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How to deal with a show-off drummer?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by Tbeers, Mar 3, 2006.

  1. Tbeers


    Mar 27, 2005
    Chicago, IL

    For the past couple weeks I've been having a lot of difficulty playing with the drummer in a combo here. He's very... well let me explain. He has fabulous technique and can hear extremely complex rhythms, but he plays almost exclusively on cymbals. He's always playing absurdly complicated and convoluted grooves, which seldom involve the hi-hat. Most of the time he is using his right hand to play fast and crazy rhythms on a cymbal, and ornamenting that further with occasional clicks on the rim of his snare. Sometimes he abandons the snare completely and just does cymbals.

    Alright, so that's pretty much how he plays. Let me note I think it's a completely valid style. This guy takes occasional lessons with Jeff Ballard and draws a lot from Joey Baron, to give you an idea. So I can't knock it.

    But I just cannot play with him, no matter how hard I try. He has this attitude that the responsibility for groove is solely with the bassist, and that the drums are more of an ornamental element of the group. So I have to ignore what he is playing a lot of the time and focus on laying down a simple line just to keep the time. The result is that there is almost zero musical interplay between us, and he scolds me for trying to react musically to what he is doing. Often I have to force myself to stop listening to what he is playing, because it has so little to do with the actual groove.

    It gets worse when I want to solo, because he does one of two things: a) he stops playing entirely, or b) he continues playing rhythms that are tangential to the groove. Sometimes during a solo I want to scream, "HI-HAT! HI-HAT!" It's honestly my worst nightmare, trying to deal with this.... And I've been open-minded about it.

    Basically I am wondering if anyone here has dealt with drummers like this. Any tips? I am sort of stuck playing with this guy; there isn't a plethora of jazz musicians on campus. And I'm not sure I want to tell him to change the way he plays, because again it's so similar to what I hear in the most recent Mehldau record, for example. I get the impression it is an increasingly common and preferred approach to drumming. It's just not my thing! I wish I could play with someone like... I dunno, Billy Higgins. Heh....

    Thanks for any advice, consolation, or even flames (I'm waiting for this thread to be Fuquized)

    edit: just to reinforce where my own preferences lie, the pinnacle for me is hearing Mickey Roker play with Ray Brown. Hardest groove I've ever heard.
  2. Uncletoad


    May 6, 2003
    Columbus Ohio
    Proprietor Fifth Avenue Fret Shop. Technical Editor Bass Gear Magazine
    Hire someone else. He'll figure it out when he's bashing around at home alone with no gigs.
  3. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    Well. Since we only have your side of the story we can start there.

    First thing to do is get a recording and share it with us.

    Second, based on what you said, perhaps reflect and see if your tastes are being attacked more than the groove is. If he sounds like Joey or Jorge, and is doing a great job of it, then maybe you have to rise to the occasion.

    Third, if he is out of line, then there are a number of approaches to fix the problem. If this is at sessions at the school, then maybe you can talk about things openly between tunes in a non-accusatory manner. Particularly concerning your solos -- he should be offering you the support that you need and should be open to requests. The other thing to do is to pull him aside privately and hash it out.

    Finally, and I'm not sure that this is really appropriate in your situation, go 'old school' on him. Look him in the eye in the middle of one of his dissertations and scream at the top of of your lungs something along the lines of, "You gonna play the tune with us or recite freakin' poetry?"

    The last manner is the way that I was taught the craft :)
  4. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Sure, but the young lion should definitely save this one for last, especially if it's a school situation and he may well be stuck with the guy for some time. I'd spend a hell of a lot of time trying to hash it out before trying this. :)
  5. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    I'm with you. That's why I put as many disclaimers as I could on that one.
  6. Tbeers


    Mar 27, 2005
    Chicago, IL
    I'm really trying to give a balanced picture of the situation. This drummer is two years older than I -- he's a junior. So his seniority basically means he plays in most all of the ensembles and I don't have other drummers to play with. And his seniority and the fact that he is a music major mean that in the combo, I basically have to listen to what he wants. It's not an equal situation.

    This guy was accepted to Juilliard but elected to attend Princeton instead. So he is good (although not good enough to warrant some of his attitude issues).

    My main issue is the position that I am relegated to when I play with him. He wants to toy with the time and play complex polyrhythms, but he is adamant that I stick to a simple groove.

    Basically when I hear the way he approaches pieces, my first thought is "hey this guy sounds like Ballard, so I'll try to attack this piece from the angle of someone like Grenadier." But that's not what this drummer wants! He wants to play like Ballard, and have me play like... Leroy Vinnegar.

    I just don't like having to turn off my ears and ignore what everyone else is doing, just to keep the time consistent. That should be something that the drummer AND the bassist work together to do. I guess it's mostly a conflict regarding the role of rhythm section instruments. This drummer thinks his only job is to add color. No bass drum, no hi-hat.

    If there's a consensus here that this type of drumming is acceptable, I will just keep on trying to "rise to the occasion" as Ray puts it.

    The only recording I have of this guy with me is from a big band concert. And his playing in the big band is impeccable, it's a joy to play with him. In the combo he lets loose and things get hairy.
  7. Johnny L

    Johnny L

    Feb 14, 2002
    Victoria, TX
    Have you tried introducing material where your confidence is high in what you're doing on the bass, where the tempo or changes don't have you struggling with the beat, your intonation, etc., or asking them to play those songs a little slower (or shelving them temporarily so you can woodshed)?

