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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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Additionally, references to different aspects of melodic drumming can be in found in several journal articles, and significantly among many pedagogical resources (whether they be magazine articles, instructional method books or DVDs). While the number of resources on the subject is few, they do collectively offer a wide assortment of ideas and concepts to consider. Fortunately, in terms of directing a literature review on this subject, this has allowed for a reasonably diverse pool of information to be considered and included despite a relative lack of dedicated literature on the topic. Of the resources that were surveyed, many offered a variety of perspectives and varying degrees of information with regards to the concept of melodic jazz drumming.

Discussions about the overall general nature and the definition of melody were initially considered. Entries from the Oxford Companion to Music and Webster’s New World Dictionary of Music provide specific general definitions and explanations of melody, which accommodate the diverse forms that melody takes in different forms of music from around the world. In African Rhythm and African Sensibility: Aesthetics and Social Action in African Musical Idioms, John Miller Chernoff discusses how melody and the nuance of pitch in the context of drumming manifests itself in West African drumming styles, specifically in the context of West African “Talking Drums.” In Traditional African and Oriental Music by Otto Karolyi, the author devotes a chapter to describing how melody is manifested in African music and how it compares to Western notions of the same concept. As a whole, these resources provide tangible and flexible definitions of melody that allow for a wide consideration of the definition of the concept of melody.

In Michael Jordan’s “Melodic Drumming in Contemporary Popular Music: An Investigation into Melodic Drum-Kit Performance Practices and Repertoire” (2009), Jordan examines melodic drum set practices in popular and contemporary music in a limited capacity. Jordan’s assertion is that the development of melodic techniques on the drum set has allowed for drummers to develop a more inclusive role within contemporary ensembles. He asserts that this has broadened the drummer’s role in modern music beyond that of being just a timekeeper. Jordan asks three main questions over the course of his research: 1) How can a melody be voiced on the drum kit?

2) What techniques are needed to realize melodic drumming? 3) To what extent can compositions involving melodic drumming be inclusive of other instrumentalists? His research is based on interviews with several Australian jazz drummers and is largely from an autoethnographic view in which he discusses his own personal path and experience in dealing with different melodic drumming practices while playing his own music. Jordan describes the overall process and the consideration of approaching the drums from a melodic perspective and describes several techniques with which this can be done on the drums. Furthermore, the results of his research are summarized in a series of original compositions for a solo drum set. In these pieces he attempts to illustrate his findings and put them into a musical context by using the drums as a melodic instrument rather than strictly a rhythmic one.

In “A Melodic Approach to Drum Set Improvisation” (2006) Ken Charles Stralka presents a study that aims to establish a methodology that can instill in young drum students a competent sense of form, while playing time and the ability to improvise, in time, over various established musical structures. Stralka asserts that most formal training that drummers receive, commonly focuses on rhythm, hand technique and “beats” without regards to larger musical considerations.

He believes that this leads to uninspired, non-musical and one-dimensional drumming in the context of an ensemble or improvised music situation. His goal is to expand a drum student’s sense of musicianship by using a teaching method in which established drum patterns and rhythms are played and practiced in the context of measured phrases and longer, extended forms.

Students who participated in this study were required to practice exercises that required them to play a pre-determined pattern (for example, several of the Percussive Arts Society’s Standard 40 Rudiments or variations on standard drum set timekeeping patterns) for a certain number of bars followed by improvising for the same duration of measures. By means of establishing a controlled study of his test subjects (with the aid of local drum instructors) he concluded that his method and approach led to a young drummer gaining the ability to improvise over a simple structure without getting lost. He considered the end result to be more musical than previous attempts.

While Stalka certainly proved that this is possible, one might argue that using the term “melodic” in this context may actually be misleading. While being able to improvise within an established musical framework (i.e. in time and over a given number of measures) is significant and contributes greatly to an overall musical approach to the drums, he does not offer a connection between the ability to improvise in this manner and how that is ultimately considered to be “melodic.” In “Homage to Max: A New Work for Solo Drum Set Based on the Style of Max Roach” (1997) Rande Paul Sanderbeck examines selected transcriptions of drummer Max Roach and comments on Roach’s organized, motivic and vocabulary-based approach to jazz improvisation on the drum set and overall style. Background information on Roach’s career is presented while five of Roach’s recorded drum solos are transcribed, analyzed and summarized with a focus on his stylistic characteristics. Roach’s “melodic” approach to the drum set is alluded to in the context of the analysis that his drum solo works and in reference to what is often called Roach’s “lyrical” style of drumming. Furthermore, a five-movement original work entitled “Homage to Max” was composed by the author, presented in written score form and discussed with regards to Roach’s influence.





Similarly, David Schmalenberger’s “Stylistic Evolution of Jazz Drummer Ed Blackwell: The Cultural Intersection of New Orleans and West Africa” (2000) presents an in-depth view of the multi-faceted style of jazz drummer Ed Blackwell. Schmalenberger points to the significant influence of Max Roach’s melodic approach to the drums and the emergence of the bebop style of jazz drumming as being at the core of Blackwell’s style. He also references the influence of Blackwell’s New Orleans roots, alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman, his association with the “Free Jazz” movement and the influence of West and North African drumming styles. He identifies these as all being central to the identity of Ed Blackwell’s unique, and often melodic, drumming style.

