“They didn’t come to be taught about it. They came for the feeling.” -Art Blakey
I love this quote because it speaks volumes about how we think of playing Jazz on drums and Jazz music. Almost always, we describe Jazz drummers by their drumming skill. “Brian Blade plays amazing drum fills.” “Teri Lyne Carrington can play mind-bending poly-rhythms with her hands.” “Buddy Rich’s drum rolls are so fast and clean.”
For me, all of that explanation seems to be missing the point. The reason these great drummers played and continue to play Jazz music is because of the incredible feeling. This is also the reason we enjoy watching them play. In this article we’ll dive into feeling, the real reason to play Jazz on drums.
Why play Jazz On Drums?
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So, the question I pose in this article is, why should we even bother learning Jazz on drums? I have written other articles about the technical benefits to your drumming. For example, check out my article 5 Reasons Beginner Drummers Should Learn Jazz Drums.
There is an almost miraculous rewiring of your brain when you learn to play Jazz on drums first. Rather than beginning with Rock drumming, I always encourage students to jump into Jazz drumming as soon as possible.
Jazz drumming wires your brain for playing more complicated drum patterns and drummer independence. Being able to play with more technical skill will certainly help you also play any other style of music you want to play.
This however, is not the real reason to learn Jazz on drums or Jazz music.
The Feeling Of Jazz On Drums
For too long now, Jazz music has been portrayed as a technical music. Even for audiences, we think they have to understand what’s going in the music for them to enjoy it. This isn’t true at all and in fact is exactly what Art Blakey was saying with his quote.
Jazz music and playing Jazz on drums is a feeling more than anything else. It’s filled with emotion, passion and intensity. Jazz takes the musicians and listeners on a musical odyssey every time a song is played.
Wayne Shorter says, “You can’t rehearse the unknown.” This is the essence of Jazz. We need to tap into the feeling of playing Jazz. If we can do that and stop thinking so much about the technical aspects, we can actually create other-worldly sound.
Jazz Is Different
When you compare Jazz music with other styles, there is one quality that puts it in a category of its own. That is the “conversation.”
Think about the last time you had a conversation with a friend. You must have discussed a specific topic and had a back and forth dialogue. You probably said a few things, your friend said some things and everything spoken was related to that original topic.
Learn more about how to “converse” on the drums in my Secrets of Jazz Drumming course.
This is how Jazz on drums and Jazz music is played. I can’t think of any other style of music that takes this approach. Almost every other style of music’s drumming focuses intensely on locking into a specific drum beat. Drummers then have to keep that drum beat consistent throughout the song.
Toss Out That Drum Beat
Playing Jazz on drums is different. Yes, we have a basic beat that we need to play but we can change parts or all of it at any time. We use our limbs in creative ways to respond to the music we hear. Our drum part is always evolving with the changes in the music.
This is the conversation and it’s what makes Jazz on drums so liberating, so freeing. To be honest, I get very bored when I have to play the exact same drum beat over and over again.
I don’t want to be stuck in a drum beat box (no pun intended 😉). I want to play like the Sax, guitar, piano or bass and come up with new rhythmic ideas throughout the performance. Why should the drum part be any different?
You might also enjoy my article about Jazz comping on the drums.
The Feeling Of Playing Jazz On The Drums
So what is that feeling of playing Jazz on drums? From my own experience, it’s almost like levitating out of your body. When everyone in the band is focused on each other’s playing, we become one instrument.
This isn’t philosophical mumbo jumbo. This is real stuff! In moments like that, you can absolutely do no wrong on the drums. It’s really like a higher power is moving your arms and legs at just the right time with just the right rhythm.
This feeling is so incredible and requires that I let go of the process. I have to release the technical thinking and embrace the feeling of the moment. This is of course something the great Art Blakey did so well.
What’s really funny too is after we’re done playing on this level, the band struggles to put it into words at the end of the show. Words cannot describe the feeling, it simply has to be felt.
Once you experience this for the first time, you will pursue it with everything you’ve got.
So learn the technical parts of playing Jazz on drums and it will make you a better drummer. Then you’ll want to stop thinking about all of that and start feeling the music you play.
Be a part of the conversation of playing Jazz music. Embrace it and use your drumming to create and evolve with the music as it’s played around you.
You don’t have to get stuck in the drum beat box. Free your mind and your drumming to play like all of the other instruments in the band.
Take your fans and groupies on a Jazz music odyssey. Go with your fellow bandmates to a place you’ve never been before. When you can do this even one time, you’ll be hooked on playing Jazz on drums and never look back.
Always wishing you the very best in your drumming journey. Keep swinging my friend!
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