Saturday, June 9, 2012

A few more great examples of brushwork

This is a follow-on to my 28 May 2012 post titled, A Few Great Examples of Brushwork. The first three are a little-known ensemble that I closely follow because I love their music and their musicianship. They go by The Three Wise Men with Frank Roberscheuten on tenor and alto saxophones, Martin Breinschmid on drums, and Rossano Sportiello on piano:

Next is Duke Ellington on piano, John Lamb on bass and Sam Woodyard on drums.

The final two clips are of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, with Brubeck on piano, Paul Desmond on alto saxophone, Gene Wright on bass and Joe Morello on drums. Joe's brushwork in Three to Get Ready has always inspired me. It also bedeviled me because hearing it is vastly different than hearing and seeing it. That and Tangerine (not included in this post) are two shining examples of amazing brushwork.


Friday, June 8, 2012

Even more stage gear for live playing

In an earlier post titled More stage gear for live playing I discussed often overlooked stage gear, such as XLR cables and splitters, mic pre-amps and a few microphones. That post was a continuation of Clamps and goosenecks, which itself was inspired by a post centered on Cheap, but surprisingly good microphones. This post will cover some odds and ends that aid in setting up mics and managing cables for live playing in typical small venues.

Let's start with XLR cable for your mics. I use Seismic Audio's 25' cables, which I buy in packages of six.

First, these are a good length for most venues, especially when used with a snake such as this one, which I will cover further on.

The construction is top notch, and the color coding adds value because it makes managing stage cables a lot easier. Following a cable of a specific color is a lot easier than reading small labels on cable ends in dim light.

Ends have strain reliefs, which add to the reliability and life of the cables, and the connectors can be easily unscrewed for repairs.

If you want to adapt these to 1/4" jacks for mixers that do not provide XLR ports, use an XLR female adapter such as this one:

You can also use an XLR male adapter on the other end. It is a good idea to keep a few of these handy.

Now, the snake. I use a Seismic Audio 20' 4-channel XLR model. because my mixers are only 8 port models, and I reserve two ports for keyboards, leaving me two spare ports for impromptu use. Mine is shown in this photo:

It's the small details, such as the numbering on each XLR jack in the box, as well as the cable ends, that inspired me to get this model. I also like the the strain reliefs on the main trunk and fan. An indicator of reliability and quality is the gauge of the cables, the sturdy connectors and the heavy duty box. These all add up to a product that will stand some abuse.

Thus far the 20 foot model has met my every need, but the small, incremental increase in price for the longer model would have been a worthwhile investment in a snake that would meet possible future needs. Here is the next larger model (in ports): Seismic Audio 20' 8 XLR port snake.

The devil is always in the details. Sometimes it's the small things that keep us sane. In my case it's something as simple as velcro cable ties.

I use these in my home music practice space that doubles as a studio. Prior to grabbing a few packs I was tripping over instrument, microphone and speaker cables. Literally!

Major pluses are the length (7.5" will attach a bundle of cables to a stand) and color coding. Since the twelve pieces are really two identical packs of six, you can tie off at the rack end using, say, blue, then when you are fanning out that bundle at the other end of a stage you can tie off right before the fan-out with the same color.

The width, too, is more than sufficient for any live stage or studio situation. 7/8" is wide enough to be seen from a distance (again, the color coding helps). I also use a product called velcro 'One Wrap' ties:


To illustrate the value of these simple ties this photo of my music room that shows them in action.


This brings us to microphone stands, at which point I am going to wrap this post up. At some point in the near future I will discuss power management (very important and too often done as an afterthought).

I will limit the discussion to stage stands, since my post titled Clamps and goosenecks covered close-in microphone placement.

We'll play good, better, best. First up is good, the ubiquitous On Stage Boom Stand:

This is also branded as Musician's Gear. This stand is probably one of the most popular among smaller bands, jammers and home studio owners because I run across them everywhere. And like everyone else I wound up with a few of my own. Here is what I have learned during the four or so years I have owned and used this model:

  • For the money they are a bargain and work extremely well in home studios and practice spaces (assuming the areas are not overly cramped.)
  • They hold up under light gigging and jamming, meaning they are not transported more than two or three days a week.
  • Good stability inside, even with heavier microphones. Not so good outside if there is a fair breeze.
I lost one to stepping inadvertently on one of feet, which immediately broke, and another has started binding when I try to extend or collapse the center pole. Those problems are not necessarily quality issues since in the case of the broken tripod it was my fault and not the gear's. As for the binding - I am sure that a good amount of grime has found its way into the tube after four years of use and transporting the stands. Had I taken better care of them those problems may have been prevented.

