Category: Jazz

James Gadson Takes Us In Between

When I put out a call for loop requests the other week, I received an outpouring of emails asking for every type of genre and beat you could imagine. Everything from tangos, odd meter math rock, slow bossa novas, death metal (I don’t own a double bass pedal and my trenchcoat is at the dry cleaner) and merrengue. Quite a spectrum. And while I’ve kept all of these responses on file for future sessions, it was one particular request that immediately caught my ear and sent me running to the studio.

A message was sent in with a link to the following Bill Withers track, telling me to check out the drum groove (played by the great James Gadson) in the intro:

OMG. How tasty is that shit? How have I never heard this song before?? Gah!!! I’m definitely aware of a vast majority of Bill Withers’ collection, but somehow this deep cut from his 1972 release, “Still Bill”, managed to slip through the cracks and never made it into my library.

This opening drum groove is so funky, I almost didn’t even want to go there. It’s sort of like covering a Beatles song. Some things are sacred and should just be left alone. But the more I listened to it, the more I knew recording something approximating it would be a great learning experience, both musically and sonically.

On the music side of things, it’s the FEEL of this groove that makes it so special. The way Gadson plays the 16h notes on the hi hat with his right hand, spacing the notes in that magical place that lives in between straight subdivisions and triplets. This is the kind of groove that a quantizer would instantly suck the life out of.

Sonically, it has the classic, warm, round but crisp, Motownesque sound. This is a sound that’s become sort of a lost art, now that we’re all armed with a wide array of DAWs, fancy mics, plug-ins and digital processers. It’s an art that I plan on focusing on for years to come.

James Gadson
James Gadson

Loop #137

So here it is, my ode to James Gadson and his magical right hand. At eight measures, it’s longer than one of my typical loops, but I wanted to include some phrases that pay tribute (but definitely aren’t carbon copies) to the original track.

On the production side of things, I only used two mics: one overhead (panned in the mix soft right), and one in front of the kick to capture just a bit of low end. I deadened a double headed 18″ bass drum (no hole) with blankets touching both of the heads from the outside and placed a few sheets of paper on top of the snare to keep everything dry.

I took all of the toms and cymbals off of the kit to keep any sympathetic resonance from making its way into the track (kids, you can’t use gates when there’s only one mic above the kit). To top things off, I used an old, squeaky kick drum pedal, just like James.

It’s the details that count.

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94 BPM

A Loop Supreme

Loop #131

Another taste of the new Gretsch kit. If this loop was on the menu at Taco Bell, it would be topped off with a generous amount of sour cream.

Coltrane and the infamous 'taco session'

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271 BPM

That Great Gretsch Sound

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was fortunate enough to finally become the owner my dream jazz kit, a Gretsch USA Custom. After breaking open my piggy bank and selling 63% of my bone marrow, I finally had the sufficient funds to make the trek up to the wonderful Drum Center of Portsmouth and pick her up.

And why are these drums so great? Well, it’s all about the way they SOUND. They have a certain characteristic and tone that only Gretsch drums seem to possess. It’s that warm, round, and focused sound heard on so many of the classic jazz albums featuring Max Roach, Tony Williams, Elvin Jones and Art Blakey (just to name a few).

Max made me do it

Loop #130

Today’s loop is a two measure clip from a marathon jazz/funk extravaganza that took place shortly after setting up the new kit in the studio. You’ll notice the nice, open tone of the 18″ bass drum, along with some very melodic sounding toms. For mic placement, I just used the overheads and (a touch of the Beta 52A on the kick) to capture the natural sound of the kit. I also completely ripped off Bill Stewart’s signature fills. Look for more Gretsch based loops to come soon…

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105 BPM

Get Your Shuffle On

I just realized I’ve posted 116 different loops on this site but not a single one has been a shuffle. What the hell is wrong with me? Some of my favorite songs are shuffles. Pride And Joy, Sweet Home Chicago, Moanin’…. I could go on and on. From jazz, to blues to rock, the shuffle is one of the few grooves that can find a home in almost any genre (except for Viking metal or perhaps Psychobilly).

Loop #117

Today’s loop is a straight ahead jazz/blues shuffle ala Art Blakey. With a “four on the floor” feathered bass drum and a steady gallop on the snare drum, it’s the first of many shuffle grooves to come out of the ryangruss.com beat factory.