The evolution and contributions of the drumming style of swing drummer Sidney Catlett is thoroughly examined by James Michael Hutton in “Sidney “Big Sid” Catlett: The Development of Modern Jazz Drumming Style” (1991). In his research Hutton provides an in-depth look at the career of Sid Catlett and makes an argument as to why Catlett should be considered as an important innovator, a catalyst between the swing and bebop drumming styles, and ultimately responsible for setting the stage for the progressive and modernistic approach to jazz drumming that prevailed during the 1940s. He also discusses how Catlett captured many aspects of melodic drumming in his own personal, forward-thinking style. Hutton asserts that Catlett’s approach represented an important influence on bebop drummers such as Max Roach, Kenny Clarke and Shelly Manne (among others), their overall melodic approach to the drums. With regards to

Catlett’s melodic approach to the drum set, Hutton asserts that:

Catlett’s significance as a transitional figure in the development of “melodic drumming”

is documented in his performances through the following techniques:

1. the utilization of the melody as a point of departure for variations of pitch and rhythm through an integrated use of the drum set;

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3. the utilization of variation techniques such as ornamentation, rhythmic displacement, diminuation, augmentation, and inversion;

–  –  –

5. the creation of longer sectional forms connected by motivic and formulaic structures.24 Drummer Elvin Jones is discussed in-depth by Barry Elmes in “Elvin Jones: Defining his Essential Contributions to Jazz” (2005). However, this work largely focuses on Jones’s unique and highly developed approach to timekeeping which relied extensively on the use of triplet subdivisions and poly-rhythmic phrasing all while expanding and challenging the roles and possibilities of various parts of the drum set within a modern jazz context. While Jones’s drumming and overall approach is transcribed and analyzed in great detail, often in the context of several recorded performances with the John Coltrane Quartet during the 1960s, his approach to drum soloing is not examined. A discussion of Jones’s melodic approach to the drum set is not specifically addressed, although Jones’s interactive rhythmic/harmonic/melodic relationship with the other musicians on several recorded performances is addressed in the context as being an accompanist by means of extensive transcription and analysis.

Theodore Dennis Brown’s “A History and Analysis of Jazz Drumming to 1942” (1976) examines in great detail the evolution of early jazz drumming styles, tracing their development from their early roots in post-Civil War military rudimental drumming and West African Hutton (1991: 158–159) drumming traditions, through New Orleans, Ragtime, Chicago and the Swing era to developments in early 1940s bebop drumming. This is matched by an in-depth discussion of the emergence of African-American culture in the United States and its increasing influence on greater popular American culture following the American Civil War through to Pre-World War Two America. A large focus is placed on the innovations of the many significant drummers that ultimately created and defined early jazz drumming styles and the overall evolution of the techniques related to jazz drumming. Occasional references to the use of a “melodic” approach are sometimes mentioned over the course of this examination in the context of specific drummers and their personal styles, techniques and contributions.

Furthermore, Anthony Brown’s “The Development of Modern Jazz Drum Set Performance, 1940-50” (1997) continues to discuss the evolution of jazz drumming through the 1940s bebop era of jazz music. This work focuses on the distinct contributions of Kenny Clarke and Max Roach (among other significant bop drummers) while also discussing the overall development and impact of bebop music and the influence of musicians Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

The emergence and influence of African-American culture in New York City (with particular reference to the “Harlem Renaissance”) is also discussed in-depth and provides a social context to the developments in modern jazz music as well.

Biographical references to many jazz drummers are also presented in Burt Korall’s two volumes:

Drummin’ Men: The Heartbeat of Jazz: The Swing Years (1990) and Drummin’ Men: The Heartbeat of Jazz: The Bebop Years (2002). Korall’s writings are biographical and largely anecdotal (while still complementary!) and offer very little in terms of a technical analysis nor any specific references to any “melodic” elements by any of the drummers presented.

Several resources go beyond that of the drums, drumming and drummers and examine the process of jazz improvisation from a wider perspective. Both Sayin’ Something: Jazz Improvisation and Interaction (1996) by Ingrid Monson and Thinking in Jazz: The Infinite Art of Improvisation (1994) by Paul F. Berliner investigate the process of jazz improvisation and, significantly, how the actual jazz improvisers themselves consider and describe their art form and evaluate their performance practice. This is conducted through extensive interviews and discussions with jazz artists including the analysis of transcriptions from a number of significant recorded jazz performances from artists of various instruments, and in particular several older artists who played a pivotal role in jazz music during the 1950s and 60s. Similarly, Music and The Creative Spirit: Innovators in Jazz, Improvisation and the Avant Garde (2006) by Lloyd Peterson offers conversations and discussions with many contemporary jazz artists and encourages them to share their experiences dealing with the process of being a jazz improviser and creative artist.

These three resources include, to some extent, commentary offered by various jazz drummers with regards to the process of expressing oneself artistically. The concept of melodic drumming is mentioned in varying degrees through the voices of several drummers in these resources and is alluded to conceptually by the authors in some other cases. Overall, the examination of the process of jazz improvisation itself, through the voices of those who actually do it, is significant and offers tremendous insight into the act of being an improvising jazz musician and the artistic and creative processes behind the music.

Many references to melodic jazz drumming and the incorporation of melody within the technical aspects of drum set playing are included in multiple drum set pedagogy materials (i.e.

instructional books and DVDs). These sources also include music journal and magazine articles as well as instructional materials found on the internet in various web-based sources. These materials are compared and described in more detail in chapter six. Of significant note are the various and many articles found in the publications Percussive Notes and Modern Drummer, The Drummer’s Complete Vocabulary as Taught by Alan Dawson (1998) by John Ramsay and the DVD Melodic Drumming (2012) by Ari Hoenig.

Terry O’Mahoney’s Motivic Drumset Soloing: A Guide to Creative Phrasing and Improvisation (2004) is a method book that presents several concise approaches to organizing one’s vocabulary on the drum set. Focus is given to developing rhythmic ideas that the author refers to as “motifs”.



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