Saturday, May 19, 2018

Let's Turn it Around: Add Some Rock to Your Jazz Drumming

A few months ago I came across this article written by Brad Schlueter in DRUM! Magazine and really enjoyed it. Schlueter spoke clearly of the benefits of learning a different style of music and I couldn't agree more because the more styles you learn the better you will become as an all around musician. Schlueter also provided several exercises that will help a Rock drummer become familiar with Jazz drumming so I applaud the depth he brought to his discussion.

One of the things that Schlueter mentioned that I would like to focus on was that learning Jazz will improve one's improvisational skills, enhance one's coordination and expand one's sensitivity in their playing. While I don't disagree with this I would like to say that there are too many musicians who may not see the same value in having a Jazz drummer learn some Rock, as if Rock music may not have similar benefits from a different point of view. I already offered my thoughts on musical snobbery in another blog: ( but in this case I would like to flip the switch and discuss how Rock drumming can benefit those who play other styles of music.

Discovering Rock and Roll 

I grew up in a house with a family who loved music. My parents loved Latin Jazz, Chicano Rock, traditional Mexican music, R & B, Motown, Pop/Rock and just about anything with a great beat. When I was about eight years old I discovered KISS and my life would never be the same. As a teenager I was totally into Rock music (even though I still loved my parents' music) and it consumed me for many years. I would go on to add Iron Maiden, Stryper, Queensryche, Winger, Journey and many others to my musical vocabulary and it didn't matter to me if my musical peers thought, especially in a college music program, because this was the music I liked and I was never going to apologize for it. Some even told me I was wasting my time with this kind of stuff but I didn't feel that way when I was playing in packed clubs on Sunset Strip while my critics were in restaurants and cafes performing for people who usually weren't even listening.

First Lesson 

Now it's time to share some of the important things I learned about music and drumming thanks to Rock and Roll.  Right away I would like to say that I am not a showman so twirling my sticks and pointing at people in the audience was never my forte. Keep in mind though that some Jazz drummers have been known at times to be showman and there's nothing wrong with that because an audience deserves to be entertained.

Musically, Rock drumming has benefited my playing in so many ways. First off, it has taught me how to have a commanding presence. When you're driving a Rock band you must have power and that doesn't necessarily mean you have to hit really hard. You can still be a solid player with some drive without destroying your gear (I despise that part of Rock drumming). I still use one play heads on my drum set and am on the artist roster for Drum Dots so I have no issue with muffling my drums. However, I do have a big sounding drum set that does cut through with any band that I play with. And if anyone thinks for one second that such drumming is without some form of technique then they should listen to this performance by the great Nicko McBrain, who is not only a drummer in a heavy metal band but also a drummer with an extensive musical background including Jazz:

You will see that he doesn't just play a straight beat (more on that later) but has a strong presence in all that he plays. I saw McBrain open a show with this song back in the year 2000 and then deliver close to two more hours of drumming that was not only powerful but dynamic, which is important to say because there are still many who think that Rock music lacks the musicality of genres such as Jazz and I couldn't disagree more. Here's an example of a variation of different drumming styles that McBrain does in one song:

Second Lesson

Another thing I learned from Rock drumming is to have a consistent groove. Some might actually ask how this is not demonstrated in Jazz drumming but I will argue that at times playing with more of a swing feel does it fact inhibit one's ability to lay into the drum in a strong and consistent way. Sometimes there is just too much bounce and when this happens it makes a song feel like it's all over the place. Take for example the song Moon Germs. It's a great tune and a standard that my own Jazz/Fusion trio performs at our shows but I really don't care for the introduction on this particular version:  I know that many would accuse me of blasphemy since I am not impressed with Jack DeJohnette's performance but to me he isn't really playing with the band as he plays more through the band. The main melody is really cool and in a Rock context one would match the rhythm in order to give it greater emphasis. In this case there is just a ton of notes all over the place and as far as I'm concerned, there is no consistent groove. Yes, it is in time and sure, I guess it really swings but to my ear it does not groove.

Also, there are times when I think someone can play too much Jazz to the point where it hurts their feel in a non-swing context. If you want to stick to Jazz, great, but if you're going to cross boundaries into other musical genres you have to be able to do the job and do it right.

Take for example the classic Journey song Separate Ways (World's Apart). It's a great tune with great vocals and great pop sensibilities but it must have a drummer that really drives the song. In the original recording the drums were performed by Steve Smith and it's a great performance.

