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 – Pete Cater, Ted MacKenzie, and Tommy Piorek 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".
Spang a lang, ten to ten, call it what you will.
The jazz ride pattern is part of the drummer’s DNA. We all do it, but I often wonder if any two of us truly do it quite the same. Like a fingerprint or an iris pattern your ride beat is as individual as you are. Give five jazz drummers the same ride cymbal or hi hats to play and you will get five contrasting results.
But is it difficult? Well, the somewhat ambiguous answer to that is yes and no. In physical terms the playing of the ride beat is simplicity itself, but once you factor in considerations such as placement, feel, sound and touch it becomes a whole new ball game. Case in point; a few months back I had the good fortune to share a stage with Steve Gadd, and to watch him play quarter notes on the ride cymbal (with no embellishments) on a slow tempo blues was an object lesson in combining simplicity and mastery.
Even at its most subtle the ride cymbal should retain that special swaggering authority which is the mark of a true master. Whether it is explicit or implicit, straight down the line or broken up, the underlying placement of pulse and internal dynamic balance between the drummer’s four limbs creates that all-important rhythmic connective tissue which brings not just jazz but all music to life.
Just like laying down a backbeat on 2 and 4 the technical demands are minimal. Logically it therefore follows that there is no excuse not to do it well. Even tempos in the 320 BPM plus range need not be daunting, about which more later. I am firmly of the belief that 90 plus percent of what we do as drummers is about motor skills, with the physical aspects being very much subservient to our mental acuity, and over obsessing about muscle memory imposes a limit on our creative capacities. I drew this conclusion empirically when a few years ago I found myself frustrated with certain aspects of my own playing. I had a tendency to repeat certain ideas; they were perfectly good ideas but I was playing them very much by rote, and the context in which I was playing called for a far greater creative connection. To address this I stripped my playing back and actually re-trained myself to be able to play ‘in the moment’. The old licks are still there as a safety net if required, but having the ability to harness creativity virtually at will totally liberated me as a musician. To put it another way, it’s not the drummers who can play the fastest who I hold in the highest of esteem, it’s guys who can think the fastest.
As musicians our aesthetic sense grows exponentially with a lifetime of listening, learning and creating. Consequently the perception of the ride pattern will be different for the player with five decades of experience than it is for the drummer who is taking his or her first steps towards putting that off beat eighth note in just the right place for the very first time. I can remember vividly as the feeling of confidence and swing began to present itself in my playing, when my ride playing went from being merely a pre-learned ‘beat’ to something I could control and nuance in order to reflect each musical circumstance. Music is the boss. Music informs us what the drums need to do. Learn that lesson early and learn it well. I learned this aged about 19 and it had a lot to do with the opportunities I had to work regularly with much older jazz musicians: musicians with in some instances upwards of three decades of experience at laying down walking quarters and swinging eighths. There was positive growth off the stand as well, since these players dug all sorts of drummers I had heard of but had not heard. This emphasizes the point that players of other instruments and indeed non-playing listeners will have their own frequently differing opinions of what constitutes swing. For me this is what makes this whole topic so endlessly fascinating. Because swing is so gloriously impossible to quantify it forces us to form opinions, or sometimes to be swayed by prevailing popular opinion. It’s possible to calculate the number of single strokes played per minute using a computer, but swing is measured by the heart and requires us to take a subjective point of view. Whereas technical facility, time keeping, playing in tune with good intonation, sight reading ability and improvisational skill can all be measured to a certain extent the quality of swing is a way more individual judgment. Who has ‘got it’ and who lacks it has been a source of never ending debate since the beginning of (jazz) time.
More than any other single aspect of our playing the ride pattern marks us out as a specific style of player. Fellow musicians, audiences and critics are often quick to typecast the jazz drummer; whether you’re a considered to be a swing, hard bop, post bop, fusion drummer or whatever, people will invariably categorize you because of how you play the ride pattern. Like a painter we can be super realistic, impressionistic or downright abstract. Sometimes if we are fortunate a single evening of music making with kindred spirits can take us to all three destinations. Conversely if the environment presents challenges like poor acoustics, indifferent audiences or worse still a lack of empathy between players then we simply can’t do our best work nor express ourselves freely.
Okay, time to get technical. I mentioned earlier the question of the upper tempo range, nominally anything north of 300 BPM. It was a run of gigs with the virtuoso trumpet genius Arturo Sandoval that prompted me to find a failsafe approach to extreme jazz ride playing. Arturo would call such fast tempos that I couldn’t include every skip note comfortably and would drop into four quarters per bar. Not good enough. I had picked up a couple of ‘cheats’ from fellow drummers; Martin Drew (leave out 1 and 3) and Jake Hanna (leave out 2 and 4) but the holy grail remained to play the complete ride pattern and have the freedom and control to vary it ad lib. A lot of guys I heard would use an approach where they would make a down stroke on 2 and 4 with two rebound strokes thereafter. I felt this lacked clarity and made the 2 and 4 sound over-emphasized. After much influence and experimentation I found a solution of my own. A lot of guys do something very similar either knowingly or not but I arrived at it my own way. What I ended up with was a very loose, open fulcrum in the right hand. In fact the second and third fingers really do the majority of the work. In the interests of economy of motion I dispensed with the ‘four quarter note motions per bar’ method and cut it back to two: half the effort, good news. Initially it was a bit of a challenge to get dynamic uniformity between the up and down strokes, but a very small amount of woodshedding sorted that out. Utilizing the 2nd and 3rd fingers creates resistance to the down strokes and a very small closing motion at the beginning of the up stroke will create the skip note. More good news, you can use the same method for left hand comping as well: fast tempos all night long, no tension, no tiredness. You’re welcome.
