How To Swing & Shuffle (for Drummers)
Ever wonder why those old bop, hard bop, Blue Note and Prestige sessions sound so soulful and groovy... ? Immerse yourself in a study of the Jazz shuffle, from its classic to more modern forms and you'll come to learn why. While polyrhythmic drum playing has been at the forefront for the past 30 years and definitely has its place, the art of the Jazz shuffle has fallen by the wayside at its expense, yet to me the shuffle to me is the epitome of the so called "black feel" in music.. from its roots in boogie woogie, through the swing era to its eventual "evolution" into funk style drumming.
Today, I believe that its true that the soloists themselves in Jazz (drummers included) are playing better and better from a technical perspective... but in terms of the overall feel, I think most people agree that there's something missing in today's Jazz. Most people can't quite put their finger on it, but I can tell you right now what it is : The art of the solo has improved immensely, but rhythm sections have become predictable and mechanical. The master drummers who invented modern playing did so with a rich and deep understanding of many types of feels, beats and rhythms, but today's drummers are simply copying the innovations without going down to its roots. The sax masters had the advantage of being backed by drummers who not only had solid time and a certain feel and understanding of what was going on on all levels... At one time the drummer was the most AWARE person in the band, and I believe in any group, should be. I truly believe that a great drummer can take even a mediocre soloist, and with the right groove behind them MAKE them sound (atleast for a few seconds) like a MASTER... as for all the feel and energy.... all of that (including the funky stuff which it would lead to), all came from their understanding and ability to use, manipulate and adapt a very specific type of Jazz pulses, many of them having derivations from the standard shuffle...
Interested in getting that feel ? Read on...
First, you have to listen a lot... For the Hammond Organ genre I highly recommend one of the few Bill Doggett albums that's still readily available, "Wow"... and Wild Bill Davis's LIVE AT BIRDLAND (slightly harder to find.) Also check out Groove Holmes' version of "Things Ain't What They Used To Be" from the album BLUE GROOVE (You can downloadit for 99 cents on I-tunes !) Another good one that's readily available (non Hammond) is Keely Smith's SWING SWING SWING featuring Frankie Capp on drums. As you listen, dig this definition on what the word shuffle means : basically, it means to drag one's feet or walk lazily. As you listen to various shuffles, see if you can come to experience this feel for yourself.
Now in terms of doing it for yourself, first, it all begins learning how to play on to the beats with basic TRIPLET feel.
If you're used to counting off the beat (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +) as most musicians are taught when they study classical music and music theory, picking up real Jazz time can be very difficult... You can't swing and count EIN TSVIE DRIE FEIR... Its a fact of life : Jazz swings ! A good shuffle should sound a lot like a galloping horse not a bavarian march... it really needs to breathe and have the right energy. ...One good way to get into that feel (if its not in you aready) is to learn something called THE ROLLING COUNT: A rolling count sounds like this... and-uh-1, and-uh 2, and-uh 3, and-uh 4... the numbers fall ON the beat, and the "and" and "uh" lead onto it...
Now, if you spend a lot of time listening to some solidly swinging Jazz tunes (mid-tempo particularly unless you have a very dexterous tongue), this feel will eventually come pretty easy. Try ART BLAKEY'S MOANIN' for starters (behind the solos that is) or even Jimmy Smith's Back At The Chicken Shack. Listen to them over and over again, patting your feet and tapping, snapping and singing along.
THE NEXT STEP...
Eventually you need to learn how to drop the and and feel the pulse of just the uh and the beat (uh 1, uh 2, uh 3, uh 4). The "and" is still there, but just don't say it. If you find it really really hard, you might want to practise chanting "uh 1, uh 2, uh 3, uh 4" right along with Blakey's cymbal pattern... or even clapping it on your hands. Be sure to be tapping your feet 4/4 whilst doing this. Another thing you could try to do is clap all three beats on the "and uh 1, and uh 2..." etc. count then simply work yourself to the point where you just SAY the "and" and clap the "uh 1"part, then eventually drop the "and"... Anyway, get used to this pulse... again, this is real Jazz time.
Now, to shuffle, you want to play that pattern on the ride... My "serious" instrument happens to be organ not drums, but I decided to pick up a little drumming in order to be able to communicate better with my drummers (and sometimes chill out from the organ.) I learned pretty early in the game when I decided to pick up a bit of drums the importance of being able to hold and control the stick in a proper manner (*not that I ever mastered it.) --In order to swing, its important that you can control the stick and learn to get it to drop and rebound so you can play off the pulse with solid timing, control and ease.
O.K. Now once you have the ride swinging, you're half way there. Next comes the high hat. Depending upon the type of shuffle, you're either going to stomp the high hat on the 2 and 4 like on a swing tune, though there is also a type of shuffle where you can stomp on the upbeat of all four beats. Incidentally, the reason its not a good idea to play full cymbal patterns on the closed high hat (like the rock and rollers) and simply accenting it with the snare and kick is because while it'll work in rock, in Jazz it'll usually sound too forced and mechanical sounding... as a general rule of thumb, you want to swing on the ride and keep time on the high hat. That's what its there for - - don't knock it -- There are exceptions to the rule, of course... two beat patterns, and funk, though if you listen to master funk drummers like Bernard Purdie, you'll hear how they're able to control the high had so as to "put air in the sound".
Next comes the snare... There's a couple of ways you can play the snare... Basically you can play the same pattern on the snare as you're playing on the ride (*or in the case of a shuffle like Moanin' every other beat) or you can even cheat and just hit the snare or wap the rim shot on the 2 and 4.. Sometimes you'll even hear shuffles where the drummer alternates between the the snare and the crash... but my favorite is when the drummer is hitting the snare and/or crash on the "and" and bottoming the groove with the kick drum on uh and beat or just the beat... all of this along with the basic ride pattern.
And speaking of the kick, basically speaking you want to ghost either the basic pulse or the actual shuffle pattern down there... ghost means you're playing it just light enough to help add an extra pulse or bottom to the bass line... but not BANGING it so it interferes with how the bass player is swinging...
And this in a nut shell is how to play a good shuffle, which is really the granddaddy of all classic swing rhythms and funk too (listen to James Brown's DOING IT TO DEATH!!!)... Now, most importantly always remember this : Never solely learn a drum pattern from books or play alongs.... listen to albums and practise playing along, then go out and do it... and also remember, a shuffle (or swing) isn't any one single drum pattern... there are probably hundreds and hundreds of different varieties, so the most fun thing and the biggest challenge is to find a shuffle that really enhances or creates a great flavor for the rhythm section and on the tune you're playing all. In the end, LOVE the blues and love to SHUFFLE, and soulful playing will burn in your blood ! ! !
Eddie Landsberg (2004)