Years later it would be performed with drummer Deen Castronovo and this is where it really had some drive: I love the power and presence that Castronovo brought to the song and for me, this is the way it should be played because after all, it's Rock and Roll. This is also a song that Journey tends to open their shows with so they have to bring the energy to the crowd from the get go.

Surprisingly when Smith returned to the band in 2016 his performance on the same song that he recorded lacked the drive and presence that it had back in the early 80's. Of course he had been playing a lot of Jazz for many years prior to his return to Journey and I would argue that this changed his drumming enough where he couldn't do what he did in the past. Of course this is just my opinion but when I compare this performance: to what he did in the past or to say to Castronovo's performance I must say that I was rather disappointed when I saw the band open the show I attended in Phoenix back in May of 2016.. This type of music requires both presence and attitude and no one should have to apologize for that. In other words, this is not a time to tell everyone that you were trained as a Jazz drummer, which Smith loves to say on a regular basis. This is a time to step up and tell everyone that they need to get on the train or get out of the way. In fact (and not meaning to bring up a sour point from the past), if you listen to the Journey album Raised on Radio one can sort of see perhaps why vocalist Steve Perry had Smith relieved from his post in the band. The late session master Larrie Londin provided a much more solid back beat like no one had ever provided on a Journey album prior to this release and with Perry also being a drummer I guess he knew what he wanted to hear. Again, there are times when you need to stop worrying about how well you swing and think more about how well you lay down that back beat.

A Rocker in Other Musical Settings 

As life went on I moved away from the Rock scene because I grew tired of the type of people I had to deal with from the musicians to the venue owners & promoters who always wanted something for nothing (not to say that such things don't exist in other musical scenes). Now that I had a family and a home to maintain I preferred to work in settings where I would get more decent & consistent pay. Lately that has led me to play a lot of Country music (hey, I live in Tucson, AZ so think about that before you throw mud) and Jazz/Fusion.

In terms of playing Country music my Rock background has helped me push these bands in ways that most members were not used to. Again, I am not the hardest hitter in the world but my time spent in Rock meant that I had experience pushing bands that played at high volumes with that Rock and Roll attitude. Of course when I am playing Country music I always have to be conscious of my tempo as well as my dynamics because while many of these songs are simple they require one to be very precise in what they do because the listeners are both used to hearing the songs as they know them while also wanting to dance the night away. But, I have noticed how many people love the fact that I kick my bass and snare a little harder or maybe with just a tad more attitude than most of the Country drummers in town. Fortunately I can also say that my brothers in the Tony Corrales Band also like the drive I bring to the band, which I equate both to the feel that Rock music requires along with the consistency that one has to maintain, even when they are playing to a click track since the music is also somewhat simple and in need of a groove that must be spot on.

Ironically I must make a comment here on how playing a lot of Country music has impacted my Jazz playing. When I started working in the Country scene I became so busy for a number of years that I had to put my Jazz/Fusion band away for a while. Little did I know that I would be playing so many shuffles and waltzes with many of these songs at times requiring a light tough that it actually improved my swing playing. So for any Rock drummer out there who might want to experiment with Jazz I suggest you play some Country music first.

In terms of how Rock drumming impacted my Jazz/Fusion playing I humbly bow my head and say that it is not best to speak of my drumming as it would be best to refer everyone to the true drumming greats such as Billy Cobham, Tony Williams and Lenny White. They are the true forefathers of Fusion music and still amaze me with some of their musical masterpieces that continue to have an impact on so many drummers today. Take a listen to Billy Cobham's Spectrum, Crosswinds & Total Eclipse, Tony Williams' Emergency, Believe It & Million Dollar Legs and Lenny White's Venusian Summer and The Adventures of Astral Pirates. The best way I would describe these albums is slammin' soul because these guys really know how to bring the beat! You want to talk about drummers who not only have the feel but also the power and attitude that was required for drive this groundbreaking music and none of these drummers shied away from stating the fact that they were fine with the idea of adding some Rock drumming into the mix.


Again, I am for people learning different musical styles because it not only expands our musical vocabulary but also teaches our bodies to play our instruments in different ways. This would be similar to athletes who learn how to use their bodies in different types of sports, which teaches them how to perform better in their main sport (think boxers who add swimming and ballet to their training regimen). I applaud Schlueter for sharing with us how Jazz drumming can have a positive impact on Rock drumming but let's not forget that Rock drumming can have the same impact on Jazz drumming with the proof being in some famous recordings provided by drummers out there who not only expanded their musical vocabulary but also did so knowing that they might face some heat from musical snobs who believe that certain musical genres have nothing to teach us.

The proof is in the pudding and this pudding tastes pretty good.

Carlos Solorzano

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