Help! IDK how to play jazz

JonnyFranchi$e

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Folks - THANK YOU!

I had a hunch this would generate some great responses and sure enough.

I usually over-explain things so I purposely held back when asking the question. Now I have a little more time while administering the home skool US history test for my kids before logging into work...

Here's some good news:

1.

This is a really low-key affair. Young friends, getting married up north and we're having a local reception for them when they come back. They know us well and they LOVE our band. (Guitar player can't be there because they're having a kid). I told them, it'll just be the 3 of us getting vaguely jazzy with some groovy soul jazz mixed in, no time to practice etc., and the bride is over the moon at the idea.

So really this is NOT a high pressure gig. I meant "crash course" almost literally, like "help me learn how to crash this plane." But it's kind of a simulator anyway. So, "help me crash this plane because it'll be fun and it's a simulator anyway so no one's gonna get hurt."

My desire to "do really well" is two-fold. 1. I love this young couple - they're good friends and I want to make it nice for them and 2. the other guys are good jazz players. It's FUN to get into a new musical adventure and I want to go all in, keep up with em and all that so we can go to some cool musical places together!

2.

We already have some mellow soul-jazz stuff we play together regularly so that can fill some time.

Canteloupe Island
jazzy instrumental interpretation of Ain't No Sunshine
Mercy Mercy Mercy

that kinda thing.

So I don't need to be Elvin Jones for an hour - or at all - just for a few songs.


3.

I LOVE jazz music as a listener.

As soon as I got to the other side of the "hard rock is the only cool thing ever" phase around 17, I began to appreciate the genre. So most of the playlist suggestions I've heard and many are in my CD collection.

The late 50s/early 60s Blue Note stuff is my favorite. Hank Mobley Soul Station is a top 5 jazz album to me (partly because it doesn't do the elitist, intellectualism thing - it's catchy and accessible and swings SO HARD. But I digress). Grant Green, early Herbie, Lee Morgan. But most of the stuff is familiar to me.

4.

I have a BASIC sense of swing. Example: We do a LOT of backbeat stuff where we're hitting the 2s and 4s hard on kick/snare or whatever like pop music, but the ride or hat is swinging. (think "It's Good to Be King" by the late/great Tom Petty)

And I can swing with 2s and 4 on the hat, KIND OF... and this is where the bad news comes in.

Here's the bad news:

1.

While I'm a fan as a listener, it's in the same way that I would be a fan of a great basketball player or a sword-swallower... HOW DO YOU DO THAT!? It's like some kind of magic or wizardry or something.

I sometimes sound like the kid in 8th grade jazz band who is "The Rock Drummer" trying to play jazz.

And many of you nailed it. The kick and left hand. I feel GIMPY, like when we had to climb the rope in gym class.

And a lot of times I lose the HH when I'm accenting or whatever.

Or I resort to 1,2,3,4 on ride with the 2,4 on HH - losing the in-between swing notes on ride.

It's like I don't FEEL IT deeply enough to not lose it, if that makes sense.



2.

I really don't have time for lessons and all that. Full time job, 3 kids, homeskool teachin', lots of commitment and responsibilities etc.




But even the bad news ain't that bad.

I think the advice that jumped out is to play quetly! I get that. And our piano player is REAL good.

Also something about whether or not I should learn the songs. If we're playing "So What" or something - so many songs where there are specific hits in the "theme" or whatever you call it in the beginning and end. I want to kinda hit those and emphasize it with the other guys though. I'll try to get the songs just so I don't sound lost. But I'm not super detail-oriented. I won't let the song structures screw me up from just swinging.

Anyway I'll listen to the great Beatdown Brown and others you shared and I'm going to just play swingy stuff whenever I get the chance.


