Vinnie Colaiuta Tackles Classical Jazz
These two examples are written with all the notes stems-up, since Vinnie treats all four limbs equally. How did he develop his four-limb fluency? “What you do is just change your conception,” he explains. “It’s mental. You can work on the mechanics, but it’s how you think of it. You just conceive if it differently. Nothing different happens. The foot is still hitting the same drum.”
The third example starts at about three minutes, fifteen seconds into “Prelude in C# Minor.” Here the feet are written stem-down, as the hi-hat serves a different purpose, playing mostly quarter-notes. Colaiuta says, “The use of the hi-hat as a timekeeper is reliant on the context that it’s in. The hi-hat is just another voice or it’s a timekeeper. If you’re playing a solo in such a way that you’re not using it as a voice, and nobody is comping for you, it will always be a marker of where you are. In a general time-keeping sense, the hi-hat is kind of like the glue.”
These four-bar solos are in 7/4, which Colaiuta plays so smoothly that you might not notice the odd phrases when you first hear them. How does he do it without sounding like eight-minus-one? “When I first started practicing odd time signatures, I noticed that,” he says. “And that is one way to do it. But what if you don’t want it to sound like that? Then you have to figure a way to get out of that. You know that it feels funny, so you have to figure a way to not make it feel funny. There are ways to do it, like dividing it in a certain way. You can avoid 1. You can play over the bar line.
“The bass usually sets the pulse. The ostinato will tell you how it’s divided, and gives you the general sense of the hump of the bar, just like any other groove. The only time it gets tricky is when you have to memorize it, because the actual hump changes. You basically have to look and see how the bar is divided, and that might change from bar to bar. You have to count it first and find the subdivision. It’s easy to feel when the subdivision stays the same, because the subdivision becomes like the clave. And sometimes that changes from bar to bar. It’s like driving a race car. It’s like when you run at that speed, you have to think a certain way and you have to react a certain way. You can’t pause. You’re in that flow and time reference.”
With chops like Colaiuta’s, it certainly must be like driving a race car, and like most great players, he keeps getting better. “I just want to grow, like we all do. It’s a journey.”