Category: jazz drumming


Hi, and thanks for stopping by. I haven’t had much up lately, been way too busy, but this read will more than make up for the gap. Yes it will.

First, the usual disclaimer: I don’t do product reviews as a general rule here, simply because that’s not what this li’l blog is about. What I do is write about people and stuff I like and believe in. Usually, I prefer to surprise folks and put up something up that they never expected to see, to give them due recognition. When it comes to products, same thing.

In the case of Liberty Drums, based in Shildon, U.K., it’s a bit of both. I met Andrew Street and Kevin Lodge at the 2015 NAMM show, in Anaheim, California, where Goran Kjellgren was sharing a booth for his Percussion Kinetics Vector bass drum pedal. I wrote a blog about Goran’s pedals awhile back for the same reasons: great product, great person.

 


 

Andrew and Kevin are the heavy lifters at Liberty. Kevin’s very intense attention to the vast array of production and logistics details, as well as his experience as a sound engineer, allows Andrew to do what he does best, which is make a seriously amazing drum. But mind you, everyone at Liberty contributes to making the final product one that’s well worth checking out.

 

 

Continuing on the matter of giving due recognition, Rhythm magazine awarded Liberty Drums the best wooden snare drum in the world last year. Modern Drummer gave strong respect and admiration to Liberty’s jazz/bop kit a few months ago, and they also created a video of it. The tuning was a bit low for my taste to sample a jazz kit, and thus was born my desire to write this blog and put up a few video samples with higher tuning and more emphasis on the jazz end of things.

 

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While at NAMM 2016, I had the chance to briefly play the Liberty Jazz/Bop series kit seen here, with the following sizes of Finnish birch shells: 8×12 rack tom (12 ply), 14×14 floor tom (12 ply), 18×14 kick (15 ply), and a 14×5.5 snare (15 ply). Here’s a video clip of my exploration, shot with just a cell phone and the usual NAMMbient background madness…

 

 

Ya think?

The snare pops and sings. The kick launches, and the toms deliver from the bottom up. I say this especially, because for the following video clips I shot, I tuned the toms higher. The first clip emphasizes the kit’s overall bop performance with sticks, and the second showcases the use of brushes and how much subtle range the kit has. The third give brushes their due, and it lets you hear what makes jazz so special, at least to my ear.

The snare in particular, while not the award-winning one, stands out as musical instrument of its own. Amazing tones, the smallest little details, the stuff a jazz drummer who is close-mic’d can use to make beautiful musical statements. My jazz chops are decent I suppose, but they sounded more so to me because I could hear the sound of gen-u-ine jazz drums at my fingertips. This gave me an authentic palette to create with.

 

liberty kit

 

On a side note, as I was shedding one night, just goofing around, I could swear I smelled wood, I mean, like walking by a tree in the forest kind of wood. I mentioned this to Andrew in an email, and he said I was in fact smelling bees wax, which the inside of the shell was treated with.

Bees wax.

Yeah, kids. That’s what you do when you hand-form every single shell that goes out the door and want to put a signature on it. You address production with a deep level of focus and care. Now, multiply that level of attention to ten years of making drums. Rhythm magazine did the math and came to a similar conclusion.

 

 

Now, on to the main point of this blog: Here’s a brief up-tempo improv I shot to showcase the overall kit’s response to sticks. I used my iPhone 6S, with sound recorded using a single overhead condenser mic, run through a board and directly into the iPhone using an iRig adapter.

 

 

The drums are super light by the way, and they are running Remo Emperor clears on the toms, kick, and an Emperor vintage coated head on the snare. Tuning could go from rock to bop in sixty seconds per drum. I‘m not kidding. In four minutes, you have two entirely different sounding kits that sound authentic on both end of the spectrum. Yes you do.

Here’s a second clip, a slower example to let you hear the drums a little clearer.

