute, man this is deep.” That was the one that made me say: “Okay, I’m going to go through all of this book and I’m going to learn all these solos and just get that language together.228 Charlie Parker was commonly referred to as “Bird,” his nickname, short for “Yardbird.” Gullotti (2011) As Gullotti discovered (albeit by accident!), learning the rhythms and phrasing nuances to Charlie Parker’s improvised saxophone solos offers a jazz drummer a wealth of practical information and vocabulary to use on the drum set.
It is also interesting to note that Gullotti’s practice for learning Charlie Parker’s saxophone solos had already been adopted by other musicians who play an instrument other than the alto saxophone (in this case by his student who played the acoustic double bass). This method is used as a means to develop technique and a fluency in the vocabulary of jazz improvisation regardless of one’s instrument. This is significant as it proves that musical information, initially created on one instrument, can somehow be transferred to another completely different instrument in an effective and beneficial musical manner, regardless of the instruments in question (and perhaps given the perceived technical limitations of the instrument).
Gullotti’s method for using Charlie Parker’s transcribed solos relies on having good sightreading abilities (specifically dealing with rhythm) but the intent of his method and its
application goes well beyond that:
To begin this study, students must have a strong knowledge of reading. But just being able to read Parker’s notes is only a small fraction of the learning to be gained from playing along with such a master.229 He stresses that the real benefit comes from matching the nuances of the “feel, phrasing and
articulation of the music.” According to Gullotti:
Many of the rhythmic and melodic phrases Parker used are beautiful examples of what all great soloists have used since those early days of bebop. For example, in transcribing a solo of the great jazz drummer Max Roach, one would easily see and hear a very similar rhythmic vocabulary to that used by Parker. This shows a clear correlation between these two great jazz innovators who were indeed creating a new musical language.230
Gullotti was keen to point out that in order to really benefit from this study, one has to go beyond only the rhythms of Parker’s solos. The key, he inferred, is really in trying to approximate the nuance of the phrasing that Parker achieved in his solo lines. “The phrasing and the articulation is really the thing,”231 Gullotti emphasized.