Better: Seismic Audio's tripod boom stand:

The best feature is the fact that you can place a voice mic at the top of the stand, which has a normal threaded post, and also use the boom for another microphone. Or leave off the top mic and just use the boom. Where this comes in handy is the stand will allow someone who plays both flute and saxophone, for example, to pre-set the mic placements and use a single stand for both. Or, for crowded stages, two vocalists can share the same stand, or instrumentalists (or a combination.)

Another use is to add another boom to the top post for overhead mic placement. One boom I use (and recommend) is the On Stage mic boom.

Overall, this is a nicely built, versatile stand that will withstand moderate gigging (not sturdy enough for touring), and a great addition to any home studio.

Best: On Stage round base microphone stand:

This stand is practically indestructible and is ideal for gigging. If you need a boom, simply add an On Stage mic boom and you're good to go.

In addition to being indestructible, this stand takes of far less stage (or studio) real estate than a tripod type stand. And despite the relatively small size of the base, it is far more stable than the tripod stands. Admittedly, this stand is a great deal heavier, so if weight is an issue you may not like this type.

Even with a boom fully extended I have found this stand to be stable. For outside use in fair breezes this stand remains upright, which is not always the case with the tripod types. Moreover, there are no legs to break (I have lost one tripod stand to that problem.)

If you transport your gear often, and especially if you play outside (or inside on cramped stages) this stand is the best choice in my opinion.

Since I've mentioned the On Stage mic boom twice I think it merits a few words.

Some features I like include precision machined threads that easily mate with other devices such as the On Stage round base microphone stand. The small counter weight on the arm is a nice touch too. I use relatively heavy mics, and the counterweight, as well as the lever that allows you to adjust the boom angle, keep your settings rock solid.

One final stand, which is the Samson Audio MB1 Mini Boom Microphone Stand.

While I generally do not mic bass drums, when I do this stand allows me to do it my way, which may seem unconventional to some folks. I place the mic on the batter side of the drum about three feet back. Since this can be problematic with the floor tom and throne (and hi-hat) hindering access, the boom and adjustability of this stand are a great help.

Where the stand shines if micing amps. Some small amps, such as the Fender Champion 600 are usually placed on a raised surface to keep them off the floor. This stand will reach any stand that is chair seat height. For larger amps that are on the floor or tiltback stands, this mic stand will still allow you to position the mic where you need it.

My use is relatively narrow - kick drums and amps. But for each, this stand is excellent in my opinion. With the mics I am using it is heavy enough to remain stable, and for where I need to place those mics, it allows me to do so with relative ease.

My next stage gear related post will cover power management. I hope these are helpful.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Midnight Blue The (Be)witching Hour: A Study in Tempos

This is cross-posted from my other blog, Music for Drummers, since it directly addresses technique. In this case, mastering different tempos.

Here is the album:

Midnight Blue The (Be)witching Hour contains a number of tracks in slower tempos, and those tempos cover a wide range. Some will probably be inside your playing comfort zone, and others way outside of it. Therein lies the utility of the album (aside from just listening to some great music or even creating a romantic mood for endeavors that go far beyond music and drumming.)

What really inspired me to write about this album is the fact that many if the songs are played with sticks. I am so used to whipping out a pair of brushes for ballads and slower tempo songs that when I tried playing along with sticks earlier it was an embarrassing reminder that I need to practice more ballads with sticks. I'll certainly rectify that shortcoming, but in the meantime, here are some tracks from the album to underscore my comments and to help you to determine if this is an album you need to study.

Jimmy Smith (from track 2 on the album)

Coleman Hawkins (with stings and a full orchestra) from track 5

The tempo on the Hawkins' track is one that is well outside my comfort zone.

Dexter Gordon (from track 11 on the album)

Lester Young with the Nat King Cole Trio (from track 13 on the album)

There is not only a range of slow tempos, but some superb music on this album. In addition to being an aid in the study (and mastering) of tempos - especially with sticks - this album also provides a nice starting point for a jazz combo set list. It also doubles as a sure way to create a romantic mood.