 

 

Liberty’s latest achievement – and you can be sure that it is – was getting their wares into Pro Drum Shop, in Hollywood. Do that, and you’ve summited the top of the West Coast drum store hill. They are distributed by Cymbal Planet on the East Coast, in New York, and if you live in the U.K., the Dealer link on the Liberty site will take you where you need to go (www.LibertyDrums.com)

I’ll leave you with my favourite clip, the true test of any jazz kit, recorded with no external mic, directly to my iphone. Brushes are where the real finesse of this American art form really come to life, and I enjoy giving it a shot every time I pick up a pair. Use ear buds to grasp the finest levels of detail in the snare, and I do believe you will hear what I heard… some subtle truth, laid out across a canvass built by true artisans.

 

 


 

Liberty, you guys really know how to make a drum that sings. You’ve given the drumming world a beautiful and distinctive voice to express itself with.

Well done, mates. Very well done.

 

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“Watching the waves from a ship to and from Japan and looking out of the car window on multiple trips across the USA in my childhood, gave me the space to study time itself, and the complexity and harmonics of rhythm, order and chaos.  

Subdividing and predicting the instant objects would pass, or their relationship to others in time, consumed the hours of my youth. It all comes down to time. 

That is why I chose drumming, Jazz, Indian classical and African. All the great rhythm traditions. When I drum, I sing the melody of the arrow of time. “

 


About a year ago in Los Angeles, I met the author of this quote, at a gig led by my bass player friend, David Hilton. Leonice Shinneman had a very interesting set-up, a small jazz kit with some tablas. His playing was very light and elegant, sophisticated, without question. He played the tablas briefly, and I thought, kinda cool to see that…

 

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I had no idea I was in the presence of a recognized world tabla master, a former faculty member at Cal Institute of the Arts, an innovative inventor and patent holder, and an artist whose drumming and percussion credits included work with Frank Zappa, along with contributions to soundtracks for “Drugstore Cowboy” and “Aliens 3.”

 

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I just knew the guy could play.

 

Unfortunately, it’s probably going to be six months to a year before Leonice can resume his art, because he was recently in a very serious car accident. Broken neck, broken back.

 

Yeah… that kind of serious.

 

His sister, Joy, created a Gofundme account to help get through what is obviously going to be a rough road, so if you have a minute, please visit the site. You may not have heard of Leonice or know of his work, or perhaps you have and already heard about his accident. No matter. He’s a drummer, he’s one of us.

 

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Here’s the gofundme link: https://www.gofundme.com/u5jxgb2c

 

For more information about Leonice, here’s the link to his website: http://www.leoniceshinnemandrums.weebly.com

 

During a break at the gig where I met him, Leonice and I had a great conversation about his ride cymbal and how he played it. I asked about his tablas and said I was interested in learning a little more about them. He offered to share information, and he said I was welcome to sit in during the next set. I had to leave, but I appreciated the offer.

 

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Leonice, when you get back to bandstand, I’d like to take you up on that offer. Meanwhile, you take it easy. The universe has got this.

 

Bear with me, this one is kinda long and maybe a bit of a ramble/rant. But it needs to be, to convey the message. Please adjust your seat for comfort accordingly…

 

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When I first heard about a new drumming movie featuring not just a jazz drummer but a song written by my musical mentor (Hank Levy), I was curious, interested and a little excited. That’s mostly because my love of odd meters since I was 15 was fueled almost entirely by Hank having come up to our high school on a government arts grant to spread the jazz word.

 

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Hank was writing for Don Ellis and Stan Kenton at the time, big band explorers of the highest caliber, and Hank shared his knowledge and enthusiasm in a way that ignited our young minds and made some of us want a great deal more. My high school bandleader pushed us like that as well. He held us to high performance standards, but it rarely involved yelling unless we were simply acting like fools or were utterly lazy.

 

Hank was the same way, and not once during his visits did he ever snap or exhibit anything even close to serious anger or beratement. When I landed the top slot in the All-State Jazz band my senior year, Hank was the guest director. Again, he demanded a lot, but he was never a berater. Ever. Not once.

