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The video of Joey Baron that I posted the other day reminded me of how much I like that guy… which got me thinking about other jazz players I like.  In typical geek fashion, I was soon formulating a “Top Five” list of my fav jazz players.  Here’s what said list currently looks like:

1. Tony Williams
2. Elvin Jones
3. Jeff Watts
4. Joey Baron
5. Brian Blade

This is in order.  Tony will always be my number one – BUT, this list leaves out David King (my former teacher), who is automatically tied for the number one spot, just by nature of his immense influence on my playing.

Honorable mentions:

– Paul Motian
– Jack DeJohnette
– Jorge Rossy
– Roy Haynes
– Max Roach
– Ralph Peterson Jr.
– Billy Higgins

Here’s a good reason why Joey Baron is one of my favorite jazz players…

In case you were wondering, he’s blowing over an ostinato in seven, which exponentially increases the difficulty of landing the sick ideas that he’s dropping.  Like… the stuff starting at 1:43… those lines are not only great compositionally, but he’s weaving them into an odd time signature!  Nice.

Joey is a guy that Dave King pointed me toward, and one of the better examples of his playing is the live Bill Frisell record that I featured in the AEDSK list.  I also really love the stuff he plays in Masada (John Zorn’s band from the above youtube clip), and an older John Scofield record called Grace Under Pressure.

HT: Schiebe

m_95c42e7d58f9a72203624d8b0cf218d2The SIS is back this week, and I’m changing things up a little bit in featuring a jazz player, or at least a guy who is most known for his jazz playing.  JT Bates is a Minneapolis native, playing constantly around town in every environment, but really making a name for himself in his trio, Fat Kid Wednesday.  JT also hosts the 8-year-running Clown Lounge at the Turf Club in St. Paul, a weekly experimental music series that serves as a cornerstone for the Twin Cities’ underground scene.

(Me) How do you approach playing jazz in the studio vs. live? Are there any distinct differences? (JT) I try to not separate recording jazz and performing jazz.  That music is so emotion-based for me – it really boils down to how I’m feeling that day, whether gigging or recording.  One small difference, though… I love the peace and quiet of the studio and I can really live in the quiet moments.

What about non-jazz studio work… are you the same player just in a different genre or are you using intentionally different sides of your personality? I’d say a little of both, on some sort of sliding scale.  I want to provide what the people are looking for, and hopefully I have enough taste to know how much of my own thing I should put on something, and if it doesn’t call for it then I can definitely just become a different player.

What’s your take on precision vs. emotion/magic. Do you value one over the other or do you wait for a take that has both? I definitely go for a take that has both, although in a jazz session I will opt for emotion over perfection almost every time… if I have to choose.  Too much jazz now sounds perfect and it drives me crazy.  Isn’t the idea that we’re supposed to be pushing all the time?  If so, then I should probably be getting myself into things that I can’t really pull off…

What’s your pet peeve in a studio environment? My pet peeve(s): self-doubt, big egos, bad reading chops (if there are charts), general unpreparedness.  If everyone is coming together to accomplish something, you have to be 100% there.  If you aren’t, then you’re wasting a lot of people’s time, someone’s money, and chipping away at the cool positivity that comes from a group of people creating something.  Also, slow Protools work drives me crazy.  It can really get in the way of the flow of the session.

What, in your opinion, is the most effective way to prepare for a session? How can a drummer improve on his “studio chops”? For me personally, the best way to prepare is to get the songs as far ahead of time as I can, so I can play along with them… which, besides the obvious things, should also help me figure out what gear I should bring to the session (bright or dark cymbals, wood/acrylic drums, etc).  Hearing the songs in advance also helps me determine what kind of style should come across for those songs.  I also like to ask people what records they enjoy, and more specifically, what drummers they enjoy.  I make my own click tracks (with a feel – rarely just quarter notes) in Ableton Live.  I bounce those down and throw them into Protools or Logic etc, and they help me get to the feel I’m looking for without spending too much time on it.  I also make charts on my own if I feel I need them.

