Jeff's Brush Comping
I am going to assume that if you are reading this blog you are already familiar with Jeff's incredible brush technique, as well as the video on the right where he describes his approach to brushes (and takes one of the best solos on a ballad that I have ever heard). If you haven't yet had a chance to check out this video, I can summarize Jeff's approach as follows:
- Strike the drum laterally instead of vertically
- Always keep one brush on the snare drum at all times
- In addition to the two principles from Jeff above, I would add one more; try to keep your sweeping pattern mostly the same, don't change it to accommodate a particular rhythm. Although Jeff doesn't talk about this in the video explicitly, I often see him model this behavior when he is playing.
For me, this advice and Jeff's brush playing in general have been tremendously influential. I particularly love the warm, legato sound he gets from the drum, and seek to emulate that sound in my own playing.
Brushes aren't sticks
In my last series of posts about brush comping, I started with the premise of getting my brushes to have more of the rhythmic freedom of my sticks. In particular I noticed I was constrained by my comping only feeling good going in one direction (I'm not an ambi-turner!), and set about trying to change this. Although I felt I was making some progress on my own, it wasn't until I had a lesson with my great teacher Chuck Redd that I had a real breakthrough.
Basically, brushes aren't sticks. Specifically, trying to keep the right hand playing spang-a-lang while the left hand comps on the "+" of beats two and four sounds cluttered. Why? Because unlike with sticks, brushes are playing on one instrument. When you comp on the "+" of beats two and four with sticks, it doesn't sound as redundant, because your right hand is getting a completely different sound on the cymbal than your left hand is getting on the snare drum. With brushes you don't have this luxury, and so you have to make an adjustment to get a swinging and uncluttered sound.
Chuck showed me a really simple solution to this problem. Instead of playing spang-a-lang, sweep quarter notes with your right hand whenever you are comping on the "+" of beats two and four. Playing this way you still get the sensation of continuity and swing from your right hand, and you can get a nice big hit with your left hand. On the left is a video of me demonstrating some of this type of comping with "They Say It's Wonderful" from Chuck's terrific 2002 album "All This And Heaven Too".
Practical vs. Idealistic goals
Which leads me to a bigger point about setting musical goals. For me, you always have to find a balance between what you would ideally like to achieve, and what you need to achieve in order to be a working musician. The limiting factor of course, is time. Especially as I get older, I find that more and more I am trying to set goals that will get me hired for gigs.
That is not to say that setting super ambitious, really impractical goals is always a bad thing. If Ari Hoenig had given up on playing bebop melodies on the drum set because people thought it was impractical, we never would have gotten to hear this. And regardless of whether he is your favorite drummer, you have to admit that Ari's unique talent really opens up some new possibilities on the instrument.
Of course, there are lots of examples like Ari's in the history of jazz. Musicians who refused to accept what was possible or practical for whatever reason, and did things on their instrument that people had assumed was impossible. The legend goes that when Loius Armstrong first went to Europe, other musicians kept on examining his trumpet, assuming that he was able to play so high because of some sort of trick instrument.
That being said, you wouldn't know who Ari Hoenig, or Loius Armstrong for that matter, was if they weren't also able to do the things that got them hired for gigs in the first place! In other words, Ari can't just play melodies on the drums all day, he also has to play good time, interact with the band, learn hits, read music, play with brushes, and do all the myriad other less glamorous things that make up a working jazz drummers stock in trade.
A practical exercise for developing Jeff's brush comping sound
This exercise was looking me right in the face from the beginning, but it took me a while to realize it. Here is what you do:
Syncopation Pg. 33-45
- Both hands sweep continuously back and forth in a kind of windshield wiper motion
- Both hands play the written line, right hand plays notes on the beat, left hand plays notes off
- Whenever you have to play a rhythm from the written line, add a little pressure to your sweep with your fingers
- Feet play regular jazz pattern, right foot lightly feathering on all four beats, left foot crisply closing the hihat on beats two and four
Aim for a relaxed, legato sound while still clearly delineating the written line. As with all things brush related, this is much easier to see and hear than it is to read about, so here is a video of me playing the first four lines from pg. 34.