2% Jazz, 98% Funk

L-R: Fred, PeeWee and Maceo

L-R: Fred, PeeWee and Maceo

When I toured with the J.B. Horns (Maceo Parker, Pee Wee Ellis and Fred Wesley) along with Al Jaffe on guitar and Mark Helias on bass, Maceo would always announce in the beginning that we were gonna play “2% jazz and 98% funk.” The people always cheered wildly.

We funked it up and the guys did do a few tunes with repetitive vocal lines like “Funky Good Time,” and Fred always killed it with his “House Party,” and Maceo did “Let Him Out,” a great rap homage to JB when he was unfortunately incarcerated late in his career.

The JBs would get everybody in the audience to sing the words “Soul Power” before we did an instrumental version of that tune, but basically it was an instrumental band. So that’s kind of become my formula for fun and good times for everyone, “2% jazz and 98% funk.”

BUT… The owner of the club where I have a steady gig with my band once a week on Cannery Row in Monterey poked his head in last Tuesday and checked us out. I don’t think he had ever actually heard us in the two years we’ve been there.

I have a five piece band: tenor, trumpet, guitar, bass and drums.

We do some funky tunes, 98% funk, in fact: Horace Silver, Herbie Hancock, Average White Band, Pee Wee Ellis and some of my originals. I worked up charts for the two horns with some help from the guitar player, Jesse DeCarlo, and we’ve been groovin’ really well.

The next day I get a call from the bartender, who also does the booking… “Jack came in last night and saw that you guys don’t have a singer. Band sounds great but that’s his formula. Classic dance tunes and a singer singing them.”

I’ve played behind a lot of great singers (Esther Phillips, Esther Satterfield, Yvonne Jackson, Lucky Peterson, Kenny Neal, Hank Ballard, Ray Anderson, the San Francisco Inspirational Choir, even James Taylor) but that wasn’t what I wanted to do with this band. I wanted more freedom for me and the other guys.

The word was, “You guys gotta get a singer or you’re out.” He’s pretty direct.

Of course he wouldn’t come up with any extra money, so I couldn’t keep the five-piece band. No, of course not. Somebody had to go. I’m afraid it was the trumpet player, Dan Herrera.

So why didn’t Maceo’s formula of 2% jazz and 98% funk work in this case?

If you play funk without a singer it’s considered “jazz.” And that’s a broad label and a bad word for many people. “Jazz, oh no. That’s not my thing.” If they say you’re playing jazz, that’s not ok. But what really gets me is that they still call it jazz even when the people are crowding the dance floor, shaking their money makers and having a good time!

Hey, I like good singers too. I just have to rant a little and get on with it, reorient my brain and change gears.

So I gave it up and all my tediously written horn harmony charts for two horns are out. Oh well, I learned a lot working them up. We’ll still slip them in and call it dance-rap-funk-pop.

Hey, we fooled ‘em for almost two years so I guess that’s success in itself.
And we still have a steady Tuesday night gig. Anybody know any great singers in the Monterey area?

2% jazz, 98% funk plus singer.

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WAIT: HAPPY ENDING!

The guys decided to take a cut in pay. I didn’t even ask them to! The big bucks we make (haha) are not why we do this gig anyway.

And we found a really soulful singer who also plays alto, so now we have a three piece horn section! Wow, even better. Sometimes the Universe really works. Now I’m really getting happy.

Lefty Lateano the One-Armed Bandit

me & vince.JPG

Me and Vince at the Monterey Jazz Summer Camp, June 22, 2016

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Vince Lateano came over to my studio a few days ago. Vince is “the man” on the San Francisco jazz scene. He’s played big band, small band, with Cal Tjader, and many, many more.

He’s a great friends with Mike Clark, and Mike hooked us up for an interview for my book Give The Drummers Some! Mike credits Vince as a major influence, and since I moved out here to California Vince and I have become great friends.

When he was at my studio he told me a story about what happened when his right arm stopped working several years ago, some kind of nerve problem. Too much playing? They never actually found the cause. It did eventually get better after 6 months, but meanwhile, what was he going to do?

A friend suggested he play with one hand. What? At first he thought that was a pretty crazy idea, but then, what else was he going to do? Sit around the house?

