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I’ve mentioned before the huge influence that Tony Williams has had on my playing. This week’s featured album is the first recording I ever heard of Tony – Miles Davis‘ Complete Concert 1964. It’s a 2-disc set from Columbia records (Miles’ label at the time), and was originally released as two separate albums. The full album is hard to find in compact disc format, but the music is easily accessible on itunes.
Recorded live at New York’s Philharmonic Hall, Complete Concert 1964 has been hailed by Miles historians as “one of the best recordings of a live concert.” I bought this record at Down In The Valley during my sophomore year of high school, and it literally changed my life. This was the album that showed me what a true musician is… what real music is supposed to be like. And by that, I don’t mean to say that “Jazz” is the only real music. Rather, what I mean is that, because these particular musicians played with so much passion and emotion while simultaneously demonstrating incredible technical prowess and artistic sophistication, this recording immediately became the primary model for how I approach music.
There’s a lot to write about on this record – I’ll start with the personnel. Tony Williams is obviously on drums, with Ron Carter on bass and Herbie Hancock on piano. Then there’s Miles on trumpet of course, and the quintet is rounded out with George Coleman on tenor saxophone. Coleman was soon replaced by the great Wayne Shorter (in early 1965), completing the famous “Miles’ 60’s quintet,” which remained in place for the next 4 years. All the players except Miles were pretty young in 1964, with Hancock at age 23 and Williams at only age 19! Despite their young ages and limited experience together, the quintet plays just as cohesively as any of the later live recordings. The rhythm section is so patient and supportive, but just explodes with ideas as soon as the floor is open.
The performance benefits from the inspiration of the unusual circumstances that night. The Philharmonic Hall was in it’s debut season at the time, having been newly renovated from it’s former life as Carnegie Hall. This was the first large-room gig for the young rhythm section players, and everybody knew ahead of time that Columbia was recording the music for a live album. In addition, the players were all quite upset with Miles, having been told just prior to walking out on stage that the evening’s concert was a benefit (for various civil rights groups) and so they wouldn’t be getting paid. Rumor has it that the players were arguing with Miles even as they began playing.
Tony just kills it on this album. You can hear so much fire from him, and yet his groove is deep and comfortable. He floats effortlessly from ballads to up-tempo, brushes to sticks… and even picking some perfect moments to lay out entirely (like the tag on Miles’ solo on “All Of You”). The comping and interaction in “So What” are still some of my favorite Tony Williams moments, and his solo breaks on “Seven Steps to Heaven” are so musical and interesting.
Tony takes a full solo in track 2 on the second disc, “Walkin.” A story I often tell my students about this record is that, although this solo blew me away right from the first time I heard it, the real meat of the solo went completely over my head for the longest time. The phrasing ideas are so advanced that I was always under the impression that the solo was free-form. In fact, I thought ALL his solos were free, because I could never keep up with them. In 2002, after studying many of the complex concepts that Tony used in his playing, I bought a bootleg live recording of the quintet from around the same time period, and Tony had a solo on the first track (“No Blues”). I managed to not get lost in listening to that particular solo, and as I kept up with the ideas I heard some things that I recognized from the “Walkin” solo. I went back to the “Walkin” solo on Complete Concert 1964 (something I had listened to a hundred times at that point) and realized that the solo was not free, but very strict to the form. I heard the solo the “real” way for the first time, and I was totally blown away… again.
After long last… the seventh installment of the Risen Drums Video Lesson Series is here. Sorry this one took so long. Hopefully the next few episodes will arrive at the scheduled “bi-weekly” rate.
This lesson is about technique. I don’t usually like to teach about technique, because there are so many different perspectives out there, and many great players to stand behind each technique idea. But, this particular technique is one that I’m very fond of and I think it’s almost universally acknowledged as the superior method.
Somebody help me out if my stats are flawed here, but I think a good field goal percentage for an NBA player is something like 50%. A player would be proud of a stat like that, right? That is odd to me. It’s gets even worse in baseball… a season .300 batting average is a celebrated performance. Yes, I know professional sports are difficult and there are many factors working against ball players (like good defense, slumps, etc), but still, those numbers seem awfully low to be boasting about. For example, consider surgery. The generally expected “success stat” for an open heart surgeon would be 100% – meaning, a 99% rating isn’t going to cut it. Nobody wants to hire the 99% guy to do their surgery because nobody wants to be the 1% on the other end of that deal.