 

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When I graduated high school, I followed him to what was then called Towson State College. He led the three jazz ensembles there, and I started off in the third and worked my way up to the second. Here I got to see Hank on his much more demanding level, and he had no tolerance for laziness of lack of attention.

 

Either of these actions, if not corrected after fair warning, would earn you a dry marker board eraser thrown your way, and given the times and Hank’s honest but fair gruff nature, I certainly respected his message: pay the hell attention and stop screwing up the music for everyone else.

 

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So, what does all of this have to do with Whiplash and why I won’t go see it?

 

Because I absolutely loathe the idea of competition. And I loathe it because it prevented me from becoming a truer artist and musician for years.

 

All through high school I had pushed myself very hard, with no whip cracking required from anyone. I was simply driven to be the best, and I went after it like a demon. I was actually driven by demons of a sort, ones that wanted out of my body that was consumed by an undiagnosed case of Tourette Syndrome. I expressed the never-ending blast furnace through rock drumming, and then I developed four-limb coordination to control it through jazz drumming.

 

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When kids first applauded my playing, I finally found acceptance to some degree. This fired me up to want to get more of it and to get more of it than anyone else. I wanted to obliterate my competition, and I had the chops to do it. My body and neural pathways are wired for drumming, and I went after everyone in my way. I was young and immature, uninformed and unguided. I was an idiotic gunslinger who was learning everything about how to make my body unleash and virtually nothing about how to interact with fellow musicians and make music.

 

In my senior year, I took every first chair there was in the state of Delaware. All State Band, Orchestra, Jazz Ensemble, and a tri-state honors band that went to Europe that summer. I owned every bit of it, or at least I thought I did. It was somewhat innocent, because I truly didn’t know any better, even though my band director constantly reminded us that competition didn’t mean anything unless you truly improved as an artist.

 

I had two primary drum teachers at the time, and one was into supporting my desire to blow away the competition. The other was a disciple of Jim Chapin, who brought Jim down to the drum store once a month from New York to offer lessons. Guess who taught me more about the right path?

 

Now I believed to some degree that I HAD to be competitive, because there were so many other drummers out there in so many genres. Hank reminded us more than once that there was always someone better out there, and that we had to strive to do our best for ourselves.

 

But I remember one time, I was going to have a drum solo in a song at a festival, and I was sitting in a corner with a watch, timing how fast I could get my hands going. When it came solo time, all I did was explode and go insane… zero musicality. A couple of years later, I ran into a fellow drummer from another high school, and do you know what he remembered? My sitting in a corner with a watch. Certainly not my alleged performance that had been hell bent on showing everyone else up at the festival.

 

I’m probably beating a dead horse at this point.

 

By the way, let me add that having written several screenplays and unsold pilot TV shows, and also being involved with some small degree of film production projects on the side, I do have a reasonably informed perspective on what it takes to get a movie made and do respect the hoops that Whiplash had to jump through. You can’t even begin to imagine how insanely impossible it is get anything done in this town…

 

That said, it was a question asked on a Facebook drumming group that really inspired today’s blog, so I’ll close with it: “Do you think Whiplash will inspire a new interest in jazz drumming by young drummers?”

 

My hope for those who chose to watch it is that the answer be yes. But, for those who do chose to watch it, know that the title of the movie comes from a song written by a man who was heading 180 degrees in the opposite direction. As a life-long disciple of Hank Levy and his spirit of fearless jazz exploration, I’d be betraying my admiration for this man to go see Whiplash, and if this position comes back to bite my professional ass, so be it. I’d rather speak the truth loudly any day than choose to silently support something that is diametrically opposed to what I now know to be the true and correct path for a musician.

 

I chose instead to watch endless hours of YouTube videos and instructional DVDs created by new and old masters, and support their production if they convey the stuff that matters. I chose to find drummers who are killing their hands and offer suggestions of how to treat themselves better so they can better express their message.

 

I chose to promote drumming as storytelling so the energy of magic weaving can take you over. I chose to write blogs like this, laying bear my soul for younger drummers to hopefully learn from and recognize in themselves, and then move forward to re-direct their minds and souls.

