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This week I went on a much-needed Jazz binge. For the end of high school and the first few years of college I listened to Jazz almost exclusively, but much of my listening over the past 4 years or so has been focused on rock/pop. I got a bunch of new Jazz records lately, so it was time for the calculated commercial music to have it’s turn on the shelf. Here’s what I’ve had in the cue this last week…

1) John Coltrane – Ballads …A more reserved side of the famous Coltrane Quartet. Elvin Jones on drums. His feel is so elastic and interpretive. He puts so much of HIS stamp on everything he plays. You can transcribe and learn Elvin’s patterns, but nobody can play them quite like he did.

2) Keith Jarrett – Live at the Blue Note …This is a box-set of the Keith trio, with Gary Peacock on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums. All the tunes are standards, but with the signature Keith Jarrett Trio expansions. This group improvises so well together – often the tune itself finishes at around the 6-minute mark but the outro-vamp builds and morphs into it’s own thing for another 6 minutes.

3) Lee Konitz – Alone Together …One of my absolute favorite records. Interestingly enough, there’s no drummer. It’s Konitz on saxophones, Brad Mehldau on piano, and Charlie Haden on bass. They play so musically together, such that you really don’t even miss the drummer.

4) Jackie McLean – It’s Time! …A great post-bop album with Roy Haynes on drums. I love Roy Haynes’ energy on this recording.

The Bill Mike Band is in the studio right now tracking the final tune for our upcoming sophomore record, due out in September. We’re at The Terrarium in Minneapolis. It rules. I’m rocking the orange acrylic RD’s with an RD black brass snare and some 20″ hihats (actually ride cymbals pretending to be hats) that my buddy Danny loaned me. Nice.

A ton of people that I respect have told me about this band “Jellyfish” for years… and I never listened to them. Then last year I finally bought their banner recording “Spilt Milk.” I cannot believe it. I listened to it again today and still cannot believe it. It is so incredible on so many levels. If you’re not already familiar with that record, go buy it immediately.

Anyway, the main subject of this post is Andy Sturmer, Jellyfish’s lead singer and drummer. That’s right, playing drums AND singing lead. And standing up while he does it. Watch this video of them live on the BBC and behold the wonder that is Andy Sturmer. This guy’s feel, sound, ideas, everything… all perfect. I believe Andy is currently in an ELO tribute band called “LEO.”

Long live Andy Sturmer.

A helpful website in researching influential drummers, past and present.

Check it out.

After my recent post about doctoring your snare sound in the studio, I feel obligated to mention something about the more important factor in studio snare sound: deciding WHEN to use a doctored sound. Like I said before, the snare tone is a crucial element in the overall feel and vibe of a track, so you don’t want to use a strange muffling technique just for the fun of it. The snare sound you choose needs to fit the song.

The main issue is context. In fact, this is true for music generally, not just studio snare tone. Context is king. A fill is not “cool” on it’s own… it is only cool when it fits well in the moment that you play it. Consequently, a fill that you hear on a record might be really cool in the song where you heard it, and not so cool in your own band’s song (especially if your song is a significantly different musical environment). The same is true of snare tone – the “coolness” of a snare sound is directly related to the context of the track you are playing.

So, how does a drummer develop a knack for picking the right snare tone for the studio? In my opinion, musical skills like this are always gained through listening. How often do you make a mental note on the kind of snare tone your favorite drummer is using on a given track? More importantly, how often do you pay attention to the characteristics of the rest of the song and how they might have impacted the decision to use a given snare tone? This kind of awareness in your listening will jump-start your ear for snare sound and context in a big way.

A good record to listen to along these lines would be John Mayer’s “Continuum.” Steve Jordan produced the album and played drums on the whole thing. The first 5 tracks all have noticeably different snare sounds, and they fit so well with the songs.

In a pop/rock studio environment, the tone of your snare is the biggest factor in establishing a particular vibe or feel for a song (as far as the drummer is concerned). The entire sonic landscape of your groove will change as your snare tone changes. A rimshot is a great way to capture a vibrant and energetic sound… but that’s not always what you want. For example, the current “new face” on the female pop scene is Sara Bareilles, with her single “Love Song.” Matt Chamberlain played on that track (a player I greatly admire), and his snare is a big, fat rimshot with tons of life. However, track 7 on that disc (“Between the Lines”) is a totally different snare tone. Chamberlain used a dark, papery sound on track 7, with a lot less “crack” and a lot more “push.” It’s most likely a different drum entirely, but odds are it’s also heavily doctored.

