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"So You Want To Play Jazz?"
Werkin' With Wertico: Jazz Drumming
Hello everyone and welcome to my new column for Musician.com. I've been asked to write about jazz and jazz drumming, so in this, as well as in upcoming columns, I'll give you some essential jazz listening recommendations, tips on how to understand jazz's unique qualities, and how to properly practice and authentically perform various jazz drumming techniques and styles.
In my many years as a drum instructor, I've had countless students come to me and say, "I want to learn how to play jazz drums." I'm always glad that drummers are willing to study a new style of playing, especially one that can be so intimidating at first. I usually follow up their request with a statement such as "That's great, what kind of jazz do you listen to?" Believe it or not, often their response is either "Well, I haven't listened to much jazz" or "I really like the Chick Corea Elektric Band with Dave Weckl." Now, although Chick, Dave and the band are no doubt fantastic world-class players, starting your jazz listening experience at that late point in jazz history is somewhat like learning calculus without ever learning simple addition. As for having no jazz listening experience at all, well, it's time to change that right now!
First of all, jazz is a musical language, just like rock, rhumba, reggae or rap, and just like any language, musical or not, one must first learn the A, B, C's to acquire a firm foundation from which to build. Then, those A, B, C's are put together to form words, which then form sentences, paragraphs, etc. Learning the proper way to form sentences and how to construct paragraphs is essential. It's also very important to understand the correct way to pronounce those letters and words. Get my point? Jazz is a language of sound and knowing how to properly execute those sounds and put them together to form a musical statement that not only resembles jazz, but that is actually stylistically correct, takes some listening experience...the more the better.
Jazz has been around for about 100 years and over time, many styles of jazz have emerged and numerous great musicians have been at the forefront of each stylistic movement. And there has always been a number of brilliant drummers that have supplied the foundation and life's blood for each style. Familiarizing yourself with these various styles of jazz and jazz drumming will give you the proper ear training to build your study of jazz and will clarify where most modern styles originated. You may have to spend some cash to acquire a respectable jazz collection, but your rewards will be endless hours of pleasure, inspiration and enlightenment. It is also an investment in your future, for once you've acquired the necessary jazz background, not only will you play all styles of drumming better, but you'll also be able to use that knowledge to teach others.
Paul's Picks of the Best Recorded Examples of Jazz Drumming
The following five classic recordings are some of my personal favorites and although they don't represent the earliest forms of jazz drumming (we'll get to that later), they do represent various jazz drumming styles and they swing so hard it's downright scary. (I'll suggest an additional five in each of my next articles.)
1. "Free For All" - Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers (Art Blakey drums)
2. "Swingin' New Big Band" - Buddy Rich (Buddy Rich - drums)
3. "Milestones" - Miles Davis ("Philly" Joe Jones - drums)
4. "Kind Of Blue" - Miles Davis (Jimmy Cobb - drums)
5. "Crescent" - John Coltrane Quartet (Elvin Jones - drums)
When playing these recordings, first just enjoy and absorb...jazz is powerful music of the human spirit. Next, pay attention to the way these drummers play the ride cymbal (the true signature of any jazz drummer). After that, listen to how their particular way of keeping time blends with the bass player and the rest of the rhythm section. Notice how each drummer's style of comping with the soloists keeps the music fired up and flowing. Pay attention to the sound of the drums and cymbals, the sound of the overall band, the dynamic changes, the interplay, the sound of the recording itself, etc. Also, really try to learn the compositions. Many of these songs are now jazz standards that you may get called to play one day, so learn them now. By doing so, any future jazz studies will make musical sense.
Next article: "The Jazz Ride Cymbal Pattern And How To Make It Swing - Part 1"
A different version of this article appeared in Musician.com on June 26, 2002