Using space in solos and grooves

This is a prelude to a post I am working on for my Music for Drummers blog. The drummer is Frankie Dunlop, who is one of my top three favorite Thelonious Monk drummers. The other two are Shadow Wilson and Ben Riley. Dunlop's playing clearly and strongly shows Shadow Wilson's influence. Like Ahmad Jamal on piano, Dunlop makes excellent use of space in his solos, and his dynamic range is wide and musical. He also displays some of Max Roach's influence in that he also plays melodically.

Here are two clips of Dunlop's solos:

This performance shows his beautiful grooves:

What did it take to be a drummer for Monk? Or any member of his ensembles? Here are some of his notes on the subject - you be the judge:

If you are truly interested in digging deeper, Dunlop's main influence, Shadow Wilson, can be heard onThelonious Monk Quartet With John Coltrane Live at Carnegie Hall. Keep checking Music for Drummers for the expanded post on Monk, his music and his drummers.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ludwig Hammered Bronze Supraphonic

What inspired me to sing the praises of this amazing snare drum, also affectionately known as the LB552K is I had it out recently to allow a friend to try it out. His assessment, like mine, is this is one amazing snare drum.

The main characteristic of this snare drum is it sounds like a wood snare drum in many respects. Tuned extremely high and you get that metal Supra sound that we all have come to love, but at medium tuning, this snare drum could easily pass for wood in a blindfold test.

The one flaw of this drum is it comes stock with the cursed P-85 throw-off. I replaced it with a P-86 Snare Throw-Off (see instructions for how. The reason I went through this expense is I do drop my snares often because I play with brushes and also some Latin grooves that require it.

To reengage the snares using this throw-off model has required me to pull up on the tensioning knob while simultaneously moving the lever into the up (engage) position. This is awkward and can possibly affect your performance unless you play a style of music that infrequently requires you to disengage your snares.

Note: the tensioning knob does work perfectly on this throw-off, and if kept lubricated with a drop or two or 30-In-1 oil after cleaning, is extremely smooth and lets you adjust to just about any tension setting you need. This assumes that you have properly installed your snare wires with proper initial tensioning, centering and good straps or cord.

Although I normally replace my heads with some favorites (see Getting Ahead" and the follow-on Getting Ahead, Part 2"), I have found that stock Ludwig heads work best for Ludwig snare drums. Same for snare wires. Ludwig knows a thing or two about building snare drums!

As a brush player I love the sound I get from this snare drum with either the snares engaged or disengaged. This drum also sings when played with sticks. If you are torn between a wood or a metal snare drum, this is one that I recommend you seriously consider.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

More stage gear for live playing

In some recent posts I discussed a set of surprisingly good drum mics as well as an array of clamps and goosenecks to position the mics. This post will cover the boring stuff like cables, adapters and even power conditioners.

The focus is live playing. Much of what I have to say about micing drums will be from that perspective. For studio micing I encourage you to check our Micing Drums, a free guide in PDF format.

One final caveat: I personally believe in playing - as much as possible and practical - without microphones. However, there are outside venues that require some form of drum kit amplification, and there are music genres that demand the same inside or outside. Factor my aversion to microphones when reading this.

In my post about surprisingly good drum mics I discussed an inexpensive, but adequate set of microphones (Nady DMK-5 microphone set). If you look at a typical small band PA, like the Peavey XR 8300, you'll see that the drummer's mics would eat up five of the eight available channels.

I can pretty much assure you that isn't going to happen unless the drummer owns the PA, and even then common sense would probably prevail.

One way to apply common sense (and save money) is to use XLR splitters

At thirteen bucks a pair, you have just concentrated four channels into two (still making it three channels for the drummer when the bass drum mic is factored in.) Still, that leaves five channels for the band.

To assuage any concerns about sharing channels, remember this scenario is a live playing situation. Studios are a different animal and not covered here (although some of the concepts may be applicable.)

If you absolutely, positively have to mic every drum and cymbal, you can feed two channels of your main mixer from an unpowered mixer. That will also give you some control over the levels. Here is one example of an unpowered mixer with enough input channels to mic a fairly large drum kit:

The bottom component in that rack is a Behringer RX1202FX that will mix eight mics and, using the two XLR outs, feed into two channels on your main mixer. The RX1202FX is not the only mixer that you can use - I am citing it (like the Peavey XR 8300 main powered mixer) because I happen to own those models.