Now, why the big discrepancy between sports and medicine? Is anybody really going to suggest that the higher success rate for surgeons is due to open heart surgery being EASIER than putting a basketball in the hoop? I think the issue is the expectation, and the subsequent mentality that accompanies the expectation. When a basketball player misses a shot, they’re bummed, but they just shrug it off. The other players shrug it off too. So do the coaches. “Nobody makes them all,” they say to each other at halftime. But when a surgeon botches something, there is likely going to be a litigation, or at the very least a disciplinary action at the hospital. The surgeon takes mandatory time off and must cope with the ramifications of his/her failure.
My theory here is that because these two realities exist right from the get go, I think it is safe to assume that a surgeon takes his job more seriously. Once again, I’m not just dogging professional athletes and saying that they don’t care about their work. I’m just trying to point out the obvious difference in the frame of mind behind each vocation. A baller is EXPECTING to miss some shots, but a doctor is DETERMINED to make no errors. These differences in mindset go way back, too. Right from day one of medical school the surgeon is trained to settle for nothing less than perfection, whereas the athlete is immediately told to not worry about mistakes – just forget about them and try harder next time.
So… which perspective do you think a musician should have? I’ll tell you this: it has been my experience that the audience’s expectation is more in line with the medical field. Just watch American Idol sometime. Toward the end of the competition, the judges will nit pick at very minor flaws in the vocal performances, while often ignoring the fact that the performer sang 99% of the song correctly. And the live band on that show… they NEVER screw up. When I saw the Police on their reunion tour last year, I thought the show was totally slamming. However, Andy Summers missed a few notes on Message In A Bottle (only mistake I heard all night) and that was the first thing I read in the paper the next day.
I often find, however, both in my students and in the pro musicians that I work with regularly, a desire for the sports approach. There’s an attitude of forgiveness toward mistakes that are considered imminent – an attitude that I believe to be somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m not advocating a Nazi-like approach to music, where anything less than perfection can’t be tolerated. At the end of the day, nobody is perfect. I’m just suggesting that an EXPECTATION for mistakes will probably result in more mistakes, but a DETERMINATION to avoid them will do the opposite.
SUMMARY: Think like a surgeon and watch your mistake-free performance stats go through the roof.
A friend of mine just introduced me to a funny book. Kill Your Idols is a collection of essays compiled by a couple of rock critics from Chicago. The book’s aim is to dethrone the alleged “all time great albums” of rock history – albums such as Sgt. Pepper’s, Zeppelin 4, Nevermind, The Joshua Tree, OK Computer, and many others. Each recording gets it’s own essay, written by a critic who finds particular dislike for that record. The book is well-written and quite funny.
I say “funny” because I can only assume these guys are writing with a mostly tongue-in-cheek tone. The notion that rock history’s most influential and moving albums aren’t perfect is certainly not news to anyone (or at least anyone who listens to music closely). But, the idea that the presence of flaws in great records means that those great records aren’t actually great… well, if that really is the thesis of the book, then the writers are betraying themselves to be the idiots that most musicians already think writers/critics are. (Note: I am aware of the irony in my words against critics, given the “critic” tone in my Album of the Week posts. I am comfortable to let the statement stand because I think everybody who reads this blog knows that I’m not a critic – just a musician sounding off about albums I like.)
You should buy the book and read it for yourself, or you can at least read a real review of it here. I’ll leave you with a relevant quote from the great Romantic composer, Jean Sibelius: “Pay no attention to what critics say. No statue has ever been erected in honor of a critic.”
About a month ago I got a Matthew Perryman Jones recording called Throwing Punches In The Dark. I am totally hooked on it right now. In fact, it’s probably my current favorite. Slow, vibey ballads and fast, assertive rock tunes… and all with thoughtfully artistic production. Jeff Buckley meets Sondre Lerche with a little Wilco. Love it.
Jones is a Nashville-based singer/songwriter with a folk-rock bent. From what I understand, Throwing Punches is a little less folk and a little more rock than his previous albums, of which I am not familiar. Regardless, the record delivers clear elements of both folk and rock, and manages to include solid lyrical content as well. You get the impression that Jones has seen a lot of life, but has found a way to make it all positive.
Andy Hubbard is the drummer on the record and another Nashville guy, but I’ve not heard him before. He totally nails the folk-rock vibe, both with feel and tones. His vocabulary in grooves and fills is A-squad for Jones’ sound, and every tune has a killer snare tone. The most interesting sounds come from his hats, which I can’t quite pin down. I think he must be using old crash cymbals with tape all over them or something.
I’ve definitely mentioned noisetrade.com before, and this is one of the records that I got from there. It’s still available on that site, so you really have no excuse to not add Matthew Perryman Jones’ Throwing Punches In The Dark to your itunes library right now.
