Reflections On Shelly Manne: Chapter 12

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 writer David Barsalou asked four internationally recognized drummers…
Ryan Brown with Dweezil Zappa
Peter Magadini -Jazz drummer, percussionist, educator, and author
Bob Rupp,Product & Training Specialist for Sabian Cymbals
Andy Weis‘The Monterey All-Stars

 …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".

 Ryan Brown

I love this Shelly Manne quote. As you get older you begin to realize that the seemingly simple things are the most difficult to do. Drumming is all about keeping time and making the music groove and feel good. Any particular pattern may seem easy at first, but to make it groove and feel good is something else entirely.

When I play, I'm constantly thinking about the space between the notes. I'm always subdividing in my head to make sure every hit lands where I want it to. For the jazz beat I hear constant rolling triplets in my head. For rock and Latin beats I hear straight 8th notes. 

At faster tempos, the jazz ride pattern may seem easy to play. There is less space between the notes, which makes it easier. At slow tempos, there is MORE space between the notes, which makes it WAY more difficult. Subdividing at slow tempos, and keeping the groove, is one of the most difficult things we as drummers do. Playing at slow tempos is hard and takes a lifetime of practice to get good at. Mel Lewis used to talk about how difficult ballads are to play perfectly. Mel once commented, “I never played a perfect ballad”.

The analogy I like to use is shooting pool. If the cue ball is 6 inches from the ball you are trying to hit, it's not that hard. You have a very high chance of hitting the ball you are aiming at. If the cue ball is 5 feet away, it is MUCH harder! The probability of you hitting the ball you are aiming at goes down considerably and takes lots of concentration. This is the same as playing the jazz ride pattern or any other beat. Faster tempos: less distance between the notes; not as difficult. Slower tempos: more distance; more difficult.

Shelly's quote is proof that as you get older and gain more experience you learn that making grooves feel good at all tempos is a lifelong challenge. A beat that you've played your entire life may be the one you still need to practice the most. 

Ryan Brown is presently on tour with Dweezil Zappa. These are the remaining shows scheduled for 2016:

Nov 5Kent, OHKent Stage

Nov 6Richmond, VAThe National

Nov 7Atlanta, GAVariety Playhouse

Nov 9Dallas, TXGranada Theater

Nov 10Houston, TXWarehouse Live Ball room

Nov 11Austin, TXACL Live at the Moody Theatre

Nov 12New Orleans, LATipitina’s


Selected examples of Zappa tunes presently being performed on the current tour :

 Help I’m A Rock / Transylvania Boogie

You’re Probably Wondering Why I’m Here

Lemme Take You To The Beach

How Could I Be Such A Fool ?

Who Are The Brain Police ?

Inca Roads

Black Napkins

Teenage Wind


Zomby Woof


You Are What You Is

On The Bus

Keep It Greasey

Yo Mama

Willie The Pimp

The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing

 Photograph of Ryan Brown courtesy of Seth Jacobson

 Peter Magadini:

You know, I used to hear Shelly play a fair amount in LA. He had a great ride feel (and sound) and a very unique way of playing the ride (different) say from Max Roach and Philly Joe Jones. He had the same style and motion as those guys (my heroes as well) but he had the fingers involved and when it got blistering fast it was only the fingers involved. That part I kept for myself too because it works great and you can keep very fast tempos going for a long time. I loved Shelly Manne, he was always very nice to me and made living in Los Angeles (when I lived there in the 70's) "hip" from the jazz point of view (a lot of us including me were working with touring stars and the lucky one's staying home playing studio gigs) When you wanted to hear some of our top LA guys play at their highest level then you could go to Shelly's club in Hollywood… Hear Shelly and his band, and then followed by maybe Miles Davis or Bill Evans or John Coltrane...                                                                                                   

 Bob Rupp

 My thoughts-

This can be interpreted numerous ways depending on style, and genre, & most importantly, "level of confidence".

For every beginner, playing a 'ride beat' is the easiest to learn with basic quarter notes, then 8th notes, then 16th, etc. Generally, the 'easy ride beat' will be stiff,, because the young drummer is unsure of movement between limbs, and coordination. Also, adding 'meter' and the learning of controlling the meter, is also a factor. Once the drummer masters their control, and understanding of meter, then this is where is gets exciting, or 'dangerous'!? The genre is meaningless; jazz. rock, swing, hip hop, etc.

