Many years ago, I saw the late Tony Williams perform a drum clinic, and he demonstrated something I will always remember. He played a jazz ride pattern on the ride cymbal, and then illustrated how you could play a pattern with a different limb, and then change dynamics on only that limb while keeping the cymbal groove at the same volume. He started with a jazz cymbal pattern (Ex. 1) — and he may have played the hi-hat on 2 and 4, or all four beats, as was his custom). But then he played half-note triplets on the bass drum (Ex. 2), and increased the volume of the bass drum from a whisper to a roar, and back again, without changing the volume or sound of the cymbal beat. Try this! It’s very difficult! But thinking about changing dynamics of one single limb opens a world of sound and control possibilities. Thanks, Tony, for your unbelievable playing and inspiration. You have left a legacy that has changed jazz drumming forever.
Danny Gottlieb has played with Pat Metheny, John McLaughlin, the NDR Big Band, and is currently a member of Gary Sinise’s Lt Dan Band (ltdanband.com). He is an associate professor of jazz studies at the University Of North Florida. dannygottlieb.org