I normally try to keep this blog “music-only.” And that isn’t because I’m not passionately opinionated about other things… but because I only feel qualified to talk about drumming (and even my thoughts on that should be taken with a grain of salt). BUT, this non-music post is an exception, which should itself lend some emphasis to my feelings on this topic.
I hate Human Trafficking. Hate it – especially as it pertains to the sex trade. The more I learn about the situation the more I want to really DO something, and I want to be more vocal about that in my life and in my art. Call + Response, a recent documentary on the human sex trade epidemic, is a great example of musicians and artists trying to make a difference on this issue. Watch the trailer below, and you can aslo read a review of the film here if you wish.
Hunnicutt tour is going well. My friend Christian Ankrum is playing bass, who I also play with in Joel Hanson’s band. Christian’s brother Aaron is Liz’s normal guitarist, but he couldn’t come this time, so Jeremy Sanoski came out for the tour. He’s another solo artist who’s band I’m in, so the lineup turned out to be a cool clustering of guys I play with all the time. It’s a lot of fun.
We’re in Spokane, WA right now playing for a women’s conference. The conference put the whole band up in the luxurious Double Tree Hotel attached to the convention center. Last night Christian and I made a video to showcase how nice the place is, and it’s pretty funny. Check it out.
So I mentioned in the previous post that I’m in the midst of a short tour with Elizabeth Hunnicutt right now. Most of the gigs that we’re doing are in small venues, where the natural drum volume is too loud. Dowel sticks (I use the brand ProMark “Hot Rods”) make this problem easy to get around. But… rods have quite a different timbre and sound from normal sticks – they aren’t just a softer volume. Here’s a few things that I’ve learned when using rods:
1) Buzz rolls, although possible with rods, don’t sound very good.
2) Toms also sound bad, but using rimshots on the toms can make them sound more like normal.
3) Non-rimshot snare hits have a unique tone to them, but they are not just a little quieter than sticks, they are A LOT quieter. If you’re going to use that sound, you have to back way off the cymbals to get a correct blend.
4) Along with the point just mentioned, be careful to note that “crash” hits (cymbals hits with the “edge” of the stick and not the tip) are really the same volume with rods as they are with sticks. So, be extra careful to back off on the velocity of those hits so as to gain a good drum/cymbal blend.
Album of the Week this time around is a classic. It Might As Well Be Swing is a collaboration between Frank Sinatra (arguably the all-time greatest American male vocalist), Count Basie (one of the founding fathers of the Big Band sound) and producer Quincy Jones (79-time Grammy winning American music icon). Many of the records featured in the AOTW series have been personal favorites of mine, and this one is no exception. This is the album I listen to when I’m just starting my day – a day when I’m in a good mood and want to stay that way. Picture yourself strolling through a park on a sunny afternoon and imagine the ideal soundtrack.
It Might As Well Be Swing, recorded and released in 1964, is the 2nd team effort from Sinatra and Basie, after 1963’s Sinatra-Basie. The album contains no Bossas, up-tempo tunes, or ballads to speak of. The music is, as it’s name suggests, just deep, swingin’ groove from top to bottom. (Note: I literally HATE cliche jazz terminology like the word “swingin”, but I use the rhetoric intentionally here because this record so embodies the vibe that cliche jazz terms seek to communicate.) The song list contains many famous Sinatra hits (“Fly Me to the Moon,” “The Best Is Yet to Come”) in addition to a nice smattering of typical jazz standards. It’s a perfect introduction to the stereotype of old school “Jazz,” and it’ll be a very enjoyable listen for almost anyone.
A cool element for drummers in this recording is the mix. Sonny Payne can be heard clearly in all the tracks, which isn’t always the case for old-school Big Band records. Payne just puts on a clinic on how to drive a 18-piece jazz orchestra, all while supporting Sinatra in the lead role. Grooves, hits, set-ups… everything he plays is assertive, driving, and of course his every note is deeply swung.
You should probably buy this album, and in the meantime you can preview some excerpts here.
(PS. I am writing this from Billings, MT. I’m on a short tour with Elizabeth Hunnicutt this week and part of next. We played in ND yesterday, and we’re in MT today, then Washington and Idaho and then home. I’ll post some updates of the shows as they happen.)
D’Angelo’s second record, Voodoo, is one of the best records that I own. It’s destined for Album of the Week at some point. Just not this time. This week I’m planning on featuring a Frank Sinatra record that I’ve been listening to lately… but I’ll probably write a post about that tomorrow or the next day because I’m pretty tired tonight.
So for now, back to D’Angelo. Feast your eyes and ears on this live performance from the Chris Rock show that I just found. It’s a single off of Voodoo, and features Questlove on drums and Pino Palladino on bass. Killing.