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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

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

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).

Man… Brian Blade is definitely one of my favorite drummers right now. He has so much control, his ideas are so musical, and his groove is so comfortable. Love it.

Brian Blade is on my mind today because I’ve been listening to Danial Lanois’ “Shine” quite a bit. Blade just destroys that record. His feel, his comfort and vocabulary… unbelievable. The album is a singer-songwriter style, and so Blade is of course playing appropriately within that realm. BUT, he is also a widely respected jazz player. THAT is the main point of this post.

I’ve had more than a few musicians whom I respect tell me that my best bet is to pigeon-hole my efforts on the drums into one genre/sound, and just try to make that as killing as I can. I understand the logic: don’t waste time trying to improve your weaknesses, just focus on making your strengths even stronger and soon you will be the only fish in the pond that anyone wants to work with, when it comes to those strengths. This idea is big in the business world, and it makes sense to a degree… but I’m not sure it applies to Art.

I studied jazz music extensively in college, and I’ve also spent a lot of time in pop/rock settings. In fact, I’ve done quite a bit of gospel lately, and some alt-country, and even some electronica/drum-n-bass. Therefore, I’m obviously in danger of spreading myself too thin according to the “ignore-your-weakness-promote-your-strength” mantra, but I don’t see it that way. I feel like I have learned concepts in studying jazz that I can apply to rock… things that make my rock playing different from another rock drummer who has never studied jazz. Conversely, I can bring rock elements into my jazz that sound hopefully make my jazz playing unique. Of course, I have to have a solid understanding of the difference between rock and jazz, but having a presence in both worlds is a challenge that I enjoy taking on.

Actually, I believe learning about and participating in many different styles/genres is an essential element to feeding creativity in your playing. I guess I just disagree with the advice I’ve been given. Maybe I’ll recant in a few years when I am wiser, but for now, I encourage every musician who reads this blog to surround yourself with as many different-sounding records as you can find, and soak them all in.

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