Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Variant Timekeeping Patterns and Their Effects in Jazz Drumming

Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Variant Timekeeping Patterns and Their Effects in Jazz Drumming

Article excerpt

[1] In its role as accompaniment, the jazz rhythm section is charged with sustaining an engaging rhythmic groove and with generating intensity and excitement in support of an improvising soloist. Drummers play an especially vital role in this process. Their principal ensemble function throughout jazz history has generally been timekeeping but, since the advent of modern jazz drumming during the bebop period, the more irregular, improvised accompaniment patterns known as "comping" have grown increasingly important.(1)

[2] Much of the literature on jazz drumming suggests an opposition between the timekeeping and comping functions-an opposition drummer Michael Carvin has eloquently characterized in terms of "solid" and "liquid" components, respectively (quoted in Monson 1996, 55). On the "solid" side, drummers generally employ the ride cymbal and/or hi-hat for timekeeping. On these instruments, they perform repeated patterns intended quite simply to articulate a steady pulse and to provide a temporal referent for the rest of the ensemble, much like the bell pattern of West African drum ensembles. By contrast, in the "liquid" domain, drummers "comp" on the other instruments of the drum kit, especially the snare drum, in order to generate intensity in support of (and often in dialogue with) an improvising soloist. Timekeeping and comping take place simultaneously, of course. Drummers maintain near-continuous timekeeping patterns on the ride cymbal with their right hands (assuming right-handedness) while their left hands comp freely on the snare, tom-toms, and crash cymbals, adding various figures and accents as necessary in accordance with their expressive purposes at any given moment. Good comping procedures facilitate control over the flow of motional energy during a performance and, if successful, help the soloist build and develop his or her solo and drive it towards a dramatic climax. Max Roach's accompaniment of Clifford Brown's trumpet solo in "Pent-Up House" is exemplary.(2) Roach begins sparsely, providing nothing more than simple timekeeping on the hi-hat and ride cymbals through the first part of the solo. As it progresses, his comping rhythms become increasingly dense, loud, and complex until Brown's solo concludes amid a cascade of cymbal crashes, syncopated snare chops, drum rolls, and "bombs" dropped by the bass drum.

[3] In this framework, rhythmic interest in the drum part clearly lies in the highly variable "liquid" domain of comping. By contrast, "solid" timekeeping on the ride cymbal and hi-hat must be understood as mundane, inert, and largely ineffectual with respect to the intensification of motional energy behind an improvising soloist, since its principal purpose is merely to serve as a sort of clock for the ensemble.(3) I would like to suggest, however, that varied timekeeping patterns played on the ride cymbal in particular can be instrumental in generating motional energy through the strategic production of metric dissonance at key moments during a performance. To this end, I will examine some of the ways in which one particular drummer, Steve Davis, employs various timekeeping patterns on the ride cymbal to generate energy and intensity through nine choruses of accompaniment in a performance of Miles Davis's "Tune Up" from a Jamey Aebersold "Play-A-Long" recording.(4)

[4] My choice of this recording has less to do with the decisiveness or genius of Davis's performance-though he is unquestionably a brilliant drummer-than with ease of transcription. Quite frankly, it is relatively simple to filter out the drum part in an Aebersold recording, whereas the added interference of other instruments on recordings of full ensembles makes it difficult to isolate and notate the many nuances of drum-set performance. I should also add that my analysis of Davis's accompaniment largely ignores the interactive play that is very much at the heart of rhythm section accompaniment. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.