Shelly Manne (1920-1984) was an historically important jazz drummer most associated with the ‘West Coast Jazz’ style. Shelly was so versatile that he also played on hundreds of Hollywood movie, and television soundtracks. While Shelly’s extensive discography is amazing. The list of musicians he has played, or recorded with is mind-boggling.
NSMD’s David Barsalou asked internationally recognized drummers Claire Arenius, Marko Djordjevic, and Dave DiCenso to share their ideas and opinions on the following quote attributed to Shelly Manne;
Shelly Manne said...
"The ride beat is the easiest and the most difficult thing a drummer will ever play".
In great jazz drummers, the ride cymbal swing rhythm is the hallmark of individuality and creative flow. You can tell the differences between great jazz masters simply by listening to their ride cymbal swing and phrasing. Listen and enjoy Jimmy Cobb on Miles' recordings playing a wonderfully "simple" but powerful quarter note ride rhythm, with a big pulse that fills each bar of music. And, listen to later Tony Williams playing a pushing driving almost ahead of the beat ride rhythm that is uniquely phrased in groups of fives at times. Elvin Jones created such a powerful ride flow with the way he phrased triplets.
I remember, studying with master drummer Charli Persip in New York City back in the early 1980's, asking how to develop the ride cymbal rhythm so it would swing deeply and consistently…With Charli telling me that you have to keep that pulse on the ride cymbal exactly and consistently every chorus of a tune. At that time in my life, being a younger drummer, he said that at first I would be doing well to play just one chorus of a jazz tune with consistency, so that the ride cymbal swung the band. Sure enough, he was right. We sat down together, and he played his cymbal, and I joined him until both sticks felt like one. I heard the sound, but needed to work on it. So I went home and practiced, and practiced keeping that ride rhythm consistent until I could go clear through the whole tune swinging precisely and deeply. Years later, I still am in awe of the ride cymbal, and of the powerful effect if has on the entire band. It is the most simple and difficult part of drumming!
Had I been approached about this statement only about a decade ago I would have been hard pressed to find anything meaningful to say about it. What's more, I would have probably marveled at the notion of someone singling out the ride beat as being anything but a mere ostinato you keep while playing all your "cool" comping ideas such as syncopated rhythms, accents, embellishments, polymetric phrasing, etc. "against it". Even to this day the phrase "I am learning to play Jazz!" means exactly that to so many - get that 'spang-spang a lang' on auto pilot and then work on your independence, with little or sometimes no regard to the actual music. Today I marvel at how misguided this approach is and how misguided I was for many years, thinking more or less in the same way.
Before I go on any further, one more thing regarding Shelly Manne's statement: one has to remember than many styles of music do not put the same emphasis on the ride that Jazz does - so as you read this, please understand that I find Shelly’s statement most relevant if we look at it in relation to Jazz music.
In one sentence, the ride beat is the lifeblood of Jazz, perhaps more so than any other sound we hear in this genre. But ever since the game changing contributions of Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes, Tony Williams and other exponents of great jazz playing (and GREAT ride playing as well), the ride has also become a singular connection to the origin of jazz drumming - the New Orleans brass band, it's percussion section and the beats commonly referred to as "second line" or "street beat". These have, in turn, been influenced by various African styles of drumming, rhythms from the Middle East and India and the marching and brass band tradition from different parts of Europe. Ultimately, this clearly speaks to the fact that New Orleans Jazz was probably the first time the world heard true World Music. All of this predicated on the fact that the Big Easy was once the most vibrant port in the world, with people coming to it from every corner of the Earth - a lot of them as slaves, living (and dying) in appalling conditions and holding on to music as one way of preserving some measure of human dignity which was all but stripped away by the inhuman ways commerce was conducted in those days. I would certainly submit that in large part, commerce is still conducted this way to this very day - with little regard for anything that doesn't show a profit and commercial interest often put ahead of the sanctity of human life.
But life has a way of moving past obstacles and was beautifully reflected in the lively syncopation inherent to the music of pre-drumset Jazz. This was due in large part to the fact that it wasn't one drummer who played, but at least two, sometimes even three. This made it possible for all types of phrasing and counter rhythms to take place because there was no independence required - the bass drummer would play one rhythm, the snare drummer something else and the player holding hand held cymbals or other miscellaneous percussion something different still. To this day there are bands playing this style and they are worth checking out - on one hand the groove they create is unbelievable; on the other, anyone who wants to play Jazz but doesn't understand the connection with this New Orleans tradition is missing a big piece of the puzzle - akin to having the lenses for a pair of glasses one needs for reading, but no frame to hold them in the correct place.
As time moved on, certain things happened to Jazz that took away the moving and syncopated rhythms and replaced them with a steadier beat. Without getting into a big history lesson (and I am skipping ahead nearly a half a century), suffice it to say that the 1930's brought on swing music, big bands and dance halls, and a drumset which began to seriously resemble what we have today. The music was largely a vehicle for the dancers and drumming was oftenrelegated to a dance beat (if you listen to some examples of the four on the floor and HUGE high hat sounds drummers made in big band it is hard not to hear a parallel to today's dance and techno). In a large dance hall with 300 couples doing their lindy-hoop, syncopation and rhythmic adventure gave way to steadier pulses and less rhythmic exploration, and the music itself became more and more conservative.