 

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But if you must follow the competitive path, do it to master yourself and make it one hundred times bigger than it presently is. Give to the music, push out, tell a tale with Tony Williams intensity and musicality. Channel Max Roach, play with the snap and flare of Gene Krupa. Read about allllllllll the drummers who came before you and drink them in rabidly to make them a part of you.

 

As long as you are breathing and upright, you can be a badass. Chose to be the right kind of badass, is all I’m saying, the kind that understands honoring the music and not the ego. Slay your SELF, because it’s always competing with the bigger picture to get out.

 

Then go play a story in a way never before told… cuz…

 

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Meet Osami Mizuno, a jazz drummer and educator from Japan, who has dedicated a great deal of his life to preserving and promoting the memory, philosophy, and playing techniques of the late legendary Alan Dawson.

 

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He created a so-named drum school and record label, with Dawson’s widow’s blessing, and he’s written three volumes devoted to presenting the in-depth aspects of what made the acclaimed Berklee drum set instructor such a powerful influence. One of those volumes (Alan Dawson Drum Method Vol. 2) was published with Steve Smith.

It would be an understatement to say that Osami is a man on a mission.

 

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Osami met Dawson while studying at Berklee in the 1970’s. There he also met and befriended Vinnie Colaiuta, a fellow student of the master, and in 2006, the two collaborated on a book that explained several of Vinnie’s core advanced drumming concepts, some of which were inspired by his own studies with Dawson. That book is Illusions in Rhythm for Drum Set.

 

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I’d heard of this book a few years ago, but I never saw it in any music stores. Then recently, I connected with Osami through Facebook. I honestly can’t recall who first friended whom, but it doesn’t really matter, because what resulted was making contact with a guy who can explain Vinnie.

And believe me, that’s intense…

Illusions in Rhythm for Drum Set is an 83-page mental workout that walks you through how to essentially create time within time within time. Section 1 begins with counting exercises and explorations of how basic triplet and more complex polyrhythmic divisions can be grouped within and across the bar, within the context of 4/4.

These preliminary exercises warm you up for the main event, found in Section 2, that introduces Superimposed Metric Modulation. Vinnie coined this term, and as Vinnie and Osami convey it, SMM layers one or more new pulses over an existing pulse, often extended over the bar. The original pulse maintains its tempo, but the secondary ones sound either faster or slower, or both at the same time, yet still occur proportionately within the entire time framework.

Section 3 focuses on exercises for soloing, using the previous two sections as foundation. Simple rhythmic themes, such as a group of 16th note triplets and rests, are introduced and then transformed into contexts of repeated patterns in clusters in varying metric contexts. When you are finally able to see and recognize these patterns’ absolute same-sound forms in the different relative contexts, a very enlightening transformation occurs.

In 1987, almost thirty years ago, Vinnie visited Japan and first demonstrated SMM using a sequencer. He was light years ahead with this new concept, that of shifting time within time within time, but Osami latched onto it, and with tremendous personal dedication and publishing effort, he produced an extraordinary text with collaboration from an equally extraordinary drummer.

Both men were inspired by a teacher they revered. Illusions in Rhythm for Drum Set is a tribute to that reverence, and within its challenging pages lay the secrets to much of Vinnie Colaiuta’s temporal genius. For Osami Mizuno, this labor of love gives his own drumming and personal life great purpose.

 

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Dawson

 

The legacy of Alan Dawson is broad, yet not as widely discussed as other drummers of his era. But when you learn that Dawson’s first student was a young Boston drummer named Tony Williams, you may find yourself wanting to know a great deal more about the man and his percussive progeny.

Osami Mizuno is hoping you will, and is very much looking forward to sharing that knowledge with drummers around the world.

/ /

http://home.att.ne.jp/delta/osami/

 

[Illusions in Rhythm for Drum Set is available directly from Osami’s website, via PayPal.]

 

[Lastly, Osami would like to thank Tama drums for their many years of support.]

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