Reflections on Shelly Manne - Chapter Two
By David Barsalou
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 Bill Goodwin, Gordy Knudtson, Gregg Potter, John JR Robinson, Terry Silverlight, Todd Sucherman, and Paul Wertico 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".
As Shelly Manne implied, simple is hard. I originally imitated his beat and sound but as my playing evolved, my beat became a more personal expression. I feel the great bass players that I worked with (Gary Peacock, Herbie Lewis, Red Mitchell and Leroy Vinnegar ) became the reason that I developed strength in that area.
The traditional function of a "ride" pattern/rhythm is to provide a consistent interpretation of the music's underlying rhythmic subdivision. It is controlling the flow of time and the interpretation of the feel for the other musicians in the band.
In a jazz/ swing setting, the ride pattern is the strongest statement of the time coming from the drums. It can be softly supported by kick drum playing quarter notes. In backbeat music, the ride is back ground feel/subdivision giving the location points for the kick and snare to play. In latin music, it is the clave or cascara functioning as the ride rhythm.
Whatever the music, the ride pattern feel must be consistent. I've found that consistency is best whenever I can find a continual reciprocating up/down or side to side movement cycle to play it. This helps my arm/hand to become more like a pendulum, or a flywheel, helping me create continuous, even, flowing momentum/motion. A constant dance, or "swing", of the hand/arm if you will.
Before drum machines, the ride pattern was the rhythmic clock in a band. A good drummer could adjust the feel of this clock a bit to help the musicians find a common rhythmic ground for their performance. Sometimes this group adjustment results in a feel that can't really be programmed to be played by machines. This collective feel gave uniqueness to a band's sound.
In my opinion the importance of the ride rhythm has diminished in pop music production over the last 30 years due to the advent of drum machines. The ride rhythm function is now sometimes reassigned to different sounds and/or instruments, if at all. Machines have a clock built in them. When humans play along with machines they must adjust their feel to the machines. There is no latitude for rhythmic give and take and therefore less uniqueness.
If you are interested in studying drummers ride patterns listen to records made prior to 1982. That was the year the Linn Drum was introduced. You will hear much more variety in the feel possibilities. For newer options, seek out live recordings of "captured" music played without the assistance of machines. Music without overdubs/ sweetening/ or corrections. This is tricky because nowadays it's hard to say what has been manipulated after the recording and what hasn't.
Shelly had an interesting insight into drumming. With such a wide range of work, he certainly had a grasp on the instrument. He not only played Davey Tough on screen in the 1959 Sal Mineo classic, ‘The Gene Krupa Story’. He was also Frank Sinatra’s drumming mentor while Frank was filming ‘The Man With The Golden Arm’ in 1955. Buddy must have been busy!
Bottom line, Manne had “great feel”. I think with any style of drumming, the main objective is ‘feel’, to make it flow. Play it smooth and have it feel natural. Anything forced or contrived always takes away from the syncopated ‘cool’ of a part.
With the ride beat the same concept applies…Make it feel smooth and natural when executed. Shelly is right that it’s a simple pattern technique wise, but it can be difficult to play it in a way that makes a section feel seamless. I find that to be the biggest challenge, therefore making it difficult.
The best way to master the ride beat, is to play it slowly and work with it. Gradually increase the tempo, and let it carry the pulse. You will feel it when it’s right, and fits in the groove. Keep it simple, and in time…Unless you are asked to play ‘Nutville’ at 150 beats per minute, then all bets are off. That ride flies!
John JR Robinson
Shelly Manne is correct stating that “The ride beat is the easiest and the most difficult thing a drummer will ever play". You can control any size band with just quarter notes played on the ride. Everybody must listen. This may be the most difficult of ride cymbal playing is simplicity. On the other hand, up-tempo ride patterns create identifiable repetitive phrases that other band members recognize. There are so many variables to any ride cymbal. I have become very addicted to ride cymbals. They make drummers unique. All of us have a love affair for ride cymbals. I still get that warm feeling every time I play on my ride and apply it musically. Everybody can “hit” a ride cymbal but can you create music with it?