Any further high level advice is appreciated. This is a fun conversation. Thanks so much for all the folks who jumped in with great advice! PEACE
 

JonnyFranchi$e

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If it's possible, I would recommend to get a list of the songs you'll be playing from the pianist. That way you'll be able to get familiar with the structure of the songs. I always feel more comfortable playing a song if I can keep my place in the form of the song and familiarize myself with the way the chords sound. When playing jazz standards, the playing of the written melody of the song only happens at the beginning and the end, and 90% of the song will be devoted to solos created on the harmonic structure of the song, so the more familiar you are with the song, the more engaged you are going to be as an accompanist in following along and participating in the "story" that the soloist is telling.

I would always try and remind yourself that great jazz drumming can be very understated and minimal in its approach, the feel (generated in great measure by the ride cymbal) being the chief concern:


Kenny Clarke could make incredible exciting music with the feeling generated by his ride cymbal beat. The soloist is the picture and he's the frame that supports the music.


Billy Higgins was very influenced by Kenny Clarke's mid 50s style and creates an incredible trancelike swing with his ride cymbal and sparse comping rhythms.


Art Blakey, for all his reputation for being a bombastic kind of showman, was a drummer of great taste and restraint.


Philly Joe Jones could also drive a band playing very simply with incredible swing.

Listen to the recordings and play along with them using just the ride cymbal alone. Hear/feel the swing that all of these drummers created in their ride cymbal beat and enjoy the feeling of playing along with them.

I would imagine that you might be worried about:

-What to play in your left hand and bass drum when accompanying the soloist.

Learn rhythms from the sheet that I just attached against the ride cymbal beat/2&4 on HH/very soft 4/4 on bass drum. Just play along with these YouTube links and play each simple comping rhythm on a loop throughout and try and get the same constant dance groove that you get when you play funk music.

-What to play while trading 4s/8s or playing a drum solo.

Jazz is a language. If you spoke Spanish and you were about to go to Italy, 3 weeks would be kind of a stretch to learn a whole new language. I think a better approach would be to remind yourself that Italian comes from the same Latin origin as Spanish and maybe learn a couple of last minute phrases so you can order your pasta at the restaurant and the rest of the time just speak Spanish. R&B/rock/funk all share a common line of ancestry to jazz, so for this last minute preparation I would suggest just to have fun, play the allotted number of bars in your trades and don't worry too much.

In summary, I would say that at its essence, jazz is a groovy dance music built on generating intensity just like funk or any other backbeat music through a repeated drum rhythm: in this case, the ride cymbal beat. So just focus on enjoying that while you're playing, listen to the soloists/follow where they are in the structure of the song, and most importantly, HAVE FUN!

I hope that this is helpful. Best,

Keith

This is great, Keith - thanks. I love Lee Morgan but haven't gone that deep into his catalog. Great tune. And yeah Kenny Clarke Billy Higgins is owning it without ever getting too complex. I bet I've heard 100 albums with Kenny Clarke without ever paying attention. But this is tasty! THANKS for the great advice.
 
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squidart

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I love your attitude. You'll be just fine. The key words that jumped out to me were "reception/cocktail-dinner hour". Relax. Play a lot of brushes and don't freak out about knowing kicks n hits. If you're not certain just swing through it. Have fun.
 

jsp210

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There's 3 weeks practice time with very minimal time to practice and don't know what songs we're playing yet. (We're all friends in the same not-jazz band, but the piano and bass guys are fantastic and can totally roll the jazz like pros).
It is good that you are friends with these guys so that should alleviate some of the pressure. Don't stress too much about it but I would see if they would send you a list of the standards they typically draw from and then spend your time listening to both vocal and instrumental versions and try to get as familiar as you can with some of the melodies and how the drummers on the recording served the tunes. If they can't provide a list then listen to a lot of Ella Fitzgerald recordings and some of the other great vocalists.

The bottom line is that if you can keep good time and play with dynamics and sensitivity to the melody and soloists then worrying about having a vocabulary of "jazzy" stuff on the drums is of less importance. Just play sensitively and listen to the other guys and you'll be fine. Good luck!
 

