Monday, November 20, 2017

Ben Riley

Unfortunately I just heard that the great Ben Riley passed away this weekend at the age of 84. Not only was his work with Thelonious Monk very influential on me but hearing him play live once also really changed my life and my overall perspective of Jazz drumming...

During December 1998 I took my first trip to New York City, by train from Montreal, to hear Elvin Jones play at the Blue Note for the better part of his week-long residency. My good friend, and brilliant tenor saxophonist, Kelly Jefferson (who was studying at the Manhattan School of Music at the time) offered to let me stay at his apartment for the duration of my stay. Kelly met me at Penn Station once my train arrived and after a quick bite to eat we headed to the Village Vanguard. Ben Riley was playing that night with the band Sphere, a great band that also featured Kenny Barron, Gary Bartz and Buster Williams. It was of course a special evening of music being my inaugural experience at the Vanguard but I was also blown away by Riley's light touch and ability to swing the band at such a low dynamic level. I'll never forgot how he started the 2nd set of music with a drum solo and as the audience (many tourists of course...) gradually dinned in volume how I could see Riley's hands moving furiously and low around the drums before I could hear him, gradually crescendoing into a highly swinging wall of sound that propelled the band into a roading rendition of Monk's Rhythm-ning...

Here's a few nice articles about Ben Riley and his legacy:


- Ted Panken's "Today Is The Question"

- Ethan Iverson's "Do The Math"

And from a 2005 Modern Drummer interview (via Mark Griffiths), this quote pretty much sums it all up:

“I came up in an era of accompaniment. I enjoy that more than soloing, because each person I’ve worked with has had different attitudes, songs, and styles of playing. I never come on a job thinking: "I’m going to play this or play that." I wait to see what they’re going to do and then fit into that picture.”

My experience hearing Ben Riley play was, of course, consistent with his description. However, as you can see below, he was a great soloist too!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Interview with Max Roach

From the same series of interviews as the Philly Joe Jones one from earlier this week, now here's Max Roach!

Thanks again to Rochester's Mike Melito who found these gems.

And while we're at it, here's a GREAT Max Roach album we should all familiarize ourselves with:

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Interview with Philly Joe Jones

Alright. Just stop whatever you're doing and watch this. Right now.

Thank you to Rochester's Mike Melito for finding this one!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Left Hand 3-2 Rumba Clave Exercise

A post shared by Four on the Floor (@fouronthefloorblog) on

This is a short little exercise that I practice to develop my left hand accents. This is based on something that Joe Morello showed me in a lesson ten years ago. This is a great little ditty you can use to develop your left hand traditional grip but you could also play this using matched grip, unison/hands together or any way you want, really. 

I like using some kind of a clave pattern because it also gets me thinking of a melodic phrase while at the same time addressing a technical issue (I thank Billy Martin for pointing this out to me...)

People (students, teachers, fellow drummers, etc.) often ask me about my own use of traditional grip and I am always willing to share how and why I do it. As a student of Jazz drumming, I believe it is important. Hand technique (ie. traditional vs. matched grip) can be a very personal and contentious issue but I find playing traditional grip has been tremendously valuable to my own playing as a Jazz drummer. 

Now, I don't think you have to necessarily play traditional grip to be a good Jazz drummer (in fact, my good friend and fellow blogger Ted Warren is a great example of this and, of course, many other current Jazz drummers exemplify this as well...) but given the history of the grip and its use by the great drummers who created the language of Jazz drumming, I do believe that it is worth checking out and seriously considering at some point in one's development. It may not be necessary but it IS significant and, I believe, worth exploring. Personally, I use both traditional and matched grips as the situation dictates and I'm glad to have that option. I feel that both grips each have their advantages/disadvantages so the more you can do, the more you can do!

New York Jazz drummer Vinnie Sperezza wrote this very thoughtful column on why he plays traditional grip and, personally, I can relate to this very much:

Some drummers have been very dogmatic about this subject (on both sides of the traditional vs. matched debate) but at the end of the day, as long as the musical purpose is served first and foremost, you are welcome to hold your sticks/brushes/mallets any way that you want! 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Jazz Drums @ Lincoln Center

Thanks to the kind people over at Jazz at Lincoln Center, we have a wealth of concerts streaming, for our convenient perusal, via their YouTube channel. Lots of great current and legendary Jazz drummers to check out here:

Ali Jackson Jr.

Rodney Green

Willie Jones III

Ulysses Owens Jr.

Nate Smith

Joe Farnsworth

Louis Hayes

Herlin Riley

Jerome Jennings

The Cookers (featuring Jabali Billy Hart)

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Buddy Rich Warm Up

A post shared by Four on the Floor (@fouronthefloorblog) on

This was shown to me by Joe Ascione, a great drummer with ridiculous hands, whom I took some lessons with in New York City back in 2004, in the basement of the Ed Sullivan Theatre.

*Some people have asked me WHY this is called the "Buddy Rich" exercise...Well, Joe Ascione, who showed this to me, also travelled with the Buddy Rich band when he was younger and would move and set up Buddy's drums for him. Joe told me that this was the closest thing to a warm-up routine that he ever saw or heard Buddy play. This is what Joe showed showed me and what I've demonstrated above. Obviously this isn't exactly what Rich played but, from all accounts, something very similar...