Reflections on Shelly Manne: Chapter 5

Shelly Manne (1920-1984) - 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 literally mind-boggling.

Not So Modern Drummer columnist David Barsalou asked internationally recognized drummers – Billy Drummond, Larry Finn, Tim Griffin, Rod Morgenstein, Alphonse Mouzon, and Lewy Stix

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 far as playing the ride cymbal for me, it's been my main objective, especially when it comes to playing Jazz that's based on Swinging. It's been said that it's the Center of The Universe for a Jazz Drummer and I tend to agree with that description. I've been fascinated with it since I first became aware of how much clarity was available after I heard Miles Davis' "Four & More" with drummer Tony Williams. I hadn't really heard such clarity before or at least it didn't hit me so hard until then. This was around 1973 or so. After that, I of course searched for anything I could get my hands on by him and that band which of course led me on a fantastic journey and a discovery of so many drummers who also had a sound and quality that was very personal. I searched them all out and went as far as trying to find actual cymbals like theirs so that I could sound like them. First it was by listening to the records then by actually seeing them all up close and personal and getting to know them all personally. 

Art Blakey, Tony Williams, Roy Haynes, Arthur Taylor, Connie Kay, Philly Joe Jones, Billy Higgins, Jimmy Cobb, Joe Chambers, Ben Riley, Billy Hart, Al Foster, Pete LaRoca, Elvin Jones, Jack DeJohnette, Harold Jones, Eddie Gladden, Al Harewood, Lenny White and Jon Christianson just to name a few that really spoke to me with the way they played and sounded on the cymbal. And I also found out that it really all led to Kenny Clarke who's largely responsible for the liberation from the sock cymbal to the ride cymbal in a lot of ways. 

Of course there are many more drummers that play the ride cymbal beautifully and uniquely that have influenced me…The ride cymbal is everything because without it I couldn't play most of the music that I perform. Also most of the (Jazz) music I enjoy listening to has the ride cymbal as it's main driving force. It takes a long time to learn how to do it and develop it. I've spent a large part of my life, trying to figure out how to play it and then develop it so that it sounds good and it swings/grooves. That's just me. Others may focus on soloing or chops, etc. That's fine and I love that stuff as well but 98% of the time, I'm keeping time. People hire me to keep time. When they ask me to solo, that's nice and something a little extra.



I think there's a literal interpretation and a more general one. The literal one being that the cymbal beat,(especially in Jazz), is the focal point of your feel. It's one of the first things you learn, and you spend a lifetime developing it. It's also kind of a metaphor for any aspect of playing. The refinement of the "basics" is what makes you great in the end. I've had many students ask me what I practice, sometimes rhetorically as if to imply I don't need to. I know they often don't believe me when I tell them I'm working on 8th notes or a shuffle or, (as Gadd said), "still working on hitting beat one with the bass player on a ballad. 

I think there are a lot of reasons why students,(all of us really), are reticent to accept the idea that the "basics" are everything. I'm no psychologist but I think it's easier to come to terms with something when we think we don't have all the information rather than looking in the mirror and admitting you just can't play it that well yet.



I learned brush work and grooves from the Mr. Lucky and Peter Gunn albums that Shelly Manne performed on. It was those recordings I played along with the most.

By setting up my drums between two old cabinets in our basement I could place the speakers right next to my head…By doing so, Shelly’s swingin’ ride always came through crystal clear. Yes, It was difficult at first… But soon got easier - since the music was louder than my drums.



It goes without saying that, to be a competent drummer, one must have a certain level of technical ability with each and every limb. That said, it is the ride pattern that has a tremendous effect on the feel and vibe of any given ride-driven groove.

Consistency is the name of the game, as the repetition of the ride pattern can have a wonderful trance-like effect on the listener. Additionally, the way the ride pattern is played can have a dramatic impact on the feel of the drumming.

An easy way to hear, and feel, the difference is to play a basic kick/snare backbeat pattern along with a constant 8th note closed HH ride pattern. Play all of the HH notes at one dynamic level and listen to the sound. After several measures, play the same kick/snare pattern with the same constant 8th note HH ride pattern. But this time around, accent the quarter note on the HH. Listen to the dramatic difference in sound and feel between the ‘all HH notes equal in dynamic’ versus the quarter note accented HH pattern.


Any drummer can change the way he/she sounds by making simple changes like this to the ride pattern. Most drummers have their comfort zone, in terms of whether they play all ride pattern notes even, or accent the quarter note. Do a bit of self-analysis to be aware of your tendency, as this can come in handy in real-life situations. Playing all notes even creates an in-your-face, static, rocking vibe, while accenting the quarter note creates a bit more vibey, groovy, R ‘n’ B feel. Both methods are totally valid. The key is to feel comfortable playing either way, as you may be asked on the spot to change the feel of a particular song you are playing.

Listen to other drummers and try to hear whether they play all the notes evenly, or stress certain notes. Alex Van Halen tends to play all notes even, whereas Phil Rudd leans toward accenting the quarter note, as can be heard in the AC/DC song, ‘Back In Black’. The bottom line is, both approaches sound great and they each have their own, unique feel. Which way do you favor?



The RIDE CYMBAL is the heart and the driving force! You can play an entire song with just the RIDE CYMBAL.



As Shelly Manne said...

"The ride beat is the easiest and most difficult thing a drummer can ever play."

There is a lot of truth to Shelly Manne's statement. However to me, it also depends on the genre of music one is playing, and what ride pattern is being played for the song. Given that, I can only extrapolate that Mr. Manne was referring to what most drummers all know as the traditional jazz ride pattern and in some cases a traditional Latin bell pattern.

In jazz, the infamous steady and traditional 'ping ping pa-ping ping' ride pattern with your hi-hat locked into a steady chick sound on two and four (if 4/4, or on two if 3/4, etc. depending on the groove) is the most important and helps ease the difficulty in overcoming separation of hand and foot. It lets the others in the group know where two and four lay and no matter which direction musically or dynamically the group ventures. A solid steady ride pattern also lays down a secure compliment for all the other musicians to play off of along with a drummer and also frees up the drummer to accent and punch the high points of a tune with their snare, bass drum, crash or other percussive instruments as needed.

Keeping your hi-hat on two and four while playing the traditional jazz ride pattern (or straight quarter notes) also helps the drummer and group return to ONE with every member of the band without any hesitation.

It has always been my experience that the ride pattern in other genres of music such as rock, funk, soul, disco, etc. typically mimics and mirrors that of the rhythm pattern of the rhythm guitar or other melodic rhythmic instruments.

Setting a tone or feel in the group while keeping the time (two and four, eighth notes, or four on the floor) on the hi-hat, while playing the bass drum and snare drum holding down the core beat, or back beat of the tune or groove.

Playing a steady ride pattern in music albeit playing eighth notes, dotted eighth notes, sixteenth notes, triplets, the traditional jazz pattern, or other syncopated patterns all play into the same musical considerations...groove, feel, dynamics, and complimenting those with whom you are playing.

Keeping a solid steady ride pattern is easy and also difficult; easy if you practice at the desired tempo (meter, B.P.M.), yet difficult if your tempo (meter, B.P.M.) is not solid. Playing with your hi-hat foot helps that immensely.

Remember, it is ALWAYS about playing for the song...Not the drummer.