    Really, man, if you already dig this drummer's work then you'll really dig it playing songs where your keeping the beat is a cakewalk...it'll be a rush...hang in there :bassist:

    edit: you've added some extra info o.k. well, maybe I'm not helping you here sorry

  8. Someone has to do it, keep the time consistent that is. We should always be listening and part of that listening involves knowing when to hold down the fort and when to add a little something extra to the music. If you're playing and thinking about when you get to throw something in you're no better than a show off on any instrument.

    Listen to the Keith Jarret Trio "Up For It" Jack DeJohnette goes allover the place and Gary just holds it down, it's magic. Even Larry Grenadier is holding down the fort most of the time.
  9. One other thing, becareful of what you wish for in terms of hi-hat while soloing. You may end up with tick tickey tick behind you.
  10. bassame


    Mar 25, 2004
    Brooklyn NY
    My current teacher, who is actually a jazz pianist, has been insisting for the last two sessions on my just setting the time. "That's what the bass is for" he says. Modern drummers (he says) play all over the place, but the bass has to be consistent. He holds up the example of Miles' group in 1964, when Tony Williams did lots of stuff, but Ron was always there.

    Just reporting a professional opinion here.
  11. Pcocobass


    Jun 16, 2005
    New York

    There's also nothing wrong with telling him in a kind way the type of comping you prefer during your solos. Most guys won't be offended because it's just a matter of taste sometimes, unless he truly is as immature and arrogant as he seems. I actually prefer certain drummers I play with to lay out completely during my solos because they are very busy compers.

    As far as the groove goes, you should work to get to the place where your groove is so strong that it doesn't matter what the hell is going on around you, you'll know where you are all the time. Does this guy have a solid sense of time or does he drop beats left and right? That obviously makes a big difference too, so don't get me wrong.

    And, to reiterate what others have said, four swinging quarters per bar always work, IMO.
  12. flatwoundfender


    Feb 24, 2005
    Stand so you can hit him your headstock on the one and the three, eventually he'll start playing them.
  13. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    well,you know me. You can prefer that, but you got to play with the band on the stand, NOT the one in your head.

    I just finished this little book by trombonist/journalist Mike Zwerin called PARISIAN JAZZ CHRONICLES, he quotes a buncha different cats in it; my current favorite is from Chet Baker and is in my signature.

    No matter HOW great a player anybody is, you're going to run into other folks with whom you just do not hook up. It doesn't matter if you like them or hate them or are indifferent to them, just the way you hear the quarter note, your instrument, music in general is just too far apart to ever hook up.
    But, as intimated above, you got to LISTEN and make sure you are playing with them, not some version of something in your head. Not "like" Grenadier or "like" Vinnegar or" like" anything else except responding to the music at hand with your vocabulary. YOU have to play with HIM, not some version of Grenadier to his Ballard or Charlie to his Billy or PC to his Philly Joe. YOU and HIM make music. Not your record collections.

    Have you ever sat down and talked with him about it? What's he trying to do, where's he hearing the ****? How does he feel about this lack of hook up? You guys ever get together just th etwo of you and play - time, tunes, just blowing?
  14. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    What Ed said. And this: Fundamentally, players on any instrument have different positive qualities.

    Some are metronomic.
    Some use dynamics.
    Some swing like crazy.
    Some are idea-generators.
    Some have mixed-meter nailed.
    Some have great intonation.
    Some are punctual.
    Some are sober.
    Some hire you.
    Some write well.
    Some know every tune cold.
    Some have great connections.
    Some are fun to hang with.
    Some are guaranteed to be around next year.

    The chance that you find somebody who has all those qualities is slim. Learn to enjoy what this guy has to offer and do your best to work with other people too.
  15. Uncletoad


    May 6, 2003
    Columbus Ohio
    Proprietor Fifth Avenue Fret Shop. Technical Editor Bass Gear Magazine
    Oh, I get it now. No choice whether you play with him or not. Make the best of it. Learn how to work with someone you don't like and make music anyhow. There will be many gigs with weird chemistry. I'd rather be the guy that finds music under a pile of dung than the guy complaining that someone isn't doing it right. It's hard to change someones approach to music. It's easier to find a way to fit me into their approach.
  16. I´m with Ed on this. Since this is a school situation, T, you should be able to sit down and talk with him, constructive way. If you like what the guy is doing in the big band, and if everybody else thinks he generally doesn´t suck, why don´t you just try to find out what is interfering your communication with him? He might have a really different consept for combo work than you, and hasn´t been able to tell you about it, more than asking you to keep time. He might also think that you are not getting it.
    I mean, you are in the school to learn something, aren´t you both? The big thing you can learn is not to get frustrated IF someone plays different **** than you´d like to hear. Because in Real World, on the stage, you cannot let yourself get frustrated or annoyed. You just have to solve that kind of situation, and solve it quick. Otherwise the audience will turn their backs and walk away.
    Sorry if this sounds harsh. Happened so many times.

  17. I'm with all of the above on this. I think informing a drummer, or any player for that matter, on what will be helpful comping behind your solo is important. I did with a drummer I used to play with a while ago and it really changed our dynamic, he said he even learned something from the experience.
  18. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    As far as the soloing/comping goes, ask him to play with a little more nuance and subtlety. It's hard for anyone to hear a bass solo with such a beautiful drum style spewing forth. :rolleyes:
  19. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    IMO the first thing you need to try to do is stop seeing this as an issue or a problem and more as an opportunity to grow or a challenge to take your playing and hearing to another level. That alone shifts your perception and your ability to flow with the situation and exploit it. As someone else said there's always going to be folks that you gel with and folks that you don't but I think it's a good thing to be able to morph depending on the moment and especially when things are sub optimal because you will find yourself on gigs with all different types of folks.
  20. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    Become the King of Making Simple Sound Great.