Another approach, which is discussed in Micing Drums, is to dispense with individual drum micing and use overhead microphones instead. The guide discusses condenser mics, but I am more of a fan of dynamic microphones for live situations. First, they require no phantom power, and are sturdier. And most cost less than condenser mics.

A very safe choice is the tried and true Shure SM57. Nobody ever got fired for using those. Personally, I prefer the Blue Microphones enCORE 100.

Shure SM57

Blue Microphones enCORE 100

My reason is it is a much hotter mic than the SM57 and can be run directly into your mixer channel.

Before going further, a word about overheads versus micing each drum. When you are micing each drum you can get away with using the splitters I mentioned above. When using overheads, though, I recommend using two and giving them their own channel. This allows you to set the levels individually for a decent stereo sound (a reason to use overheads in the first place). And, of course, you should give the kick drum its own channel regardless of your mic placement approach.

Back to the SM57 vs. Blue Microphones enCORE. Most bands already have either the SM57 or Shure's other wildly popular mic, the
SM58, making buying another model of microphone an unnecessary expense. There is nothing wrong with using either the Shure SM57 or the SM58 as overhead mics. They work well as are in smaller venues. For outside, though, I would run them through a pre-amp like the Alesis Tube Duo Stereo Tube Microphone Preamplifier.

I have discovered that this pre-amp works wonders with the Shure SM57 and SM58 Microphones. It also works well with cheaper mics that are bundled with some PA systems. What these mics have in common is they do not have a very hot signal, so the boost provided by the tube pre makes a major improvement in how the mic responds.

The Blue Microphones enCORE 100 does not need this boost. In fact, even with minimum gain they start feeding back very quickly.

At this point I am going to stop and continue in my next post. Remember my caveats: I am not a professional sound engineer and this discussion is centered on live playing. Also, remember that my philosophy is that micing drum kits should be done as a last resort. In music there is such a thing as dynamic range that each musician should be able to play within and control. Adding gear is no substitute for technique. That said, check out my next post.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Excellent examples of bebop drumming

First, what is bebop drumming? The short answer is a swung 8th note ostinado on the ride cymbal with a steady two and four on the hi-hat while accenting passages by dropping bombs on the bass drum and snare drum.

The father of bebop drumming was Kenny Clarke who moved time from the hi-hats to the ride cymbal, and who invented the style of using call and response between the left hand on the snare drum and the right foot on the bass drum. Two and four were taken care on the hi-hat.

Max Roach refined and extended the style, along with other pioneering bebop drummers such as Stan Levey.

Here is a track from the 1945 Town Hall concert featuring Max Roach on drums:

In the above clip you can hear the essence of bebop drumming. However, seeing it is even better. The one clip I show fellow drummers who want to see and hear bebop drumming at its finest is this one from a 1952 Downbeat award given to Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. The drummer is a sadly forgotten man named Charlie Smith whose playing has always fascinated me. Here is the clip:

  • Charlie Parker - alto sax
  • Dizzy Gillespie - trumpet
  • Dick Hyman - piano
  • Sandy Block - bass
  • Charlie Smith - drums
A transcription of Smith's playing in the clip is available from this excellent site.

If this topic interests you check out Understanding Music Through Critical Listening in my other blog, Music For Drummers.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Fun with minimal kits

My last post, Dream Bliss Series Cymbals, triggered a memory of a practice session in Glen St Mary, FL back in February 2012. For acoustic trio work I usually bring only a bass drum, snare drum, ride and hi-hat cymbals. And almost always the cymbals are my Dream Bliss models as shown in this photo:

The pianist is my friend and fellow jazz musician Maggie Shook. The bassist, not in the photo, is multi-instrumentalist and bassist par excellence Ron Spencer.

Unfortunately we did not record or make a video of the session, but I did want to underscore an axiom: you cannot improve a groove adding drums and cymbals. Indeed, sometimes you can wreck it. While there is no video for our session I have a clip to share from one of my favorite movies, Round Midnight, that shows what you can do with an even smaller kit - a snare drum and hi-hats (which I have accompanied Maggie with when she was on her acoustic upright piano jamming in her apartment):

Enjoy ...

