When I first started playing brushes, I copied what I heard on recordings, and what people like Joe Morello were doing. When Joe came to town, I would get as close as I could to watch how he played brushes. I taught myself a brush technique in which one hand primarily sustained, and the other hand articulated staccato notes. There are all sorts of variations, but the left hand stays on the head, and the right brush is off the head like a stick, so you have a staccato hand and a legato hand.
Years later, I heard a great group—the Bill Evans Trio—with drummer Marty Morell. Marty’s brush technique is really individualistic. What I came up with after watching him is the idea that brushes can work in the same way as sticks. By this I mean, instead of playing a staccato and legato hand, why not have both hands playing the same thing? The sticking is right-left-right-left, and you apply it to the drum with a horizontal motion. Both hands are legato, and the accents of 1-2-3-4 are created by pressing more of the brush fan onto the head. This is why it is very important to play the basic motions with the forward portion of the fans—not with the full fan pressed against the head.
We have to talk a little bit about grip, and this is entirely personal. If the result is musical and pleasing, the technique is correct. Some people naturally move counterclockwise, and some people are more comfortable moving clockwise. I prefer counterclockwise, but if you move clockwise, that’s perfectly fine.