Ickybaby

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Before the gig- make a playlist of jazz standards, cocktail jazz, Latin jazz, etc..... just listen to tons of jazz like you might be playing. ( I love Miles’ Electric Band But I doubt you’ll be channeling that vibe at your gig)

At the gig- Play bang-shang-alang lightly on the ride while chipping the hats on 2&4, listen well, keep the comping to a minimum, and have a blast. You’ll get through it and realize it’s no big deal. Lots of average hack drummers played jazz at receptions, bar mitzvahs, and VFW fish frys for decades.
 

jazzerone

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Heheheh... Learn To Play Jazz In 3 Weeks, A 21 Part Course, 1 Part Per Day, Guaranteed. This course will teach you how to swing, play brushes, comp, fill, trade 4's, take a solo chorus, control dynamics, follow the form, hold a solid quarter note pulse, place the swung 8th in different places, phrasing, and stick control. That's Part One.

Man, you don't need any of this stuff... you've already got everything you need, you listed it all in the Good News section of your post. As for the Bad News part, you can't fix any of that stuff in 3 weeks anyway, and if you tried you'd end up sounding worse than you think you do now. You know what sounds worse than a guy who "can't" play jazz? That same guy trying to play jazz by imitating a few things he thinks will make a difference. You'll sound much, much, much better just playing the tunes the way you hear and play them now, flaws and all, than you will trying to imitate what you think jazz should sound like. That's like trying to sing opera the way an opera singer sings opera... you don't sound like an opera singer, you sound like somebody pretending to be an opera singer. Sing in your own voice.

Having said that, find some nice old jazz cd's, any kind, doesn't matter, sit down in a comfortable chair and listen for a while. Some of what you hear will sink in, most of it won't, some of it will give you some hints and ideas, most of it won't. If the mood strikes, play along a little, but don't turn it into a "gotta learn how to play this" session. Listen to enjoy the music, think about what it is you say you love about jazz. Take THAT with you to the gig. If you enjoy yourself and what you're doing you won't even think about what you're playing, and neither will anybody else.

After the gig, if you're interested you can sign up for that 21 part course I mentioned, but you should know it's not just 21 parts, and it takes longer than 3 weeks. Have fun.
 

hardbat

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One basic suggestion:
You say you do play some swingy "backbeat" stuff -- in the jazz tunes, you can play pretty much the same thing except tone down (or eliminate) the back beat. Just don't whack 2 & 4.
It is common for a jazz swing tune to start with a 2-beat feel, and then switch to 4-beat feel during the solos. An easy way to do this is play the swing beat on your hi hat during the 2-beat feel (opening and closing by using your foot on 2&4), then switch to ride cymbal for the 4-beat feel. Never whack snare on 2&4 unless it's a dixieland tune.
 

JazzDrumGuy

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I'm you, without the gig!

Just take a basic small kit - snare, bass, hats, one cymbal. Maybe flip your FT to make a bop "bass". Maybe a small tom.
Brushes for sure.....good luck!
 

Seb77

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What about brushes? If it's a soft volume gig, just the basic "winshield swiper" beat can go a long way, and you'll never be too loud.
I wouldn't sweat comping, at all. With brushes, no one ever cares too much about comping, and actually no one cares about you comping with sticks either, as long as the time is solid, they'll be happy to play/listen. I'd even say a soft bass drum pulse is more important than any snare comping, it creates a feel, a groove, you want that with most jazz just the same as with other styles.
 

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I know i'm a bit late to this, but i'd like to give my two cents:
1. Listen to Bags' Groove album by Miles Davis over and over again. Take note of Kenny Clarke's feel and subtle comping.
2. For comping, just keep time (jazz ride pattern with HH on 2&4), or add a rim click on beat 4 to spice it up. If this is easy for you i'd recommend practicing as much of Comp Example 1 as possible so you can have some interaction.
3. Avoid always accenting on 1!!