There has never been more information available to help us develop as players. Sometimes though, I like to adopt what I call the ‘blank sheet of paper’ approach where I start with nothing but an outcome in mind. If you have ever found a solution to a drumming challenge by starting from scratch and working out an approach of your own you will know just how satisfying and meaningful that feels.
The Jazz Ride Rhythm is the DNA of Jazz
The band is a bowl of gumbo. The drummer is the gum holding the gumbo together. The jazz ride is the soul of the bowl.
The opening scene in the Buddy Rich's Rudiments Around the Kit DVD depicts a Kilty drummer (Drum student Brian Zinc) marching in step playing a 6/8 cadence. Every drummer needs to experience rudiments in motion while marching in step. The downbeat becomes the step-by-step marching cadence used for centuries leading up to the swinging "Not So Modern Drummer".
(My original intent in creating the intro for the follow-up book to the Buddy Rich snare drum book was to give a tongue-in-cheek explanation of the origin of syncopation)
Cut from my original footage; three cave men gathered around a campfire, each beating out a 2/4 jam with two large mastodon bones until they fell asleep exhausted. The youngest of the three, Nied (student Matt Niebalski), awakened after falling asleep on the Alpha Man's (student Scott Haley) chest that pounded out an angry (too much pterodactyl!) 6/8 heartbeat. Realizing the heartbeat of his comrade was a swinging version of their former jam, he woke up wailing on the rocks with his bones beating-out the shuffle rhythm likened to the heartbeat! After the other two awakened, they joined in as the scene segues a few millennium to the Kilty drummer marching in an open field drumming a swinging 6/8 marching cadence. As the short video progresses the marching Kilty drummer segues into me sitting at a snare drum playing a swinging ragtime cadence. Then segues with me behind the kit swinging the ride on a full Drumset.
Everyone has been subjected to swing simply because of our incubation in our mothers’ womb. For 9 months we where subjected to the shuffle rhythm of her heartbeat. Flub-dub-flub-dub is what nurses and doctors call it. Buddy Rich had perfect recall. Unlike most, he absorbed his moms swing'n heart beat continuing right out of the womb onto his high chair where his father discovered his God-given ability to swing from the womb.
There are two rudiments that frame the marching cadences. The 2/4 and the 6/8 Flam Tap. Marching 2/4 is un-swung. Marching 6/8 is swung - And there are two rudiments that contain the jazz ride rhythm. They are both presented in 6/8 as triplets, same as our heartbeat: (1) The 6/8 Flam Tap (Lesson 47, BR snare drum book, Lesson 103, BRRATK). (2) The Single Paradiddle-diddle. While playing these rudiments on the snare drum, move the right hand to the ride cymbal resulting in the jazz ride rhythm with a co-dependent snare drum riff.
The first mechanic in learning the jazz ride is to simply, while lightly holding the stick at the drum stick balance point, drop the stick onto the middle of the bow of the ride cymbal (about half way down from the cymbal bell). Picture the stick acting like a basketball. Let the stick fall and naturally let the tip bounce like a ball: loud, softer, soft: "ding-da-ding". As you speed up the three rebounds, manage a consistent sound. Be light-handed.
My serious drum students, regardless of their personal drumming styles, are required to study the jazz ride rhythm. First they must identify at least 3 jazz ride patterns of three prominent jazz drummers. Next they must work on a regular basis, their personal jazz ride expression. It must be practiced at various tempos on the ride, hi hat and with wire brushes. Jim Chapin's Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer and John Riley's The Art of Bop Drumming are also a part of my curriculum.
Learning the jazz ride rhythm and its functions is imperative for any serious drummer. Every drummer has his/her identity wrapped up in their personal jazz ride rhythm expression. It's our DNA. No one has an identical "splang-splang-a-lang"!
The Main Event: Keep time and keep-on-swing'n!
"The Heart Beat is the Original World Beat" - https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-hgkAm5Y06lbXQyRmotRm9LVjg/view?pref=2&pli=1
... “the ride beat is the easiest and the most difficult thing a drummer will ever play” ...
Indeed. Shelly was spot on here! This being Shelly Manne, I’m sure he was talking about the ride beat in the swing idiom, and again... he’s absolutely correct! Mechanically, the swing ride pattern is not that difficult at all. We could probably teach a willing subject HOW to play it under 30 seconds! How can that be you ask? Well, I harken back to my junior high “stage band” as it was called then, which was my introduction to swing/jazz. My band director at the time had all these little “devices” to help one grasp what he was trying to convey, and the jazz ride pattern was one of them. He said to me: Say the words “shut the door .. shut the door .. shut the door” .. now copy that rhythm with your right hand on the ride cymbal. And there it is, the swing/jazz ride beat! Easy, no? ANYBODY could play it!... but can they really? There is a major difference between the straight mechanics of the pattern vs. the FEEL of the pattern, and it’s the FEEL that we are all after. To lay this simple pattern in and make it swing, make it FEEL good, is what makes it extremely difficult. A fine example of this being demonstrated to perfection is to listen to a killer rock and roll drummer attempt to play swing/jazz. I’ll bet we can all name a few of them here! Anyway, mechanically they can play the swing/jazz ride pattern perfectly!, except... it sounds and feels stiff. It’s missing that intangible that makes it... SWING! One has to listen to and live with swing and jazz for quite a while to start picking up on the essence of just what makes something ... swing. I can’t understand what’s wrong?! I’m playing the proper rhythm! , but it doesn’t sound or feel right! That’s because as Shelly Manne so succinctly stated: “The ride beat is the easiest and the most difficult thing a drummer will ever play”. Quite right Shelly, quite right!