LaFrae Sci – Actual Proof That Road Dog Drummers Rule

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“I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart. I am. I am. I am.”

 – Sylvia Plath

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How do you find the very interesting artists? Do you Google “How do you find the very interesting artists” and take it from there?

Thinking… a big “no” on that one. Sometimes, you just stumble.

I did that the other night when I discovered Lafrae Sci. And it happened something like this…

I had gone to hear The Wolff/Clark Expedition, in Studio City, California. Jazz pianist Michael Wolff was introducing his legendary partner, drummer Mike Clark, and he was talking about how weird it was that almost 40 years later, drummers still stop Mike and beg him to explain what he was playing on the 1974 Herbie Hancock classic, “Actual Proof.” The song title, by the way, references a critical component of the Buddhist belief system, which Hancock practices.

The song rang a bell from my youth, so I made a note to check it out. I came home, Googled it, and buried somewhere in the myriad of abbreviated posts, I read, “That song changed my life…”, and within a few more abbreviated sentences, I saw the name LaFrae Sci.

What an interesting name. Had the song changed THIS person’s life? Hard to tell with the way the text and links were thrown together…

So I Goggled Lafrae Sci, and that’s how I discovered a very interesting artist indeed.

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She’s a New York freelance drummer/composer who also does work with the State Department as a Jazz Ambassador, traveling all over the world. She is a founding member and sits on the board of directors for the Willie Mae Rock Camp For Girls. She was musical director for Sandra Bernhard’s musical comedy show, The Bad And The Beautiful.

LaFrae leads a group called The 13th Amendment, and another one called The Scenic Route. She’s also a faculty member of the Middle School Jazz Academy at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

And, and, she’s a Sabian artist.

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LaFrae was headed down the law school path when academic circumstances took her briefly from the hallowed halls to some basic day jobs to regain perspective. During that time, she woodshedded her drumming chops, paid her rent playing music for a year, and never looked back. This altered path eventually took her to New York City, where she was (and is) able to make a living doing what she loves.

That’s not just interesting, that’s massively odds-defying.

And, inspiring.

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There are some great videos on her website (www.lafraesci.me), and one I enjoyed quite a bit was her playing with The 13th Amendment. It’s a very cool, syncopated groove in 13 that segues into a nice modern swing that has more than a few fat and honest triplet fills. I mean, the kind where she’s there, nowhere else, not wanting to be anywhere else, and it’s all just rolling out of her hands… really nice.

Modern Drummer and Tom-Tom magazine have given her press, and LaFrae has over 300 YouTube video references. I’ve included two I really enjoyed because they showed a young lady exploring her art (click the link to watch it directly on YouTube)…

… and then a few years later, a young woman telling you where her feet had been as a result of walking that path.

As with these snippets of people’s lives, I encourage you to explore what LaFrae Sci is doing and will continue to do, because the days of drummers simply being thought of as just timekeepers fades with every pass of the sun. And while I never did get an answer to my question about whether the song “Actual Proof” changed LaFrae’s life, it’s clear that she’s composing hers, not just listening to it unfold randomly and hoping the right sounds find their way to her soul and back out again…

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How Jazz Drumming Helps All Styles: Just Watch Buddy Rich

If you are not a jazz drummer or have not really listened to it much, you might want to give it some practice time. Why? Because the control and finesse you’ll develop carries over into every kind of drumming when it comes to volume, four-way coordination, speed and power.

When I was a kid, it was rock drumming all the way. I thought jazz was my parent’s and even my grandparent’s music. I pictured Benny Goodman playing a clarinet, or a Dixie land band, and that was all I needed to quickly head in the other direction.

But in 7th grade, I stated taking lessons with a guy that all the drummers in the neighborhood were studying with, and the lights really came on. Dick Kenny owned The Percussion Center, near Wilmington Delaware, and he sat me down for some proper schooling. I had my rudiments going on, which helped greatly with hand control, but Mr. Kenny introduced me to four-way limb control, via jazz drumming.

Getting Jim Chapin’s independence concepts under my belt took a great deal of work, but suddenly, I had four limbs that were becoming four separate instruments. The control I developed carried over into volume, which is critical to creating your actual sound. When you think about it, you are ultimately your own sound man, establishing the volumes between limbs that either balance with the other players or do not.

Of course it almost goes without saying that if you want fast hands, jazz is where you begin. You can develop very musical speed if you study the masters and incorporate rudiments into a music style that demands thinking and precision. Once you get the speed and control under your belt, you can apply to metal or anything else and shred the living daylights out of your kit. Believe me, it’ll happen.

