«MELODIC JAZZ DRUMMING by Jonathan David McCaslin A thesis submitted in conformity with the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Musical Arts ...»
With regards to how one can actually achieve this on the drums, Gullotti offered that:
Although there are countless articulations encountered during this study, Parker does use a number of classic articulations repeatedly. I will offer a few suggestions for people who may try using this book. Many times Parker’s 8th-note triplets seem similar in their articulation. I have found that if the drummer uses a RRL sticking, it seems to match well with the sound of the saxophone. When the saxophone would slur two 16ths into a longer note, for drummers this is much like a three-stroke ruff. The very common jazz figure of a 16th-note triplet followed by an 8th note seems best articulated with a single-stroke fourstroke ruff. These suggested stickings along with normal alternated RLRL stickings are, of course, just a beginning, but will at least get one started on this fascinating study.232 Significantly, this comment on the different possible sticking patterns, which in Gullotti’s opinion seem to lie well with Charlie Parker’s improvised lines, is consistent with Erskine’s earlier commentary on how variations of sticking patterns can influence the flow of a melodic rhythm.
The goal of this exercise, and others, is not to make the drums sound like another instrument.
Instead it is to take larger musical ideas into consideration and draw inspiration and ideas from them. A drummer can then maximize the musical potential of the drum set.
Gullotti also offers many of his own opinions as to why the study of other instrumental solos (and in particular the music of Charlie Parker) can benefit students of jazz drumming:
Many of Parker’s phrases and articulations can help the student overcome a number of problem areas in learning to solo. Specifically, the use of space is often a problem for most developing drum soloists. In playing along with Parker, the student learns to see and hear how to use space effectively and musically. This study also helps the student in dealing with “over-the-barline” phrasing. Many young players have a difficult time ending phrases that do not end on the downbeat.233 Gullotti also adds that this approach can lead to a more overall musical approach to the drum set
in a solo context, with clear and complete phrasing:
Another, and probably the most important aspect of this study, is the idea of line development. By playing along with Parker, students begin to hear themselves playing longer rhythmic ideas as complete musical sentences as opposed to playing a string of “licks” on the drums to form solos.234 Gullotti believes that by practicing the solo lines of a master improviser, such as Charlie Parker, one is able to develop a better musical sense of phrasing even if one doesn’t sing the exact
pitches from the given transcription:
I’m not that concerned about trying to copy the pitches because we just don’t have the exact pitches on the instrument (i.e. the drum set). I’m more interested in the articulation and the phrasing and I’ve gotten quite good at being able to emulate that.
Similarly, from John Ramsay’s experience working with Alan Dawson, he also expressed the importance of benefiting from the overall, general phrasing of melodic rhythms rather than the
exact replication of definite pitches on the drums:
The idea wasn’t that you would play exactly the melody per se. That was because the drums are, as Alan explained it, what Max Roach called an instrument of “indeterminate” pitch as opposed to determinate pitch. They don’t have the exact pitches per se. What you’re after is the awareness of the melody and your conscious singing of the melody.235 Gullotti also agrees with this opinion in that the goal is not to simply replicate a horn solo on a
drum set with note-for-note accuracy:
I would never play a Bird line verbatim. I don’t do that but the vocabulary I got from doing it and being able to sing it back to myself as I do it has enabled me to open up my playing. I’m thinking phrases and it’s really, really helped my playing. I don’t try to Ibid Ibid Gullotti (2011) emulate the pitches. I allow the natural orchestration of Bird’s stuff and I don’t have any rules on that.236 However, while he feels that it is unnecessary to emulate the specific pitches of a solo, he also adds that he has experimented with a more literal application of Parker’s melodic lines to the drums in terms of matching specific pitches with specific drums. He feels that he has achieved
little success with this attempt. As Gullotti explained:
I did go through that and I really studied these things. So I said: “Okay anything below the staff is going to be a bass drum. Anything from the first line E to G or A flat will be the small tom.” It sounded awful and it didn’t work! So I allow all of my students, especially the advanced students, to orchestrate it in their own way. That way, then none of us sound the same. And the individuality would start to blossom with that new language skill you know.237 While he did experiment with orchestrating parts of Parker’s melodic phrases on the drum set, assigning specific notes to specific drums, he does feel that it is important for drummers to come to their own conclusions. This, he says, allows for a fresh perspective and for individual approaches to emerge.
Ultimately, Gullotti states that the key to benefiting from learning Charlie Parker’s transcribed
saxophone solos comes from developing the ability to actually sing the melodic lines:
Again, the importance of singing a phrase and then expressing it on the drums presents itself.
Gullotti describes how this process is an integral part of his own expression on the drums, not
only as an improvising soloist but as an accompanist, even in the context of playing time:
I just personally play what I sing. I even sing my timekeeping patterns now. I’ve gotten obsessed with the vocalization and you know if you think about some other cultures, like Indian culture, the vocalization is the home; it is the music. I feel as if my right hand is a line in the music and it’s a layer of the music and if it has a statement to say then the music will be richer. I don’t think one, two, three, four. I’m singing my right hand, just about all the time.239 For Gullotti, the process of vocalizing phrases, via his study of Charlie Parker’s transcribed saxophone solos, has become a regular and integral part of his drumming practice, even in the context of timekeeping on the drums.
