Thursday, February 25, 2010

On Playing Brushes Part 2: Creative Writing

Continuing from On Playing Brushes Part 1: The Vocabulary, this post discusses The Art of Playing with Brushes DVD/Play Along CD that was presented by Steve Smith and Adam Nussbaum.

Where Ed Thigpen's The Essence of Brushes (DVD) provided the basic foundation in the form of a vocabulary, this DVD set liberates you in ways that allow you to creatively employ Mr. Thigpen's approach, and shows how you can imprint your style on music when playing brushes.

The many hours I spent with Ed's DVD gave me the confidence to play brushes in a musical setting, but I was worrying more about remaining faithful to Ed's lessons and approach than I was about letting the music move me to take chances and play more about how I felt. In many ways I was too rigid (in mindset), believing that Ed Thigpen represented the canonical. Of course, this was more a self-imposed limitation because Ed stressed finding your sound repeatedly. I didn't take that part of the lesson to heart until Misters Smith and Nussbaum pulled together some of the best living brush players and made The Art of Playing with Brushes a reality.

Here I watched some of the greats tackle the same songs is vastly different ways. It was an eye opener because none of them sounded a thing like Ed, but each of them brought the songs alive. Before I had gotten half way through the first disc I had an epiphany about what it means to put your personal touch on playing of any kind, even if it means breaking with some self-imposed set of conventions.

The artists who performed and demonstrated on this DVD are Joe Morello, Charli Persip, Eddie Locke, Billy Hart and Ben Riley. Same songs, including slow and faster tempos, and a Latin piece for each of them. Results: so totally different that I was inspired to play along to the accompanying CD before I was anywhere near through with the DVD set. It was liberating and I felt as though the vocabulary that Ed gave me was now ready to be used in other ways to creatively write (in a figurative sense, of course.) And creatively write I did. One set by Billy Hart was especially inspiring because he was actually doing quarter notes on his bass drum when conventional wisdom would have dictated otherwise. And it worked!

While two DVDs filled with demonstrations by some of the greatest drummers alive today, and a play-along CD earn this set a significant value point, the booklet that comes with it adds even more value. All too often we never take the time to read booklets that come with DVDs (unless in a fit of boredom), but the accompanying booklet is not only fascinating, but also essential reading by any drummer who wants to extend the contents of the discs and CD into deeper thinking and a deeper understanding of brush playing.

Most of the booklet was written by Mark Griffith. Aside from owning a Liberty snare drum that I wish I could afford, Mark is an extraordinary writer and historian, among other talents. Highlights of the booklet [for me] were A History of the Brushes that fills in gaps in other resources and includes some provocative material about the relationship between tap dancing and brushes, and the early brush masters. He extended the relationship discussion with a brief history of tap dancing, which spawned a fairly lengthy discussion among Mark, myself and other members on cymbalholics. Also important is Mark's brush resource guide that covers selected artists and songs to which you should pay attention.

One omission from the set is a collection of PDF files that were supposed to be on the DVD set. However, you can obtain them by going to Hudson Music's product page, which contains a link that will allow you to download the missing files.

In my final post to be titled On Playing Brushes Part 3: The Thesaurus I'll cover Clayton Cameron: Brushworks - The DVD, as well as some brush models I use.

UPDATE: Jon McCaslin has posted some video clips from the DVD in his excellent blog, Four On The Floor.

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