Intensity in Jazz

jsam530

Junior Member
Hey everyone!

I'm new to this forum and am very excited to apart of such a great community!

I'm a drummer attending the Berklee College of Music in Boston. I'm currently taking the Music of Charles Mingus ensemble and am having some problems meeting the demands of the ensemble. The teacher is constantly asking the ensemble (mainly me) to bring more intensity to the music. I don't want to start bashing cymbals or get super loud, because I don't consider that very musical. Has anyone ever had this problem? It's jazz music, so I'm trying to play with touch and feel, but it's not translating the way I want it too. I think because I'm trying to play with touch, the teacher is assuming that it means that I'm not feeling it or into the music. This is not the case... I'm just trying to support the best I can.

So I guess my question is... how do I practice creating more intensity in my jazz playing? I've been really listening to some of the hard bop guys (Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Dannie Richmond) but it's not translating.

I would appreciate any advice!

Jeff
 

birks10

Senior Member
Hey Jeff,

I hear (feel) your pain here. :>) Of course, the best way for any of us to advise you is to hear you play. But seeing that this is probably not going to happen, here's my experience with what i think you may be referring to: when I first started learning to play in Jazz Big Bands back in Los Angeles in the early 70''s (The Robert Preciado Big Band), I had a problem of not nailing the time/swing/pulse/intensity/groove-thing. The leader turned me on to his copy of "Sinatra At The Sands" with the Count Basie Orchestra. (Probably a different title). Sonny Payne was the drummer. I learned a TON off that record. That later transferred into my playing with the big band (and small jazz bands as well), and there was an immediate difference. I could hear it and feel it as well as the others in the band. Being around other more knowledgeable players who will criticize your playing (both positively and negatively), is part of the "schooling" we need to get, along with the fundamentals. In any case, check out Sinatra at the Sands (1966, I believe). It really made a difference in my playing. Totally helped change my direction as a player.
 

toddbishop

Platinum Member
Well, Elvin and Dannie and certainly Blakey played loud sometimes! Don't take the upper dynamics off the table. It's good and necessary to be able to play the drums delicately, like a chamber instrument, but you also can't live in fear of exceeding the boundaries of decorum, you know? Dynamics are dramatic when playing Mingus- make the changes big.

And in this context, "feel" means driving intensity, almost to the point of getting raggedy (give a listen to the Right Now and the Antibes record for examples of this). If the horns are doing their thing right they'll likely be laying way back- you can't lay back with them.

If you haven't seen/heard these already:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hv1Yewr6Z5s
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwohpatsYsE
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Wzi5gfc_Jg
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4uvN0tTlvo&feature=related
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PpOTTzI2Jt8&playnext=1&list=PLA144AF917C004326

Pay attention to how Richmond comps at the end of the last one- he uses a lot of running "&s" to give forward momentum.

Hope that helps- it's hard to know exactly what's afoot without hearing the band.
 

Bo Eder

Platinum Member
I would think that if you're nailin' the notes, then your instructor must be referring to the attitude you bring to the table. Sometimes it's hard to teach attitude if you haven't experienced enough of life to begin with. I discovered that you don't relate to the blues, nor can you play it very well, until you've had your heart broken a few times. That would definitely change your outlook on life, just like going through a death in the family changes you too. You can be super-intense and play quietly, and it's scary when you actually see it not thinking it's possible.

You know that saying where ________ (insert your favorite genre of music here) isn't just a style, it's a way of life? I believe you may be facing this fork in the road in how you play and approach your instrument.
 

jsam530

Junior Member
That's also very good advice. I do tend to have a timid mind set when I play jazz music... I'm always afraid I'm playing it wrong. Playing with conviction is something I have to work on.
 

birks10

Senior Member
If i may say, when it comes to playing "jazz" *(and i'm a "jazz drummer"), it comes from the heart. You have to feel it in a way that is not felt by the drummer in rock, blues, reggae, Latin. It's different. That's one of the reasons i shared my experience with you concerning the groove/drive/intensity thing concerning Sonny Payne. He was not my favorite technician. But he had in "in him" to drive and "swing, swing, swing." The pulse, the forward motion, the propelling nature of the jazz drummer is probably more "caught" than taught. I think you either have it, or you don't. I might be going out on a limb here, but i think the greats are "born with it." If you've got, it has to be "retrieved out of you", so to speak.
Perhaps even, "nurtured."
 

jsam530

Junior Member
I'm currently listening to that album right now on groove shark and I certainly hear what you're talking about. You're so right in how he drives and propels the band. Especially in one o'clock jump WOW!
 

aydee

Platinum Member
...

