Archive for Dave Brubeck Quartet

Unsquare Dance

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on May 4, 2017 by telescoper

By way of a small postscript to last week’s post about the great Joe Morello, here’s a piece that shows he was such a great drummer he didn’t even need a drum!

Dave Brubeck’s tune Unsquare Dance is basically a blues built around a single bass figure and played in 7/4 time, making it not inconsiderably difficult to dance to. Difficult, but not impossible! On top of that the tempo actually speeds up during this performance. It’s normally a cardinal sin for a rhythm section in jazz to speed up – the beat has to stay rock steady while the soloists push ahead or lag behind. That’s what generates the sort of dynamic tension that characterizes as swinging performance. In this tune Dave Brubeck was just playing a little joke on the `foot-tappers and finger-snappers’ so he can be forgiven for his trangression.

Listen out, though, for Joe Morello’s contribution. His solo consists entirely of rim shots (made by striking the rim rather than the skin of a snare drum). I believe it is Joe Morello who laughs out loud at the end, partly with relief that they managed to get through this tricky little piece without screwing up!

As you can see, this was released as a 45rpm single and it became quite a hit (by the standards of Jazz records), reaching No. 14 in the UK charts back in 1962.

Advertisements

A Joe Morello Drum Master Class

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on April 28, 2017 by telescoper

After a busy morning, I reckon it’s time for a pause and a quick blog post. I stumbled across this clip of a great drum solo a while ago and immediately bookmarked it for future posting. As happens most times I do that I then forgot about it, only finding it again right now so I thought I’d post it before I forget again.

This is the great Joe Morello at the very peak of his prowess in 1964, with the Dave Brubeck Quartet with whom he recorded over 60 albums. That band pioneered the use of unusual time signatures in jazz, such as 3/4, 7/4, 13/4, 9/8 and most famously in their big hit Take Five which is in 5/4 time throughout; they recorded a number of other tracks in which the time signature shifts backwards and forwards between, e.g., 7/4 and the standard 4/4.

A few points struck me watching this clip. The first is that it’s a great example of the use of the ‘trad’ grip which is with the left hand under the stick, passing between the thumb and index finger and between the second and third fingers, thusly:

The right stick is usually held with an overhand grip. Most jazz drummers (whether they play ‘trad’ jazz or not) use this grip. Most rock drummers on the other hand use a ‘balanced’ grip in which both sticks are held with an overhand grip. You might think holding the left-hand and right-hand sticks the same way is the obvious thing to do, but do bear in mind that people aren’t left-right symmetric and neither are drum kits so it’s really not obvious at all!

The trad grip looks a bit unnatural when you first see it, but it does have an advantage for many of the patterns often used  in jazz. Once you’ve mastered the skill, a slight rotation of the wrist and subtle use of the fingers makes some difficult techniques (e.g. rolls) much easier to do rapidly with this grip than with the balanced grip. I’m not claiming to be a drummer when I say all this, but my Dad was and he did teach me the rudiments. In fact, he thought that drummers who used the balanced grip weren’t proper drummers at all!

(I’ll no doubt get a bunch of angry comments from rock drummers now, but what the hell…)

Anyway you can see Joe Morello using the trad grip to great effect in this clip, in which he displays astonishing speed, accuracy and control. The way he builds that single-stroke roll from about 2:28 is absolutely astonishing. In fact he’s so much in command throughout his solo, that he even has time to adjust his spectacles and move his bass drum a bit closer! Jazz musicians used to joke that atomic clocks could be set to Joe Morello, as he kept time so accurately, but as you can see in this clip he did so much more than beat out a rhythm. It’s only about 3 minutes long but this solo really is a master class.

Joe Morello was never a ‘showy’ musician. He never adopted the popular image of the drummer as the madman who sat at the back of the band that was cultivated by the likes of Gene Krupa in the jazz world and later spread into rock’n’roll. Bespectacled and wearing a suit and tie he looks a bit like a bank clerk, but boy could he play! The expression on Dave Brubeck’s face tells you that he knew he was very lucky to have Joe Morello in his band.