Dream Bliss Series Cymbals

I've owned a set of these for three years, and although I have over 35 Zildjian cymbals from which to chose, when it comes to acoustic and light electric jazz (and some blues) this is the set I usually grab. What I have in my set are:First: this series is not suited to loud music. They are perfect for acoustic jazz and light, electric blues styles. Anything heavier than those and the cymbals are lost in the mix. I'll provide a live clip at the end of this post so you can hear for yourself.

Second, these cymbals are wild and trashy when you first get them (assuming you are purchasing them brand new and not used off a forum, eBay or some other source.) That means that they need to be played in.

After a few months of steady playing they start to mellow. They usually settle into their final character around six months. If you want to hasten the play-in process, mallet rolls is a common trick. This entails taking a pair of mallets and rolling them around the cymbal for 20 minutes per day for a week or so. Start at the outside edge and work your way towards the bell, going around the circumference of the cymbal.

I'll discuss the 22" Crash/Ride first. It is a true crash ride that has complex over and under tones, crashes beautifully, and when you are playing ostinados, a slight accent is easily heard over the pattern. The bell is small, but clear and well suited for acoustic music.

It is also a very complex cymbal that has some wobble on the edges, and a lot of interesting over and undertones. Be aware that no two are alike. In fact, there is a wide variation between and among these rides and they are best picked out in person.

Much of their character comes from the fact that they are completely hand made like the treasured old Istanbul K Zildjian cymbals. Like the Ks, however, you have to sift through many to find the one ride that has the sound you want.

For acoustic and lighter jazz I will put this ride up against anything in Zildjian's line. In fact, this cymbal is very similar to the Zildjian K Thin Dark Ride, and I believe that if you tested both side-by-side, blindfolded, you would be hard pressed to tell them apart. If you are shopping for a new ride for jazz do give this ride a look and listen. I think you will be impressed.

Next up is the 18" Crash/Ride.

Unlike the 22" crash/ride, this one can project over lightly amplified instruments such as Chicago style blues and even classic R&B of the 50s. As a ride you can either use it as a left-side ride or place it as a far right ride.

Although it projects much better than the 22" model, it is very much like the larger model when it comes to complex tones, and like the rest of the Dream Bliss crash/rides on any size, it is somewhat wild and trashy when you first get them. They do tame down as they are played in.

Pair this with a larger ride, or even as the only ride on small kits, and a pair of Dream Bliss 14" Hi-Hats and you will have a set of cymbals for lighter volume music that rivals anything Zildjian offers in their lighter, K and K Custom models.

Last, but certainly not least, are the 14" Hi-Hats.

Unlike the crash/rides from the Dream Bliss line, these hats require little to no play-in time. They are responsive, both to playing on the top and to foot action on the hi-hat stand. They are easily the equivalent of Zildjian K Custom Dark Hi-hats. The reason I compared them to the K Zildjian Dark Hats is that is the closest match model from the Big Three (Zildjian, Sabian and Paiste) to the sonic characteristics.

These hats are also a perfect match for other cymbals in the Dream Bliss series as well as some of the Zildjian models designed for lighter music styles.

Where these hats fit perfectly is in playing situations where you want a sloshy, sizzle sound when riding the hats with 8th note triplet patterns.

The "chick" is discernible when playing 2 and 4, but will not cut through if the volume goes high in amplified playing situations. These hats are pretty nice for foot splashes, and are easy to control when accenting. They are less useful, however, when played tightly closed because they do not project in that mode very well.

Parting words: these (and the rest of the Dream Bliss line) are a well kept secret. If you play jazz, lighter blues and similar music you would be wise to check these out when shopping for new cymbals. Here is a set from a live video that was shot in an impromptu manner on a camera phone. You can still hear the cymbals and how they sit in the mix. Note: despite the way my arms move I am playing with sticks (Pro Mark TXJZN nylor tip Jazz Model).

Credits: Shot November 10, 2010 at Stingray's on Beach Street in Daytona Beach, FL. Photographer: Angelina Morgan. Left to Right: Gary Payne (bass), Reuben "Lounge Lizard" Morgan (guitar), Mike Tarrani (drums), Cody Benecasa (guitar)