Talk about your relationship with the bass player. How do you factor that into session where the tracking is soloed? Most of my best friends are bass players, my brother is a bass player – the bass player absolutely defines the sound of the band.  Their feel, their harmony… I just try and connect with them constantly, and if I’m not, then I talk with them about it.  I much prefer tracking with a bass so that the pocket is a real time, real life event.  If that’s not possible and I’m tracking drums alone, I try and hear what the bass might do in my head so hopefully what I play has some relevance to them.

What’s your favorite piece of gear for studio stuff? My new headphones!  I got these Ultrasone headphones – they have 5 small speakers for each ear which are positioned around the eardrum, so that no speaker is going straight into the ear.  They’re amazing for me, because my ears don’t get anywhere near as tired as they used to w/ many of the usual headphones.  Also, I love my Ludwig Supraphonic.  Whenever I can’t find the right snare sound, that drum is almost always the answer, both for high and low tunings.

Vintage drums: over-hyped or everything they’re made out to be? Vintage drums are kick ass. New drums are kick ass.  I like em both.  I own both, and I just try and pick the right thing for each session. There’s nothing like an old, dried out set of Gretsch or Ludwigs.  If I’m playing new drums, I will say that I much prefer custom drums to a lot of the hyper-engineered drums that are in all the magazines, that, to my ears, don’t have a lot of character. I have few Ellis kits that I love.

What are some records that have influenced who you are as a player the MOST?
Records that have influenced me the most non-jazz-wise:
– Tom Petty, Wildflower
– Traveling Wilburys, Vol 1
– Death Cab for Cutie, We Have the Facts
– Daniel Lanois, Shine
– Emmylou Harris, Wrecking Ball
– Neil Young, Harvest Moon
– Keith Richards,Talk Is Cheap
– Jimi Hendrix, Electric Ladyland
– Bob Dylan, Desire.
Records that have influenced me the most as a jazzer:
– Dexter Gordon, Go
– Thelonius Monk, Criss-Cross
– Joe Lovano, Sounds of Joy
– Paul Motian Trio… any
– Ornette Coleman… any (w/ Ed Blackwell)
– John Mclaughlin, Live at Royal Festival Hall
– Miles Davis, Miles Smiles, Bitches Brew, Kind of Blue
– Pat Metheny, Rejoicing
– Tim Berne, Bloodcount, Science Friction
…and a bazillion more…

Many thanks to JT for his interview, and be sure to check his myspace calendar (click the link on his name at the top of the post) and find a time to go see him live. (Editor’s note: The “Ellis” drums that JT mentioned are custom drums available through Ellis drum shop in St. Paul.  Keith from Risen Drums was Ellis’ initial craftsman, and he designed/built all Ellis drums prior to 2007, including JT’s kits.)

erickamugrawattI’ve been listening to Weather Report’s I Sing The Body Electric a ton lately, and the drummer is flooring me.  As a player he is at the very least under-appreciated, but more than that he seems to be just generally unknown.

Eric Gravatt lives in Minneapolis, and currently plays with McCoy Tyner’s quartet.  He also plays occasionally with his own group down at the Artist’s Quarter in St. Paul.  After dominating in Weather Report for a few years, Eric decided to leave music altogether and become a prison guard.  I guess that’s the reason for his disappearance into anonymity.

My former teacher, Dave King, hails Eric as one of his favorite players of all time, and openly admits to consciously and intentionally imitating Eric’s style and approach.

Here’s what Wayne Shorter had to say about Eric:  “Eric was the one. Miles wanted him, but he came with us in Weather Report.”

Terry Bozzio said this about him:  “Seeing him play changed my life. There isn’t — and maybe never will be — anyone who plays drums with that much intensity.”

Check out the video below of Eric playing with Tyner back in the 70’s (before his prison guard career).  There’s also a great 2005 article from the Pioneer Press about Eric’s current activities.