It is interesting to note that other musicians have also pointed to the music of Charlie Parker as a source for melodic inspiration. Joe LaBarbera suggested that other drummers, such as “Philly”
Joe Jones, may have also used Parker’s melodic inventions as a source for ideas:
I’ve heard tales that Philly Joe Jones developed his sound, feel and his melodic sense from Charlie Parker. He would try to play Charlie Parker melodies on the drums. I know for a fact that he started out not as a drum set player but as a rudimental drummer. That was his thing; the snare drum was it for him. So, by trying to sit down to the drum set and come up with some melodic ideas, he went to Bird. And by transcribing Bird’s melodies he was learning the language of the music.240 Similarly, New Orleans jazz drummer Ed Blackwell was also known for his intimate knowledge of Parker’s music in addition to having been highly influenced by Max Roach, Parker’s frequent collaborator during the 1940s. New Orleans pianist Ellis Maralis recalled a car journey in which
Blackwell would entertain the other passengers during their travels:
What Blackwell would do, he would play the snare drum – he had a snare drum on his lap – and he knew all these Charlie Parker songs, and he would play them on the drums; a sort of “Name That Tune” game as played by the drummer! Edward knew all the tunes so well and could articulate it on the drums so well that you’d have to be deaf not to hear it, I mean, he was that precise in what he did.241 Ibid LaBarbera (2011) Schmalenberger (2000: 39) Furthermore, in his dissertation Stylistic Evolution of Jazz Drummer Ed Blackwell: the Cultural Intersection of New Orleans and West Africa (2000), David Schmalenberger asserts that Blackwell considered the study of Charlie Parker’s music (and equally the drumming of Max
Roach) as an integral part of his early jazz education and study:
Blackwell then educated himself by listening to recordings of Max Roach and other prominent jazz drummers. He also studied the recordings of jazz saxophonist and Bebop innovator Charlie Parker, a process which would prove highly significant to his musical development. “That was my schooling, listening to Charlie Parker records,” Blackwell recalled in 1992: “You know, “Dewey Square” and all his records on Dial. I knew the owner of a drum shop, he used to order these records directly from New York for me.
Even before they got to New Orleans on the radio, I would get them privately.242 Schmalenberger further suggests that Blackwell’s intimate knowledge of Charlie Parker’s compositions, combined with a proficient ability to execute rudimental patterns on the snare
drum, allowed him to play these melodies so convincingly:
To articulate Charlie Parker’s composition clearly, Blackwell presumably used various snare drum techniques – e.g. rim shots for accented notes, flams for marcato notes, rolls or ruffs for sustained notes, etc. Blackwell’s performance of Parker’s “heads” as described by Marsalis required an acute awareness of timbre, melodic shape, and form, as well as the precise technique to realize these conventions.243 Whether Ed Blackwell or “Philly” Joe Jones actually learned to sing Charlie Parker’s melodies or solos is up for speculation. The fact that both drummers were allegedly informed by Parker’s melodies as a source of inspiration for their own drumming, from at the very least a rhythmic and phrasing perspective, is highly significant. Furthermore, this is also consistent with the overall methods presented by Gullotti and Weiss in that they both used melodic material from other instruments to inform their own melodic approach on the drums.
Riley (1996: 7) Schmalenberger (2000: 39) Allegedly, Charlie Parker himself directly influenced many of the drummers he played with by suggesting that they learn the lyrics to the compositions they performed. He stressed the importance of being able to sing the complex melodies of his compositions. As drummer Art
I got a great tip from Charlie Parker when I was a very young fellow. I was playing with him and he said, “You have to learn all the lyrics to all the standard songs, and learn to sing all the songs we play.” Not that you’re going to be thinking about those lyrics when you play, but it’s in your subconscious, and knowing the lyrics to a song, you would not play something that is uncouth and that would turn a musician off. You would always play something that would be in context…I sing the melody. Like with a Charlie Parker song, I would sing [sings Parker’s “Scrapple From The Apple”]. I can sing every one of those notes. It gives me a tremendous advantage in a situation, which other people don’t seem to know about.244 Evidently, the melodic vocabulary of Charlie Parker has a wide appeal amongst jazz drummers.
Drummer and jazz pianist Andre White suggests that it is Parker’s use of space and overall
rhythmic placement within this space that makes his rhythmic and melodic content so appealing:
The reason Charlie Parker’s phrases translate so well to the drums is precisely because of his prowess with time and space, the way he placed his phrases in time. The rhythms are interesting enough, but the actual rendering of those rhythms the way he did is what makes them so timeless. That’s why Philly Joe Jones sounds as powerful as he does, because he understood this from bombarding himself with Bird (recordings). He might not have been able to explain it, but I feel that he certainly exemplified that power in his playing.245 While many different compositions and soloists have undoubtedly influenced jazz drummers in terms of their melodic potential as applied to the drums, the music of saxophonist Charlie Parker, in particular, has significantly influenced many drummers. This is quite likely because of the relatively complex melodic and rhythmic structures that Parker would use as both a composer and an improviser. This appears to have had a significant appeal to the imagination and creative possibilities in jazz drumming.
6.5 HARMONIC AWARENESS Many drum educators advocate the use of vocalizing melodies and/or instrumental solos and applying them in various ways on the drum set to improve their overall melodic sensibility and phrasing. In contrast, Bob Emry, in his Percussive notes article “Form Awareness on Drum Set” (April 1995) advocates the practice of singing only a specific musical element of a given piece to specifically improve one’s awareness of form. Emry argues the benefit of focusing on the elements of a piece’s harmonic progression to improve one’s facility with form rather than its melodic structures.
In working with various drum students, Emry encountered consistent problems when his students were tasked with soloing over a given musical structure (as opposed to soloing in a free-form,