Part 1: Clyde Stubblefield Interpretations

Fusing rhythms from one style of music to another can help a player develop new ideas and fresh rhythmic approaches that might not have yet been previously explored. In this lesson we’ll apply the classic drum break that the late, great funk pioneer Clyde Stubblefield played on “Funky Drummer” within a swing feel. To hear this groove, check out the tune on the 1986 James Brown compilation album In the Jungle Groove. The break begins around the 5:21 mark.

When experimenting in this manner, I find that my jazz accompaniment patterns sound more direct and purposeful, partly due to concentrating on the groove-oriented nature of each funk rhythm. Practicing and applying these linear rhythms can also be helpful for players looking for ways to break away from the layered coordination approach that most jazz drummers typically practice. These converted rhythms provide a special fl ow to the pulse that swings, is funky, and has a spatial quality.

Let’s begin with the original Stubblefield drum break. Work on this pattern first before attempting the variations that follow. As you practice, focus on your dynamic balance and consistency between your hands and feet. Work on this groove slowly at first with a metronome, and be patient with your progress.

Funkify Your Swing Feel 1

This first variation utilizes a Renaissance- and Baroque-period technique called augmentation, in which an original rhythm or melody is restated with a lengthened value of each note’s duration. In this case, we’ll take the Stubblefield break and double each note’s value. With this technique applied, the one-measure groove becomes a two-measure, 8th-note phrase that we’ll move to the ride.

Funkify Your Swing Feel 2

Exercise 3 illustrates the two-measure phrase interpreted with a swung shuffle feel.

Funkify Your Swing Feel 3

This next variation applies a Jimmy Cobb–style ride cymbal quarter-note pulse on top of the rhythm, providing more space within the feel.

Funkify Your Swing Feel 4

Exercise 5 demonstrates the phrase with a standard jazz ride pattern.

Funkify Your Swing Feel 5

Exercise 6 breaks up the rhythm of the ride cymbal beat in between each written snare note, creating more of a linear sound with the hands.

Funkify Your Swing Feel 6

This next variation splits the shuffle rhythm between the ride and snare.

Funkify Your Swing Feel 7

Exercise 8 places the ride cymbal in unison with each written snare rhythm.

Funkify Your Swing Feel 8

In Exercise 9, the ride cymbal is played in unison with each bass drum and hi-hat figure.

Funkify Your Swing Feel 9

You can also try re-ordering the phrase by playing the second measure followed by the first. In the following example, Exercise 6 is re-ordered in this manner.

Funkify Your Swing Feel 10

Return to the previous examples, and try re-ordering each phrase. These are but a few variations on this classic Clyde Stubblefield drum break. I encourage you to use your imagination and come up with examples of your own and apply them to your own music.


Steve Fidyk leads the Parlour Project quartet, featuring his original compositions and arrangements. He is a member of the Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia under the direction of Terell Stafford, and a former member of the Army Blues Big Band of Washington, DC. He is also an artist in residence at Temple University and the University of the Arts.