More On Phrasing
by Butch Miles
Both Buddy Rich and Louie Bellson have recorded the chart “Time Check.” This time, Rich’s interpretation is slower (Roar of 74 — Groove Merchant #GM-528) than Bellson’s (Louie Rides Again — Percussion Power #2310-715). Bellson opens on hi-hats at a very brisk tempo. He also uses one of his own inventions (jingle sticks) for this chart. He plays many snare kicks and a fairly straight backbeat during the sax solos. This is basically a sax showcase and Lou plays it that way. Most of his breaks are based on either straight eighth notes or sixteenths. (Example #1).
Rich, on the other hand, starts and stays on the ride cymbal. He also kicks hard on the snare but uses his bass drum for more punch. His breaks on this chart are based on syncopation and straight triplets. (Ex. #2) Both men have the bass drum playing on all four beats per measure.
Also listen to the difference between what I play on “Shiny Stockins,” Basie Big Band, Montreux 77 (Pablo #2308-207) and the same tune on Milt Jackson + Count Basie + the Big Band (Pablo #2310-823). On the shout sections I punch more at Montreux and pull back on the Jackson album. The reason being that the majority of fills were taken by Milt on vibes. In the case of vibes vs. the big band, the band will win every time by sheer power and volume alone. Therefore, I kept my phrasing to pretty much a bare minimum in order to give the vibes a chance to be heard over the band. The same type of thinking also applies to a singer. He or she just can’t compete with so much power. You must pull back a little more than you normally would.
Fills can be so important leading into a phrase. Listen to Sonny Payne play “Blues in Hoss Flat” (The Chairman — Emus #ES-12023) compared to Harold Jones on the same chart (Live at Santa Monica — Pablo) Note the strength with which both men really lay hard on the hi-hat all the way through the chart. Sonny’s basic fill is, once again, simple triplets on snare and cymbals at the same time (Ex.#3), while Harold’s fills are more syncopated. Both must lead the band into that big, fat shout chorus. Both are different and both work. Always make sure that your fills are strong and direct.
Lead your band into the phrase.
Also listen to Mel Lewis’ work on his — Consummation album (Blue Note #84-346). He’s a much lighter player in terms of overall fills and phrases but what he plays is so right for that band. Listen especially to “Tiptoe.” It’s light but it’s right. Now listen to Sonny Payne on “Segue in C” (Chairman again) and later, recorded live, on Basie at Birdland (Roulette #R-52065). He’ s more comfortable on the latter album so he fills in more places and phrases more with the band.
Once again, as time passes and you become more aware of the nuances in the chart, you can adjust yourself accordingly. Keep your ears open! For example, Basie uses laid back quarter note triplets as an identification phrase. In order to phrase these with the band, I have to pull the tempo down slightly and play each note distinctly. The next bar is back in the original tempo. It’s not as difficult as it sounds. You just have to be aware otherwise the tempo will drop and stay there. Often, I won’t even play the phrase. I’ll keep a steady time underneath and let the band breathe (Ex.#4).
Always let the voicings be heard. There’ll be times (ballads generally) when you’ll want to phrase with the band but let the inner voices dominate. In such a case, phrase with them, but play two dynamic levels beneath them. For example, the band plays at mezzo forte (mf). you phrase at piano (p) level. This way, you support the band but don’t cover what may be a very important section of the arrangement.
One more short word on fills, listen. Hear what the band is playing melodically and rhythmically and adjust yourself to continue the flow. In the next issue, I’ll discuss various drummer’s big band set ups, muffling, cymbals, brush work and a key word in big band and small group playing — control.