Sunday, March 14, 2010

On Playing Brushes Part 3: The Thesaurus

In my preceding two posts about brushes I covered the vocabulary in Part I, based on Ed Thigpen's The Essence of Brushes, and creative writing in Part 2, based on The Art of Playing with Brushes presented by Steve Smith and Adam Nussbaum.

This post will focus on Claytom Cameron's Brushworks - the DVD.

Like Ed Thigpen's DVD, this one is instructional. Steve Smith's and Adam Nussbaum's DVD is more of an example by performance with many examples of how to play the same music in different ways, but no specific "how to's". Like Ed Thigpen, Clayton steps you through the basics, starting with various grips and when they are appropriate. Here he covers German, French, cradle, eastern and matched, mixing and matching them in the left and right hands. Then he goes into lessons on sweeps, taps, and other parts of the brush vocabulary to show how to achieve the best sound for the music you support. What I liked is how, after each lesson, he demonstrated it with just a bass player, then with a band. The bass only demonstrations reinforce just how important the bassist and drummer are to each other, and you will get some solid ideas about how to lock in.

You need to be aware that Clayton's teaching style is different from Ed Thigpen's style. Where Ed patiently demonstrates a technique and reinforces it with additional instruction, Clayton goes through each technique, using the performances as a reinforcement tool. You'll find yourself frequently stopping the DVD in order to fully grasp what Clayton is teaching.

One aspect of Clayton's approach that I like is the way he varies his accents in each lesson (and then reinforcing the lesson with the mini performances). This approach draws much from George Lawrence Stone's seminal Stick Control, and is an approach that I have not come across anywhere else. This is where the thesaurus analogy comes in. You not only receive a solid vocabulary, but you learn the synonyms that allow you to create with brushes what authors do with words - nuance, communication, pace. In fact, when I was going through the lessons I kept remembering Mel Lewis' approach to using up beats to propel music (when appropriate, of course), and Johnny Vidacovich's long discussion of the same thing in New Orleans Drumming. However, Clayton goes beyond just demonstrating up- and downbeat accents, by varying them to show the effect on the music of where the accent is placed.

Another aspect of this DVD is the brush-specific rudiments that Clayton has developed. While others have also created rudiments for brushes, Clayton's make the most sense to me. Here are a few examples:

In addition to the lessons, on DVD #1 there are three performance related clips that are must watch. The first is how Clayton was inspired by tap dancers. This is a recurring theme in any serious discussion about brushplaying - Papa Jo Jones talks at length about tap dancing in The Drums and in his oral biography, and in the booklet that comes with The Art of Playing with Brushes Mark Griffith wrote an excellent piece on the same topic. However, Clayton, teamed with the renowned tap dancer Chester Williams, does a duet of sorts with Williams, with Williams doing the hoofing, while Clayton plays the same rhythms, showing how tap dancing can inspire brush playing. The second performance is a jaw-dropping clip with Clayton's brush solo on a wood djembe. The final performance on DVD #1 is a snare drum solo, in which he does amazing brushwork using three snare drums. DVD #2 in the set is a set of full performances with a band to further demonstrate and reinforce the lessons.

I'll end with a video clip of Clayton performing at NAMM 2009, which showcases his amazing skill with brushes.

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