So he tried it, using only his left hand, (and both feet, of course). He boiled it down to playing only the most essential things on the drum set, depending on the music - ride cymbal with left hand for jazz, bass drum and snare drum for 8th note grooves, etc.

This got me thinking and I decided to try it. Very interesting. I constructed solo phrases with my right hand, hi-hat and bass drum only. I found that it really slowed down the entire process. Since it was totally new I had to think first before I played. I had to think - What am I going to do?, and then try to execute it.

This process of thinking first and executing afterwards is exactly what I want to do when I’m playing with two hands, but lots of times I just speed on and rely on chops to make some kind of statement which usually gets messed up in the execution because:

1) I’m not taking time to think what I’m going to play a split second before I play it,

2) I let my chops run away with me. Okay, this is fast so I guess it’ll sound cool, even though I really don’t know what it’s going to sound like.

3) I don’t leave any space. Space? No, you’ve got to fill that up. That’s what drummers do, right? Hey, they don’t give us much space anyway.

NO. That’s not how you make music.

You make music by thinking of a solo phrase, or at least the beginning of a 2 or 4 bar phrase and then executing it. You can then vary it or put it through some permutations to extend it, which is relatively easy once you get the first idea. And that idea can come from anywhere, even from a mistake. Just some simple melody. Then work with it. Melody is the key word, not just a bunch of 32nd notes on the snare.

And the more I relax and let it happen, the more original ideas come up. I just sit there and watch and nudge it here and there and I really feel my solos are on another level.

Thanks to Lefty Lateano the One-Armed Bandit.

 

 

"Let the Drums Speak" - Bernard Purdie's Mind Game

Me and Bernard. I was teaching at Ultra Sound Studios in NYC and he was teaching upstairs. He stopped by to say hello.

Pretty excited about launching the new website. Seems like it’s been in the making for six months. Already getting some nice responses. I have a great team helping me:

Angelie Zaslavsky, Susan Bancroft, Luke Bogus, Jesse DeCarlo, and of course, my dear wife: Joanna FitzPatrick.

Thanks, thanks, thanks.

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Meanwhile, just finished Bernard Purdie’s biography, “Let the Drums Speak,” written with Bob Porter. When I was studying with Bernard in New York in the 70s and 80s he took me to recording sessions and I would sit down on the floor in back of the drum booth. (Thank you Bernard!)

One session, I think it was a Pepsi jingle, he came in, joked with all the musicians and B.B. King, who was singing, and went to the drum booth. The music was on his music stand. He looked at for a few seconds and then turned it upside down!

Hey, what's up with this? I was shocked, to say the least. Never quite knew why he did that! Session went great, he nailed it and everybody was happy.

Only now, after reading his book did I find out that Bernard has a photographic memory! Now it made sense and it also made sense that he did so well with any reading gig or any non-reading gig for that matter. He said when the band was looking at the first few bars he was already half way down the page, and I believe him. I saw it happen.

I learned that memorizing, even if you don’t have a photographic memory (and I don’t!), is super-important. If I have the song memorized I can really dig in. It takes me longer than Bernard but it can be done.

I’ve been doing some exercises: memorizing 4 and 8 bar solo phrases from Marvin Dahlgren and Elliot Fine’s 4-Way Coordination, or parts of any transcription of a solo (Elvin, Max, etc.). It really trains my mind to stay concentrated. That’s the name of the game. My mind doesn’t wander off and loose the form, and my chops and ideas don’t suffer either!

 

 

Being ahead of the game.

When I was doing a session with Will Lee, who was the bass player on the Letterman Show and on countless recordings, we were talking about reading. He said, “You have to know what’s going to happen in the music before it happens. You have to be looking ahead.”

I was like, wow, how can you do that? It sounds kind of impossible. I was having enough trouble reading the notes right when they passed by, but I unfortunately had a feeling that he was right and this was really the way to go. He said you have to play what’s written, and at the same time you have to scan the bars ahead to see what’s going to happen, so you’re always ahead of the game. I realized I couldn’t play each note separately and then quickly go on to the next note. Not enough time! I could see that I had to have my reading down well enough that I could scan ahead and figure out the music in phrases.

After this, I got busy and really started working hard on my reading in my East Village basement apartment. After all, we’re drummers, and we basically have to read one line of music, not many multiple melodic notes, so it’s not all that hard.

And of course most important, we have to follow the form of the song.