Although the ride beat may differ with a genre, its main purpose is holding the band together, and having complete control of the mood, feel, and meter. Also, depending on accents placed during the beat…You can let a song breath and have motion, or tension. Sometimes it is what you don't play during the ride beat that gives the song its motion and groove.

 Bob Rupp

Product & Training Specialist

Sabian Cymbals

Gon Bops Percussion

303 875 3335



 Andy Weis:

 It’s the easiest thing a drummer will ever play because it’s one of the first things a drummer learns when learning to play the drum set. And when first learning to play a beat, you might technically concern yourself with when the instruments of the set are playing together or alone.

Mechanically, it’s pretty easy to learn the “standard” swing/jazz ride cymbal beat, although many beginners will unknowingly start the pattern on beat 2 when they first attempt it. But after learning the ride pattern, the difficulty starts to arise when the student starts adding things to it. I can remember when studying with Alan Dawson at Berklee College of Music over 40 years ago,

I was having trouble with one of the many Syncopation 4-way independence exercises he had assigned. He said, “pay more attention to the ride cymbal”. I did, and I was surprised that everything then fell into place and I was able to play the exercise.

 When playing with a live band, the concept of how you play the ride will get deeper. Now the drummer needs to concern themselves  with where you’re playing the ride cymbal, in relation to what the rest of the players are playing… especially the bass player. That’s where the “pocket” will be found. There are 3 distinct places to play your ride cymbal time in relation to the bass player’s time and that would be on the top side, center, or back side of their beat. In most cases my preference is on the top side of the bass players time without rushing. This will give the feel a forward motion. Of course the bass player needs to know what you’re doing or he/she will try to “catch up” with you.

 I learned something very important about swing and groove a long time ago when listening to a Jimmy Smith-Wes Montgomery album called “The Dynamic Duo”. The song was “Down By The Riverside” and Grady Tate was the drummer. There is a long arranged introduction by a big band and then Jimmy Smith takes his organ solo. Grady swings VERY hard playing just quarter notes on his ride cymbal! That was a great lesson learning that playing only quarter notes can swing hard! They key is how and where the quarter notes are played in relation to the overall time. It’s subtle, but crucial.

 Another wonderful lesson was when I learned how to play a very slow swing ride cymbal beat. One way to do this and make it swing is to think in 12/8 but play in 4/4. That way it will swing even with the great amount of space between the notes. It’s about subdivision and feel.

Lastly, it needs to me mentioned that there are countless numbers of ride cymbals that have countless sounds, tones, and feels when playing them. And there are many different ways to play each individual ride cymbal. All of these variables depend on thickness, weight, bow, bell size (or no bell at all), type of hammering (by machine or by hand), lathed or un-lathed and how it is lathed, and many other factors. All of these things matter because they will influence how you will play the ride cymbal as well as the application you will be using it for. The bottom line is to serve the music and play musically.

Author's note: This is the 12th and final chapter of ‘Reflections On Shelly Manne’. I am deeply grateful to the following drummers who took time out of their busy schedules to make this series such a huge success. Levon Helm called it “The Brotherhood Of The Drum”.


    Aaron Kennedy

Adam Nussbaum

Alphonse Mouzon

Andy Weis

Bill Goodwin

Billy Drummond

Bob Girouard

Bob Rupp

Bobby T Torello

Chet Pasek

Claire Arenius

Dave DiCenso

Dave Mattacks

Dom Famularo

Donn Bennett

Ed Soph

Gary Stevens

George Lawrence

Gordy Knudtson

Greg Estabrooks

Hal Blaine

Jane Boxall

Jay Wood

Jim Riley

Joe Corsello

John DeChristopher

John J R Frondelli

John JR Robinson

Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz

Kenwood Dennard

Larry Finn

Les DeMerle

Lewy Stix

Liberty DeVitto

Marko Djordjevic

Paul Wertico

Pete Cater

Peter Magadini

Robert L. Gottfried

Rod Morgenstein

Ronn Dunnett

Ryan Brown

Sergio Bellotti

Shawn Meehan

Skip Hadden

Steve Crabtree

Steve Maxwell

Ted MacKenzie

Terri Lyne Carrington

Terry Silverlight

Tim Griffin

Todd Sucherman

Tommy Piorek