It seems to me, that its important to live the music somewhat. To have spent some years with it. To feel the intent of it. I sound like an old fart when I say this, and I probably am, but I get the feeling a lot of musicians today want instant gratification. "How can I ( very quicky ) sound like Art Blakey? "

Some amount of dues paying is ...due, right? I sense that is what your teacher might find missing. I'd sit him down and ask him exactly what he means.

...
 
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birks10

Senior Member
Aydee is dead on here! Good advice.

I thought you'd like the "Sinatra at the Sands" thing. Sonny really plays with "conviction"!!... doesn't he? :>) You can even here some of the "slop" in his playing, which really bugged me when i heard it originally, 'cuz i was trying to be a total Buddy Rich clone back when i was 16. So i had to get past some of his playing on this particular recording. But he was nailing it! Note the fill-set-up's that he used to get the band moving with him. Tasty "little' things that he did. Really pay attention to his details. And when he backs up Sinatra, it's those two's and four's on the snare that carry the whole thing. Wonderful!!!!
 

Frost

Silver Member
It's a tough one, because it sounds like the instructor is asking something quite personal of you, in that he is asking you to bring part of yourself to the table, instead of just nailing the notes.

Dealing with something subjective is always difficult as if you were to interpret anger, and show that in your playing, the instructor might find it completely out of place, and there isn't a lot you can do about that without going to the instructor and asking exactly what kind of feel he's after.

The simply answer would just be to get into it more. Easier said then done, I know. But try find something that rings true in the music and capitalize on it. If you get a certain feeling from something, live it, if it makes you feel happy, play happy, don't constrain it behind theory (eg. accented notes sound EXACTLY like this, regular notes sound like dadada).

Hey everyone!

I'm new to this forum and am very excited to apart of such a great community!

I'm a drummer attending the Berklee College of Music in Boston. I'm currently taking the Music of Charles Mingus ensemble and am having some problems meeting the demands of the ensemble. The teacher is constantly asking the ensemble (mainly me) to bring more intensity to the music. I don't want to start bashing cymbals or get super loud, because I don't consider that very musical. Has anyone ever had this problem? It's jazz music, so I'm trying to play with touch and feel, but it's not translating the way I want it too. I think because I'm trying to play with touch, the teacher is assuming that it means that I'm not feeling it or into the music. This is not the case... I'm just trying to support the best I can.

So I guess my question is... how do I practice creating more intensity in my jazz playing? I've been really listening to some of the hard bop guys (Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Dannie Richmond) but it's not translating.

I would appreciate any advice!

Jeff
 

birks10

Senior Member
jsam, i think what the instructor may want is what most big band/jazz leaders want from their drummers: Great groove and good time. Not metronomic time (any machine can do that, but a machine cant make the band/chart "feel" good). Don't worry about catching every kick, (catch the main ones), just make it feel good. Sometimes the tune calls for a ding-ding-da-ding on the ride and others, just straight quarter notes. (Real forward motion). You have to experience trying both in order to learn. Your ears will get "bigger." I'm glad to hear that the Sonny Payne material is working for you. Makes me feel good to think i know someone else that its working for as it did for me. I can't state enough what a life changing experience that was with how it effected my playing. A whole new world of playing opened up to me.
 
What a wonderful discussion! I agree with your perception that your band leader would rather hear strong deliberate playing, (mistakes and all), than playing it safe and timid. Best of luck and enjoy the journey!!!
 

birks10

Senior Member
jsam, You're right about the intensity aspect of the Stewart vid. What i think is really "carrying" that feel along in this vid, is his hi hat playing on the "&'s" of each note. Creates a great feel for the band and the listener.
 

FelipeJose

Member
Not much to add to this but just wanted to say that this is a great thread. I'm more of a cerebral player and am thinking about these types of issues all the time - especially the misconception that intensity and volume are somehow mutually exclusive.

Thanks to everyone for sharing their thoughts.
 
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birks10

Senior Member
Felipe, you've got a great observation here when you say that intensity and volume are not necessarily (my word) the same. I play in a 5 piece mainstream jazz band and we have to play at very low volume levels in various places. Many nights we have a great "intensity" going on without the volume issue. Thanks for your input!

Kelly
 
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