Drum Dialects, Demonstrations and Discussions on DVD: Eric Harland, Ralph Peterson and Ari Hoenig

Dan Bilawsky BY

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Some people, whether through financial means, geographical convenience, long term educational pursuits or a combination of all three, are fortunate enough to study with master jazz musicians, but the majority of aspiring musicians will never have such opportunities. This reality has resulted in the advent of a variety of resources to help expose musicians to the musical philosophies and techniques that guide the giants of jazz and, with the exception of books, video releases are chief among them.

While certain companies, such as Hudson Music, have dominated the video market for quite some time, they don't have a stranglehold on personal language, content and perspective. Educational philosophies, musical personalities and teaching techniques vary widely in music, and that's why new entries in the educational video market—such as those presented by Jazz Heaven—are always welcome. Drummer/Jazz Heaven CEO Falk Willis tapped some of the most revered and unique artists out there, from saxophone icon Lee Konitz to philosophical piano guru Jean-Michel Pilc, to share their wisdom via lengthy video master classes and interviews, but he didn't overlook his own instrument-of-choice in the process. Three of the earliest entries in what looks to be a fairly large and wide-ranging collection of DVDs, hand over the stage to three very different drummers who discuss and demonstrate their thoughts on their craft.

Eric Harland

The Yin & Yang Of Jazz Drumming

Jazz Heaven


Drummer Eric Harland, as the ultimate modern rhythmic taste-maker and the driving force on stellar recordings from the SFJAZZ Collective, McCoy Tyner, Charles Lloyd and many others, is always in demand and, while he may or may not have time to teach others on a regular basis, he found the time to sit down in the studio for this engaging DVD. His 90 minute lesson proves to be the most broad-minded of the three discs under discussion, as he touches on the idea of making moods in music and tapping into one's own personality, and the least technically specific.

While Harland is able to share his unique perspectives on everything from cymbal choices and set-up to being a team player, he rarely gets into technical jargon. His discussion of an exercise in 21/8, which is a rare exception and allows him to experiment with different groupings in different limbs, speaks to his genius, but it also makes it clear that, when it comes to musical specifics, his ability to show, more than tell, is key. On this front, he and Joe Martin demonstrate the cat-and-mouse game that a drum and bass team can play with the beat, while a trio that pairs this rhythm duo with pianist Aaron Parks explores the blues in unique fashion. Harland's affable personality, stunning skills and ability to speak in universal, non-musical terms when it counts, makes this a winning disc that could help neophytes or Harland-lovers looking for a glimpse into his mind. Play-along tracks and a lengthy interview, which chronicles Harland's development as a musician, search for spiritual enlightenment and career highlights with artists such as trumpeter Terence Blanchard, serves as the icing on the cake.

Ralph Peterson

Jazz Drumming Demystified

Jazz Heaven


Many professional jazz musicians dabble in education and many respected music teachers play on the side, but it's incredibly rare to encounter an individual who is world-class in both categories. Few people have the time, energy, intellect or passion to put into both pursuits, but drummer Ralph Peterson is one of them. While his legacy as a performer has been written through his work with singer Betty Carter and saxophonists Branford Marsalis, David Murray and Michael Brecker, and many others, his wisdom as an educator is being passed on through his work at Berklee: the ultimate brick-and-mortar jazz institution.

Peterson's ability to provide a nuts-and-bolts explanation of drumming essentials, which covers fulcrum, the importance of rudiments, brush patterns, the principles of motion and a whole lot more, makes this an indispensable DVD for students of any skill level. His easy-to-understand explanations and willingness to discuss hard lessons that he overcame, like a failed audition due to a lack of rudimental vocabulary knowledge, can help young players get to the next level, and more seasoned players might glean some wisdom from his help with up-tempo playing mechanics in the right hand, but those are just a few examples of what's covered herein. Everything from Philly Joe Jones to paradiddlediddles to the importance of learning repertoire is open for discussion during this 140 minute master class, which also contains play-a-long tracks and a bonus interview.

Ari Hoenig

Melodic Drumming

Jazz Heaven


Eric Harland's entry may be the most broad, and Ralph Peterson's disc is easily the most universally helpful and well-rounded, but melodic drumming pioneer—and Peterson protégé—Ari Hoenig wins the prize for most specific and focused educational feature. While most drummers of note would agree to the importance of playing and soloing with a melodic approach, few if any of them can sit down behind the kit and play the melody of a Charlie Parker head on the drums. While this specific skill set makes Hoenig unique, it comes out of the idea of playing with a focus on the art of melodic, solo drumming, which is explored to its full potential on this DVD.

While Harland and Peterson have some help in their presentations, in the form of accompanying musicians and/or pre-recorded tracks, Hoenig relies on interviewer/facilitator/drummer Jerad Lippi to help flesh out the different aspects of his artistry. Playing melody with pitches and without pitches, improvising in a compositional manner, and using form as the basis for soloing are topics that come into play. Hoenig discusses how he tunes his drums in triads (i.e. CEG or FAC), and demonstrates how he alters the pitch with his elbow and fingers to attain different pitches, but the important message behind all of this comes early in the disc. Hoenig touches on the idea that, if you can't make music as an individual, you might not be fully equipped to create music with other people, and that thought stays with the viewer throughout the disc.

Early on, Hoenig demonstrates how he twists Max Roach's classic "The Drum Also Waltzes" into his own feature in five, but actual melodies become the topic of concern as the lessons develop. Hoenig takes what he teaches and uses these techniques to perform a variety of tunes, from "I've Been Working On The Railroad" and ""The Little Drummer Boy" to "The Star Spangled Banner" and "Tequila," and these examples provide a well-rounded picture of largely unexplored avenues in the art of melodic drum set playing. While some drummers may not be interested in investigating the pitched percussion potential of their set, every performing drummer can benefit from more melodic intentions in their drumming output, and that's what makes Hoenig's message so important.

Personnel and Production Notes

The Yin & Yang Of Jazz Drumming

Personnel: Eric Harland: drums; Joe Martin: bass; Aaron Parks: piano.

Production Notes: Director/Producer: Falk Willis. Cinematographer: Greg Harriott. Camera Operator: Mike Doyle. Video Editor: Todd Nilssen. Audio Engineer: Dan Stringer. Interviewer: Falk Willis. Audio Mix/Master: Dan Stringer. Still Photography: Mike Doyle. Original Artwork: Zoe Matthiessen. Graphic Design: Vince Perretti. Transcriptions: Deepak Gopinath.

Jazz Drumming Demystified

Personnel: Ralph Peterson: drums, trumpet; Melissa Aldana: saxophone; Michael Palma: piano; Dezron Douglas: bass.

Production Notes: Director/Producer: Falk Willis. Cinematographer: Mike Doyle. Camera Operator: Greg Harriott. Video Editor: Mike Doyle. Audio Engineer: Dave Ahl. Interviewer: Falk Willis. Audio Mix/Master: Dan Stringer. Still Photography: Mike Doyle. Transcriptions: Deepak Gopinath and Tyler Scott.

Melodic Drumming

Personnel: Ari Hoenig: drums.

Production Notes: Director/Producer: Falk Willis. Cinematographer: Greg Harriott. Camera Operator: Mike Doyle. Video Editor: Greg Harriott. Audio Engineer: Dave Ahl. Interviewer: Jerad Lippi. Audio Mix/Master: Dan Stringer. Still Photography: Mike Doyle. Original Artwork: Zoe Matthiessen. DVD Presentation: Vince Perretti.

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