A drummer will do a lot of weird things to a drum in the studio in order to capture the right sound.¬†Here’s a few of the “weird things” I do from time to time…

1) Newspaper. Throw a couple sheets of newspaper on your drum and just let them sit loosely on the head while you play. It’s a cool vintage sound that muffles some of the ring (depending on how many sheets you put on there). Notebook paper works too… but newspaper has a slightly different sound to it that I like better.

2) A towel. Or maybe a T-shirt… or a pillow case. They all have different thickness so try each one – my favorite is the pillowcase. Cut it up so it’s only 1-ply (but large enough to cover the whole drum) and then just drape it over the drumhead. This is another “muffled” sound but it’s characteristics are totally different than the newspaper.

3) A block of wood. More muffling with a different sound quality. I totally stole this from Steve Jordan when I saw him doing it on his DVD, “The Groove Is Here.” I’ve tried it a few times and it works great. Grab a somewhat thin piece of wood (like a 2×4 or something… maybe 6 inches long) and set if up on the top portion of the head (close to your rack tom). Tape it down a little so it doesn’t bounce. Guys will often use their wallet for a similar sound, but the wood block has it’s own vibe.

4) Your keys. Seriously… your car keys or something. This is another idea I picked up from my former teacher Dave King. Just set your keys on the head off to the side. It’s a really cool “synthetic” sound, like a drum machine or something. This same idea can work with a small tambourine.

5) Splash cymbal. This is one that I discovered on my own and it totally rules. Get a small splash (6-8″) and set it on the head off to the right. Then play the drum off to the other side, a little left of center. A really cool techno sound happens here, and you can mess around with hitting the splash itself from time to time as an accent.

Try each of these out for yourself… they all have different results and you should get a feel for the personality of each one.

Duct tape comes in handy when you’re trying to dampen some snare ring or cut the high end sustain out of your cymbals. BUT… hockey tape is way better. It’s lighter weight, it doesn’t leave any resin, it even comes in American flag or flame designs. Seriously.

Another local Minneapolis drummer named JT Bates clued me in to hockey tape, and now I never play a gig without it. Go get some immediately – you will thank me later.

Update: HOCKEY TAPE SUCKS. It is light weight and does a great job dampening drum heads and cymbals, but it leaves TONS of resin… it just doesn’t show up until you’ve had the tape on there for a few months. The tape you need? GAFF TAPE. OH MY GOODNESS I LOVE GAFF TAPE SO MUCH. Most hardware stores have it, otherwise hit up a Tour Supply near you.¬†

Hey.

The video drum lesson series that I taped for Risen Drums launches today with the first episode. Check it out…

The main reason I started this blog was to field questions on these videos. The first episode is just an introduction and a basic lesson on rimshots, so I don’t anticipate many questions. But, if there’s anything anybody needs clarification on, just put your question in the comments section of this post. I’ll post an announcement like this each time a new video is uploaded. I think Lesson 2 will be up next week sometime.

Update: We filmed these vids in the Fall of ’07… so, five years ago now. I definitely would do them differently if we taped them now, but I stand by the content. All 12 episodes can be found on the Risen Drums youtube channel.

If someone were to ask me what I’ve been listening to lately (not that anybody has), this is what I would tell them…

1) Bjork – Telegram …a bunch of remixes from Bjork’s 1995 release “Post.”

2) Bob Marley – Greatest Hits …Reggae is where feel lives.

3) Zakir Hussain – Magical Moments of Rhythm …live record from the single most respected tabla player in the world.

4) Wilco – Sky Blue Sky …the latest album from the alt-country kings.

5) Suzanne Vega – Nine Objects Of Desire …1996 release from a folk-ish singer/songwriter with vibe to spare.

6) Phoenix – Alphabetical …French rock-synth power pop.

7) Orlando Cachaito Lopez – Cachaito …the renowned Buena Vista Social Club bassist’s solo record.

That’s all for now. I’ll try to post listening stuff like this once a week or so.

Last night I found some RAD videos of Tony Williams playing with the best band ever… the Miles Davis 60’s quintet (Miles, Tony, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter). Check this stuff out – you will love it. Seriously… thank goodness for Youtube. Live footage of this band is rare, and now because of Youtube we can just click and watch.

Tony was seventeen when he joined Miles’ band in 1962. Yep… seventeen. Miles was an international Jazz superstar at that point, and the drum chair in his band was the most coveted gig in the entire Jazz world (which was the center of the popular music world at the time). 17-year-old Tony took the gig and proceeded to play some of the most ground-breaking and inspiring music in the history of the drumset.

Watch these videos. Watch his ride cymbal. Watch his calm but powerful energy. Watch his control. And… seventeen years old.

Dang it.

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