Jazz Drummer’s Workshop
Reading And Jazz Interpretation
by Ed Soph
The basic jazz ride cymbal pattern, which is analogous to the sustained, “walking” bass line, is characterized by accented second and fourth beats in 4/4 time. Whereas there are as many variations of the ride pattern as there are drummers, they all have as their Foundation:
Compare two very different interpretations of the ride pattern, like Elvin Jones’ and Jimmy Cobb’s. They have the two and four accent pattern as their foundation.
Constant accentuation of the ride pattern on the first and third heats of each bar does not swing. Swing? I mean the feeling of forward momentum and anticipation which is a characteristic of jazz time since the explorations of Max Roach in the early days of be-bop.
Which pattern, or fragments of a pattern one uses, depends upon tempo, (the rhythmic interpretation of the soloist) or the phrasing of the bass line. It is obvious that the ears are primary instruments of interpretation.
Another important factor in interpretation is the style of jazz being played. One wouldn’t play in the style of Andrew Cyrille if you had a gig with Benny Goodman! An example of stylistic interpretation is the use of the bass drum. Some styles of jazz are not compatible with a bass drum played on every beat of the bar and some are. You must be able to make the distinction.
Of course, stylistic interpretation must he done within the overall interpretation of the music itself, primarily the structure and phrases of a particular tune. We know that keeping time (maintaining a consistent yet flexible tempo) must be done musically, not mechanically. This means that timekeeping must follow the structure of the tune. You must keep the structure of the tune in your playing just as a harmonic/ melodic instrument must. Within this overall structure are dynamics, phrases, articulations, and accent patterns, especially those recurring patterns which form an integral part of the tune’s structure.
You must be aware of the rhythmic style of the particular piece of music. You must be able to express these musical elements on your instrument in either a complementary or contrasting manner.
The most important instrument is your ears. The drum part is merely a guide which outlines the music’s structure, important accent patterns, rhythmic figures, articulations, phrasings, rhythmic style, and sometimes, dynamics. It is left to you, your ears and your musical and technical command of the instrument to interpret that guide. Your own musical expression must harmonize with the musical expression of the group, combo or big band. Don’t just play the notes on the paper. Listen to what happens in the spaces which surround those notes. Relate what you see on the paper to what you hear in the music of the rest of the group. Get the melody of the music “in your head.” Then you won’t have to count choruses or phrases. You will hear them.
The structure is the framework within which the musical elements are arranged. A common structure, or form, is AABA. The letters mean nothing in themselves. They indicate those sections of the structure which are the same (A) and those which are different (B). You ought to be able to hear how they are the same or how they are different and interpret them accordingly. In this example, the A section (which may contain any number of bars; the music is there to tell you how many) is played twice. The B section is usually called the bridge because it connects the first A sections with the last one. The bridge (B) may go into another key. It may be louder or softer than the A sections. It may change rhythmic style. It may go into a different time signature. It may go into double-time, or half-time. You must follow the structure in your playing. You must change your playing (there are infinite ways) to match the changes within the form of the music. And unless you are given a “free-form” solo, you must follow the form in your solo, just as a horn soloist must. This sort of discipline generates freedom.
Dynamics are often left out of a drum chart. A good rule is that if there is an instrument in the group which you cannot hear, you are too loud. Listen. The difference between soft and loud is as great as you wish to make it. Compare a whisper to a shout. Music and drumming, without dynamics and the contrasts which they produce are uninteresting and monotonous. Accent patterns and rhythmic figures which recur within the structure of the music are an intrinsic part of your interpretation. Listen
Rhythmic style may be indicated on the music itself. If not, listen to the bass player. For example, is he playing in 2, in 4, straight 8th notes, or swung 8th notes?
For phrases we return to the structure. For example, in AABA we must know how many bars there are in A and B. We must phrase in a rhythmic and melodic fashion to show those divisions. Listen. One would not phrase in eight bar segments if he were playing a tune composed of five bar phrases.
Articulations mean how a note is played. Short, long, accented, tied to another note and extended in duration. We must find the appropriate sounds on our instrument to complement or contrast these articulations. One wouldn’t play a short note with a cymbal crash.
To play musically we must think, practice, and listen musically. We must have a thorough knowledge of the stylistic development of the music we wish to play. Listen to the masters of music, young and old. Don’t just listen to the drums. Listen to how the drums relate within the rest of the group. How they relate within the rhythm section. How they relate to the soloist. The same musical elements used by Baby Dodds when he played with Louis Armstrong in the early ’20’s are used by the great modernists of today. LISTEN.