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Drummer's Corner

I'm a pretty high-energy jazz drummer. If I had to liken myself to a drummer who came before me, there is no doubt it would be Art Blakey - swing hard, solo hard, support the players, respond to them and push them. But sometimes as a drummer, you are playing with such beautiful soloists, that your job can be described as "don't get in the way". In other words, sit back and listen, and provide sufficient color, texture and rhythm to the background to support the soloist, and that's it. Of course, that requires great soloists. ;-)


 Here's an example:

In A Sentimental Mood - Bobby Read and Royce Campbell, main soloists

Hands Over 

Drummers like to practice by playing four bars of time and then four bars of fill, so that's what I'm doing. My fill is practicing hands-over-hands, i.e., right over left over right over left, etc., between the tom and floor-tom. Time is always kept by the hi-hat on beats 2 and 4 and is moving along at about 280 bpm. Maybe someday I'll play this fill on a gig!”


I use Remo Fyberskin Diplomat heads on the batter side and Remo clear Diplomat on the resonant side of my drums. I've used Fyberskin Ambassador on the batter heads. I like the warmth and softness of Fyberskin heads compared to standard coated or non-coated heads. The Fyberskin heads seem to have some of the same sort of resonance control that black-dot or rim-dampened heads offer, but in more balanced and uniform way. I particularly like the sound of brushes on Fyberskin - much softer  and less bright than usual coated heads. The down side is the Fyberskin does delaminate with time. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with Evans '56 Calftone coated batter heads, which give a nice warm, balanced sound for the toms in particular, much like the Fiberskyn heads.


I seem to have settled on one pair of sticks these days. It's the Regal Tip 7A E-series nylon-tip stick. It's a bit shorter and thinner than most sticks, with a graphite insert and nylon tips, so it's light, stiff, fast and bright. If I need a little more rebound/speed, I use a Regal Tip Jazz 7 E-series nylon-tip stick, which is pretty much the same stick, but a bit longer. I have tried many different types of wood and nylon-tip sticks and can say each has its own sound. Things like tip shape, shaft taper, etc., all make a stick sound and feel different. The Regal Tip 7A E-series nylon-tip sticks just seem to work for me under almost any situation and acoustics. Of course I carry felt mallets, lightening rods, etc., which I pull out of my bag as needed.


I love playing with brushes. I carry five different pairs of brushes in my stick bag, but I mainly use just two these days. My favorite brushes are a pair of Regal Tip XL hickory handle, to which I’ve added a metal ring from the back end of other retractable brushes (see photo). The wire in these brushes is similar to usual Regal Tip Jazz brushes, but the wood handle sounds great for Latin stuff and I love having a metal ring on the end for light cymbal work, or even as a substitute stick on the drums if needed (see the video Bag's Groove for example). The rubber wrap up by the brushes is also great for a little extra punch on the head or rim. If I need more volume, or maybe a different sound/feel for Latin, I use a Regal Tip Ultraflex brush (nylon, see photo), to which I’ve also added a metal ring at the end. I use these in the video “Tangerine”.


In addition to these two workhorse brushes, I also carry three standard brush types, which I use when I don’t need wooden handles and want to concentrate on the right type of brush. I use three different weight brushes: Vic Firth purple handled ones are my favorite; they just feel great. They have the softest, i.e., thinnest, less stiff wire brushes with a limited splay, so I use them for the softest situations. When group volume dictates I go louder, I move up to Regal Tip Jazz brushes. Slightly thicker, stiffer wires, with more splay and rebound. If I need even more volume and/or rebound, I move to the Regal Tip, Jeff Hamilton model, which is similar to the Jazz model, but still slightly thicker, stiffer brushes. These brushes are much faster/stiffer than the Vic Firth ones, so your hands have to work a lot less. Of course, Jeff Hamilton make these brushes sound amazing...


My standard set of cymbals these days is a 20" Instanbul Agop Signature Series ride and a 18" Sabian HH Vanguard crash-ride. I got the 20” Agop ride from Tony at It’s thin and light, so not loud, and partially lathed top and bottom to give a warm, dark, soft sound, with good stick definition and not too much wash. I think these are unique to Tony's shop and I would recommend him to anyone looking for cymbals online. I have also found his cymbal recordings/playing to be to be very accurate. I got the 18” Vanguard from (Memphis Drum Shop). It’s also thin, fully lathed, has a great dynamic range, and sounds and feels great. For additional color I have a 16" partially lathed China cymbal that I picked up in some tiny music shop in Shanghai a number of years ago - the perfect China-sounding cymbal, and I often use a 20" Bosphorous Masters Series ride cymbal as a second ride, to which I installed a single rivet for mild sizzle sound. These span a range of nicely matched pitches. Of course, I have many more cymbals, which I pull out in different playing situations, and lately I’ve been stacking an 8” UFIP splash cymbal on my 18” Vanguard  crash-rice to make it sound a little trashier.

I generally use three pairs of hi-hats, depending on my playing situation. These days, my go-to pair for light jazz is a 14" bottom cymbal from an old pair of Zildjian New Beat hi-hats I’ve had for 40 years, paired with a 14" Sabian AAX X-Plosian Fast Crash on top. Very soft and dry, with beautiful tone, mostly due to the top cymbal. When I need more volume, I go to a pair of partially lathed 15” Bosphorous Masters Series hi-hats that I got from Tony, and to which I’ve installed two rivets in the bottom cymbal for a little extra sustain when I open them up. Although these cymbals are bigger, they have a soft sound that is not too metallic and still great for jazz or heavier styles. When I need something cutting, with a definite "chick" sound, say for a big band, I go to a pair of 13.25" Zildjian Custom K Hybrid cymbals. They are very crisp and responsive, but sound a bit metallic to my ear.


Here are some songs of nature recorded on my front porch. Someday I'm going to incorporate drumset parts to accompany these. (If these sound like random noise, then listen closer.)

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Summer Bug Sounds - Jim Howe
Quickly Rising Storm - Jim Howe
Constant Rain and Thunder - Jim Howe
Snare Drums
Snare drums
Gigging set
Practice set
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