Most importantly just have fun and enjoy the experience
 

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ThomasL

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I'd recommending moving just the snare and hihats closer to the piano and bass player and playing brushes for the whole set. That will keep you from playing the bass drum (too loudly), tom fills and cymbal crashes on 1.
 

DrummerJustLikeDad

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This might sound elitist, so forgive me if it does, but given the good humor, affection, and easy friendship you seem to have with your friends; you couldn’t ask for a safer, more enviable environment in which to try to get your jazz on.

Just like any other job, you’re serving the client.

The good news here is, the client in this case is NOT jazz. For all the fear and respect which jazz duly commands given its intimidating legacy and sophistication, the client you’re actually serving here is what your friends’ IDEA of jazz is. Soft, subdued, and classier than the party across the lake singing “You ain’t seen n-n-nothin yet.” In the bride’s eyes, I dare say, most of that sparkly, grown up music she’s imagining is all on the pianist anyway. All you have to do is bring your sensitivity which you already have, lay low, hang back, celebrate your good friends and have a great night!
 

jansara

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Listen to Elvin and Tony and the boys daily, for three weeks, non-stop. You still won't know how to play a piano bar Bossa but you'll learn a little bit about Jazz. Report back. Peace.
 

JonnyFranchi$e

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This might sound elitist, so forgive me if it does, but given the good humor, affection, and easy friendship you seem to have with your friends; you couldn’t ask for a safer, more enviable environment in which to try to get your jazz on.

Just like any other job, you’re serving the client.

The good news here is, the client in this case is NOT jazz. For all the fear and respect which jazz duly commands given its intimidating legacy and sophistication, the client you’re actually serving here is what your friends’ IDEA of jazz is. Soft, subdued, and classier than the party across the lake singing “You ain’t seen n-n-nothin yet.” In the bride’s eyes, I dare say, most of that sparkly, grown up music she’s imagining is all on the pianist anyway. All you have to do is bring your sensitivity which you already have, lay low, hang back, celebrate your good friends and have a great night!
Actually this sounds like the exact opposite of elitist to me, and it sounds like a great perspective. thanks
 

RogersLudwig

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If you can play a decent shuffle, you can morph it into a jazz beat (ding din k-a ding/spang spank-al ang) with little or no problem. That beat will see you through a lot of music and so many standards are structured as AABA/32 bars, that you can go for hours letting your buddy on the piano solo away.

You are going to do well.
 

dcrigger

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And many of you nailed it. The kick and left hand. I feel GIMPY, like when we had to climb the rope in gym class.
And that's fine - because that's the absolutely least important part of this style of playing - particularly in a cocktail hour party situation. I can literally just play ride cymbal and hat for whole tunes and leaders are as happy as they can be. This isn't an Elvin situation, it's not even a Connie Kay situation... it's cocktail jazz... playing very respectful, literally uninteresting, straight simply is really quite appropriate. Don't let 'the need to punctuate more" mess up the cool demeanor of your groove. And whatever you do punctuate with - keeping it at - or below - the level of the ride cymbal.

I would think if you're listening and playing time and the bass and piano sound good - then nothing else is really needed from you.

And yes - you can play time right on through "So What?"... I have... on purpose. :)

Anyway again - have a great time - I think you're going to have a blast..
 

5 Style

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The three tunes that you've listed are kind of funky type tunes and nothing that you really have to use the classical swing pattern for. So if you've played rock or funk and can dial in a lower intensity you ought to be good on those tunes even if you haven't really learned how to play a swing pattern convincingly. I came for a rock background and I was many years into it before I got deep into the jazz thing. I realized that the swing pattern is different enough from what's required of rock or really any backbeat type of music that it's a real adjustment. There's also some things about playing jazz stuff that are different beyond just the swing pattern, but that's the kind of stuff that you learn when you've been listening to and playing this stuff for a while... though a good teacher can be a shortcut.

Anyway if it's just this kind of "funky jazz" material that you'll be playing, you might already have the tools to play it...
 


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