Please read these last few lines with a grain of salt, though: it sounds like some hard knocks on the swing era, and they may be, but I am also supremely aware of some amazing music that came out of this period from composers like Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Count Basie and wonderful musicians from Louie Armstrong and Chick Webb to Benny Goodman and Lionel Hampton.
In the 1940's a new musical movement grew out as a backlash against the relative stagnancy dance music Jazz had become. Musicians began getting together after hours upon finishing their big band gigs, eager to try out sounds which were brewing in their minds and hearts but were not welcome on the dance hall or musical theater band stands.
They got together in smaller groups and started moving melody and harmony to places different than the norm of the day. Initially, drums were still quite stagnant by and large, though there were certainly drummers who were ahead of their time in terms of ability. But as Be-Bop started taking off, the drums became less of the background and more present in the overall sound. The steady ride beat replaced the hi hat sound of the big band and drummers got better and better at filling up the space with snare and bass drum accents and phrases while the ride went on, uninterrupted.
Eventually, however, there was only so much bass drum and snare activity against a steady ride that the music could take before becoming too dense, obstructed by the steady stream of "dropped bombs" drummers would fling at it. I do not know if drummers noticed this themselves, if it had been pointed out by other musicians, or a combination of the two, but sometime in the late fifties/early sixties the ride started to become the focal point of Jazz drumming and we find it there to this day. MOST IMPORTANTLY, it has not only kept its role as the primary timekeeping tool, but it has also taken on the new role of being the primary voice when it comes to ways of organizing the phrasing, all the while becoming rhythmically more adventurous yet more musically accommodating. And ultimately, as I have alluded to earlier, the rhythms drummers began playing on the ride as variations resembled greatly the rhythms you would hear from the second line snare and bass drum players, in effect bringing drums full circle in terms of the rhythmic interest, forward motion and propulsion while staying firmly connected to the sounds and rhythms of the New Orleans tradition, where it all began over a century ago! Nothing less than a ride revolution took place, and we are still playing and hearing the ride in much the same way as the pioneers conceived it - a combination of the straight quarter note andtraditional "Jazz ride beat" on one side and all sorts of rhythmic variations stemming from the rich tradition of New Orleans second line syncopation.
As for Shelly Manne's quote about the ride being the easiest and most difficult thing a drummer could ever play: when it comes to the "easy bit", this may have been right in Shelly Manne's era, when radio was full of Jazz music and this was what people heard most of the time. Every day presence of Jazz sounds made it easier for the drummers coming up in the 40's, 50's and 60's to relate to the ride beat as something fairly common, and they would sit down and play it the same way a kid sits down these days and plays a Rock or Hip Hop beat. But for all of us who came up in the back-beat era, relating to the ride rhythm has been a thing of initiation. On the radio Jazz music has been relegated to specialty and niche stations, you can hardly ever see Jazz on TV and the only way to really hear it is by knowing someone who has been bitten by the Jazz bug and provides the gateway to a style still in existence but very much on the margins in terms of relative popularity and presence. And this is, indeed, what makes the ride rhythm one of the hardest things a drummer can play - due to the "sonic confusion" caused by loud snare and bass drum sounds in popular music (again, don't get me wrong, I love some of this "loud snare and bass drum music" - Fishbone, The Police, Peter Gabriel and many, many others). But it has made our ears respond unfavorably to hearing "drum space" being filled up by such a "light" sound as the ride cymbal is in comparison to heavy kick and snare. Getting used to the ride being a voice at all, and a dominant one at that, takes some serious work when it comes to rearranging the faders of our internal mixing board. Personally I found this to be a very difficult task, but one I feel I have managed to overcome thanks to listening to some great music as well as the help I have received from Miroslav Karlovic, David Moss, Ian Froman, Jon Hazilla, Ed Uribe, Uros Markovic and Joe Hunt, whose influence on the way I hear and play Jazz is of utmost importance to me.
And finally, on a personal note, regarding ride cymbal sound: I have heard many players play beautiful ride cymbals, or play their cymbals with a great touch - or both. I have worked diligently to find the sound I find pleasing, that respects the tradition and also has some unique qualities to it. But if a Martian came down tomorrow and asked me to point him to a great example of the ride cymbal sound on Earth, I would sit him down, put on John Coltrane's, ‘A Love Supreme’, observe the green creature as he shakes his head amazed by the incredible song ‘Resolution’ (track 2 on the album) and then watch his ride cymbal sensors go OFF THE CHARTS as he hears Elvin's ride during the piano solo!
For me, hands down, the best sound I have ever heard on the ride - full of rich low frequencies yet clear and defined, with a combination of wood and glass elements, just the right amount of sustain, a beautiful crash... I could go on forever, but as I continue I am haunted by the sound of Roy Haynes' ride on ‘Matrix’ (from Chick Corea's - Now He Sings, Now He Sobs) - I love that one also! So, don't take my word for it... Find your own favorite ride sound... And then learn how to play the ride... You will see that, as far as Jazz drums go, the ride beat is the easiest and most difficult thing you will ever play!
Being primarily a back beat drummer I can relate what Shelly Manne said about the cymbal beat to playing 2+4. Playing 2+4 is physically simple and easy to understand. However, becoming a master of it requires learning and mastering the myriad ways of incorporating it. It is also required that we create a rich tone, a sympathetic feel that can accommodate multiple scenarios, and unerringly propel the band forward while using this "simple" device. This is a life-long pursuit. Mind you, my wife - a layperson - can bang out a pretty consistent 2+4! So, there you have it.
Berklee College of Music