As with most of these small posts, I just want to introduce an idea and hopefully inspire drummers to carry it far beyond. Watch this Buddy Rich video a few times to see the most amazing drummer the world has ever known tap into an energy that could be applied to any musical style. Listen to the single strokes on the bass drum, or the left hand/right foot insanity. The single strokes on the snare about half way through will have you shaking your head.

Buddy was 53 when he recorded this solo…

And that’s the real lesson: grab that Third rail on the subway track and feel a gazillion volts surge through your body. With jazz drumming, you can learn to control and direct that energy, and once you understand how, your musical world will never be the same.

Hank Levy – Odd Meters, Erasers and a Time Revolution leader

Every time I look at one of those small black marker board erasers, I think of the late jazz musician and composer Hank Levy. Hank was the Director of Jazz Studies at Towson University (Towson, Maryland) from 1972 – 1989, and he was a musical force to be reckoned with. He also had a pretty good throwing arm.

When Hank would lead his ensemble practices, he would sometimes reach his limit and send a black eraser across the room at a player who needed waking up. I played drums in two of his three bands and used to get a good laugh out of his trajectory. It kept me on my toes, and that was what he wanted most from his players.

Hank was a trail blazer when it came to his passionate love affair with odd time signatures. Like Don Ellis, for whom he wrote several pieces, Hank believed that the Western jazz world needed a wake-up call and a boot in the ass when it came to the exploration of rhythm. And wake it up he did.

Hank had played baritone sax for the Stan Kenton Orchestra before landing at Towson, where he founded the Jazz studies program. He wrote most of the program’s music because, as he told me once, the Music Department wouldn’t generously give him funds and really didn’t want to be known as a jazz school. However, after Hank’s ensemble took top honors all over the country for just about every competition they could find, the argument that Towson was now known for its jazz became a moot point.

Hank came to my high school in the early 1970’s on a government grant to spread his odd meter word, and I took to it like a fish to water. It was the most exciting music I had ever played, and it was backed up by the emergence of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. I cannot tell you how intense it was to be present at the birth of this transition. Don Ellis had been exploring big band odd meter jazz, as had Stan Kenton, and Hank was fueling both of these orchestras… and to the extent possible WE got to play those same charts, as teenagers!

Hank had a gruff but honest way about him, and he gave me guidance that I desperately needed with my drumming and overall focus. I took first chair my senior year in the Delaware All State Jazz Band, and Hank came up to direct it. It was an extraordinary experience to be led by the man who was ushering a huge change in the jazz world, but it was not met with open arms by all.

Hank told us in our high school class one time that he sent a chart over to Buddy Rich, who after trying to play through one piece became very frustrated and tore the charts up! And many of the big name players in jazz were not following the time revolution that Hank believed needed to happen, preferring instead to stay the safe tonal exploration course.

But when you listen to the music of today, odd meters have become vastly more common, and are no longer so odd. Both Hank and Don Ellis observed early on that rock music seemed to be more interested in odd meters than many jazz players, and the power behind rock makes the shifting contours of 5’s, 7’s, 11’s and beyond a perfect breeding ground for the next stages of music exploration.

Hank passed away in 2001, but the Hank Levy Legacy Band is alive and well, preserving Hank’s musical vision (and they do have a Facebook page) and have recorded a CD of his music

http://www.sonorityrecords.com/Hank_Levy_Legacy_Band.htm

Sierra Music Publications (www.sierramusicstore.com), owned by Kenton alumnus and arranger Bob Curnow, still carries Hank’s charts and music. And hopefully after reading this post, you will want to learn more about Hank by doing a bit of research on your own…

When I was 20, I had the opportunity to audition for Frank Zappa, in his North Hollywood rehearsal studios. I went in having little idea of what to expect, and Frank described what he wanted me to play, an odd meter rock groove in 13/8 with a 12/8 bridge. I asked him if I could write out the subdivisions, just like Hank had taught me to do five years before, and he said, “Sure.”

Arthur Barrow was playing bass, and I was sitting behind a replica of Bozzio’s double bass kit at the time. The song began, and I hung in there pretty well. When Frank asked me if I could play reggae in 13, I hit a wall with no idea of what to do. He kindly shook my hand, thanked me for coming in, and as I left, a drummer who had been watching the auditions stopped me.

“Where did you learn how to do that? Guys have been dropping like flies all day?”

I replied, “Hank Levy taught me how to play odd meters.”

“Who’s he?” the drummer asked.

“Well, he’s this guy who came up to our high school…”

… and in my mind, he never left.