I too have marveled at how simple the ride beat is when observed as an arrangement of uncomplicated rhythmic patterns, sometimes just basic quarter notes, and how complex and involved it is for a drummer to actually make it feel good musically when played. I've also learned that the physical and mental techniques necessary to play the jazz ride beat well directly cross over and apply to all other styles and genres of music. Although the patterns may vary from style to style, their importance and depth as the foundation and heartbeat dictate every situation.
The drummer's depth, experience and understanding of the ride beat or any groove influences the musical level at which this can be achieved. This can make the difference between a great musical experience and just an average one. Music is about listening, so it's important for a drummer to listen to and study other drummers who have beautifully and successfully implemented the necessary techniques, concepts and ideas into whatever style or genre they are identified with. Training one's ear this way is the best preparation for the challenge and discipline of playing a deep groove and developing a keen ear… Listening to the music happening around the groove when actually playing in a live group environment.
It's easiest when everyone in a group is on the same page and in sync with the drummer's direction and interpretation of the feel and time. When that's not the case, the drummer holds the key to improving the situation, and it's his/her responsibility to do so. The drummer, channeled through the ride beat or any basic groove, has the power to elevate the level of the entire ensemble. The drummer’s command, knowledge, library, experience, sensitivity, listening ability and control determine the level at which this can be achieved.
Some technical aspects of how to achieve and articulate a good-feeling ride beat or otherwise:
1) Playing steady time without drastically speeding up, slowing down, or strictly following a metronome's perfection, yet maintaining some sort of consistency.
2) Starting with a simple rhythmic pattern, sometimes as simple as quarter notes only, then occasionally adding varied patterns and dynamics to create shading, color, and contour.
3) Having a solid knowledge of the library in a particular style to draw from. First, approach a groove by drawing from the obvious and traditional patterns that have been established for each genre studied and carefully listened to. Next, place and arrange the patterns at the right musical moments by "listening" carefully to what the other musicians are playing in a sensitive and complimentary fashion. By doing so, it not only is a tip of the hat to what has come before, but also opens the door for creativity and originality. Again, this can only happen by listening carefully as every musical moment happens and making tasteful musical decisions as to how to react and interact.
4) Any pattern starts as written notation. It can be played robotically and mathematically verbatim. Or, it can be humanized by gently lengthening the distance between notes and changing the intensity and dynamics from note to note or a group of notes. In jazz, when a drummer provides a "bed" of contour, shading and color, it supports the soloists and fellow accompanists by helping create a deep, comfortable groove. It all begins with the drummer’s responsibility and power to provide a simple beat while cleverly blending color, shading and tasteful nuances, ultimately inspiring the players and the listeners.
There’s a vast canyon of space between the three notes that make up the jazz swing beat. Just like there’s a vast canyon of space in a simple 2 and 4 backbeat groove. There’s infinite space as to where to “put it.” So, perhaps that’s what Shelly was referring to…It’s technically easy but when you look at it under a microscope, the stating of the time on the ride was unique to each individual player. It’s pretty deep.
"Getting a cymbal to swing is definitely an art in itself, since it basically involves hitting a plate of metal with a stick and somehow making that metal plate come alive. When I play, in my mind, I'm dancing with the cymbal and I try to approach playing the cymbal like a painter, using a numerous variety of strokes, sweeps, jabs, etc. In fact, a student of mine once told me that I look like I'm sword fighting as well as painting. It's a wonderful feeling turning what could be just noise into a living musical dance that moves people and one that is also a personal sound and individual musical signature. I think this is actually more about each individual drummer's touch, technique, and approach, as well as their overall musical and rhythmic concepts, than it is about the individual cymbal itself, since a great cymbal player can make a bad cymbal sound great and a bad cymbal player can make a great cymbal sound bad."