Anyway, I added the previously mentioned Weather Report record to the AEDSK list.  Trust me, it absolutely deserves to be there…

Louie Bellson, one or the fathers of modern drumming, passed away last weekend. From Wikipedia…

He performed and/or recorded scores of albums (approximately 200) as a leader, co-leader or sideman with such renowned musicians and leaders such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Woody Herman, Norman Granz’ J.A.T.P. (Jazz at the Philharmonic), Benny Carter, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Dizzy Gillespie, Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, Hank Jones, Zoot Sims, Sonny Stitt, Milt Jackson, Clark Terry, Louie Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Shelly Manne, Billy Cobham, James Brown, Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Bennett, Pearl Bailey, Mel Tormé, Joe Williams, Wayne Newton and film composer John Williams. He is also credited with pioneering the use of two bass drums.

To learn more about Bellson, check out his official website here, or his page here.

Thanks to everyone who came out for the Jason Harms Quintet gig at Bethel last night. I very much enjoyed the performance and the atmosphere surrounding it.

The new record, The Land Of The Fear Of Men, is now available for no charge at Head over there and get yourself a copy. But, in going the download route, you’ll miss out on all the incredible liner note artwork done by Adrian Johnston. The full series of the work used on the record has been compiled in an 80-page book, which you can preview or purchase at Adrian’s website. Be sure and check that out, but in the meantime, here’s some snipets from the series, beginning with The Land of the Fear Men liner insert…


Jason and Adrian took a “Tolkien meets Bunyan” approach with this map of the fictitious “Land.” It represents the place where we all often go, when we are thinking too much about the opinions of others, and letting those thoughts drive our actions in a wrong direction.


A depiction of man’s struggle in life, and the sorrow that sometimes feels crushing…


This dude is deciding to set out into the “Land”… thinking that it’s going to benefit him. “There is no armor in the Land, only chains.”

PS. I just put up the opening track from Land of the Fear on my myspace page, as well as one of the tracks from the recent Westwood Church album by Joel Hanson. Joel’s working on a solo record right now, but we play every Sunday night at Westwood and they opted to have us record an album of their favorite worship tunes that we play each week.

Now, I’m talking JAZZ here, but, in that category, my all time favs are:

5) Brian Blade, 4) Jack Dejohnette, 3) Jeff Watts, 2) Elvin Jones… and…

my number one:  Tony Williams

I’ve posted about Tony before, and I’m sure I will again. In my opinion, there has never been a drummer with a more perfect combination of energy, creativity, technical ability, and discipline. I’m thinking about Tony again tonight because I just came across some footage of a clinic he did, filmed at a Zildjian Day in the 80’s…

It’s a six-part series of videos, and it covers quite a few topics. To be honest, I think clinics in general (even with great drummers like Tony), are always somewhat hit and miss, but this footage alone makes the clips worth watching.

HT: Matt Schiebe

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 DavisComplete 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.

I could go on forever about this record. You can hear some excerpts of it here, and there are some links to youtube footage of this band on one of my previous posts about the 60’s Quintet.

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.)

The latest trio recording from Brad Mehldau, a double-disc album called Live at the Vanguard, is the pick this week for AOTW. Man, Mehldau is just flat out awesome. He has, in my opinion, the most innovative and unique approach to the piano of anyone born after 1970, and I never get tired of it.

I am feeling a little lazy right now, so you can go here for a thorough review of the record. But I will say this: Live at the Vanguard is the 2nd recording that Mehldau has done with his new drummer, Jeff Ballard, who replaced Jorge Rossy in 2005. I like Ballard, but I don’t think he fills Rossy’s shoes very well. To be fair, he probably wasn’t trying to – a true jazz musician is always going for their own thing – but I guess I just don’t like Ballard’s approach as much as Rossy’s.

Regardless, the record is DOMINATING. For instance, the opening track is a cover of Oasis’ “Wonderwall” where Mehldau plays the melody in 4 over a polyrhythm that cycles every 12.5 beats (played by Ballard and bassist Larry Grenadier)… and it only gets better. There’s also a 23-minute version of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun.” Just go listen to it and see for yourself.

And finally, here’s a burning solo from Mehldau recorded live back in the early 90’s when he was in Joshua Redman’s band (with Brian Blade on drums).

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