Herman Matthews: Can The Boy Shuffle?

Can The Boy Shuffle?

Back when I was just a kid, I used to go hear one of the great Texas Tenors, Arnett Cobb, and playing drums with him was a guy named Ben Turner. Ben had a wonderful way of playing jazz. No matter what he played it was swinging.

Well, one night Turner asked if I wanted to sit in, much to my surprise. He had heard me play many times, but to sit in with Arnett Cobb? Wow! Anyway, Turner asked Mr. Cobb if it was okay if I could sit in. Arnett took a draw off his cigarette and asked, “Can he shuffle?”

Turner turned around and answered, “CAN THE BOY SHUFFLE?!!!”

After that I knew that I’d better shuffle my tail off. The moon was in the right place and God was smiling on me because we played a tune that I had played many times with my uncle’s trio, and that shuffle sounded like a washing machine on a slow cycle. It was great! I’ll never forget it, because later that year, I played gigs with Arnett Cobb and Jimmy Ford, another great Texas sax player.

So what’s my point? You want to have a good-feeling shuffle in your bag. The following exercises will give you a number of different shuffles to work on. Ex. 1 is a Texas shuffle. At slower tempos it’s a fatback shuffle or a lump-d-lump. The snare drum and rhythm guitar should be playing the same thing. The hi-hat should be a little on the sloppy side of things – partly open and slushy. It can also be a Chicago shuffle – just add three or four beers to this equation.

Ex. 2 is sort of a Tulsa-style shuffle. It isn’t as sloppy, but the backbeat is laid back. The kick drum pattern is sort of optional. It depends on what the bass player is playing. Drummer Chuck Blackwell was the greatest at this.

Okay, if everyone is playing the double-stop snare drum thing, it can sound a little stiff, especially if you got players that can’t bend the feel correctly. So round off the edges with Ex. 3. Play less, but keep the feel. Basically, these are quarter-notes with a lazy attitude and the snare on 2 and 4.

Now Ex. 4 is sort of a stumble shuffle. It has a slight boogie-woogie kind of feel that should flow with the piano player’s left hand. It was played when there was no bass player. The sloppy hat kind of fills the groove out, and 2 and 4 are still emphasized with the kick and hi-hat.

Ex. 5 is a broken shuffle and should be played with the right hand on the snare and the left hand playing 2 and 4 on the slightly sloppy hat. This gives a kind of hiccup feel to the groove that is actually pretty relaxing when played right.

Herman Matthews
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