Blakey Shuffle
Blakey Shuffle

Superbowl Shuffle
Superbowl Shuffle


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131 BPM

Filling the Gap

While perusing the homepage of this site earlier today, making sure everything was in order, something jumped out at me: A major gap in my tempo categories! How did this happen? How have I not recorded anything between 260-300 BPM?? That’s prime wanking territory. I’ve spent years perfecting paradiddles and triple flama-ratama-dingdongs in the this range, yet I somehow neglected to record anything for this blog. I immediately went up to my studio, set the click track to 285 BPM and got to work.

Loop #101

The second-fastest loop yet to be released, today’s groove kicks of my new tempo category with some straight up bebop playing in the vein of Max Roach and Vernel Fournier. A four bar phrase with brushes on the snare drum, this uptempo jazz groove is one of many that I’ll be releasing in the next loop pack.

Max Roach
Max Roach

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285 BPM

Relaxin’ at Camarillo + Bonus Loop Pack

While I’m not a big fan of packing up everything you own, moving it into a new place and then unpacking again, it does tend have its little rewards. Like rediscovering items you forgot you even possessed. In this case, that item is Joe Henderson’s incredible 1979 album, “Relaxin’ at Camarillo”. I had purchased this record back in high school while going through my “must own everything Tony Williams ever played on” phase and somehow managed to lose track of it after 10 years of continuous moving from apartment to apartment in NYC.

Not only is Tony’s playing on this album mind blowing as usual, this record was a significant musical discovery for me because it introduced me to the fantastic drumming of Peter Erskine. Occupying the drum seat for half of the album, a 25 year old Erskine definitely holds his own alongside another legendary jazz musician, Chick Corea.

Relaxin' at Camarillo
Relaxin' at Camarillo

Loop #99

Today’s loop (and bonus pack for subscribers) was inspired by the opening track on Relaxin’ At Camarillo, “Y Todavia La Quiero”. Based around an 8 bar vamp, this song not only showcases Joe Henderson’s huge sound and improvisational genius, but also Peter Erskine’s knack for driving a band with dynamics, groove and his trademark musicality. Blurring the lines of latin, funk and rock, Peter takes the chops he honed while in Weather Report and pushes this quartet into new musical territory.

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240 BPM

Subscribers, click on the picture of a scantily clad Erskine (you non-subscribers are really missing out… trust me) below to download the bonus pack containing 10 groove variations and fills (each in WAV, AIFF, REX2 formats) from this session.

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Get Your Waltz On

Loop #91

I just realized that all of the straight ahead jazz loops that I’ve posted have been in 4/4. Sure, I’ve done some 6/8 Bembe variations, but those were more in the Afro Cuban realm. Today’s loop is an outtake from a full session of 3/4 grooves I just recorded for Volume IV.

If you’re looking for some extra waltz-based inspiration, just take a look at this list of contemporary compositions. I’m going to sleep a lot better tonight knowing that Joe Satriani’s “Always With Me, Always With You” made the cut. A true waltz classic indeed.

Joe Satriani - Shredder/Waltz Enthusiast
Joe Satriani - Shredder & Waltz Enthusiast

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173 BPM

Backwords Bembe

Loop #82

Well, not totally backwards… but I did displace the traditional bembe bell pattern by two eighth note triplets. Does this really matter? Nope. I think the Afro-Cuban police will let it slide.

It’s one of those grooves that can be felt in 3, 4 or 6/8. Throw this under your next arrangement of “Afro Blue” or “My Favorite Things” and let the 20 minute modal improvisation begin. If this groove has you foaming at the mouthpiece for more, you can get the complete set of fills and groove variations in the upcoming release of Gruss Loops Vol III.

John Coltrane - Bembe Fan
John Coltrane - Bembe Fan

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136 BPM

Mambo!

Apparently I drank something over the 4th of July weekend that inspired me to play nothing but jazz grooves from the late 50’s. Every time I sit down at the kit, all I want to do is put on my trashy, old ride cymbal and pretend I’m Elvin Jones or Art Blakey. Who knew Colt 45 would have that effect?

Speaking of Art Blakey, today I wanted to talk about one of the grooves he’s best known for: The mambo. I first learned how to play this groove after hearing Art lay it down on his 1957 classic, A Night In Tunisia.

Stop whatever it is you’re doing (besides reading this blog, of course) and focus on this track for the next 11 minutes and 17 seconds:

If that didn’t inspire you, then you should probably check your pulse. You may have been prescribed something by one of Michael Jackson’s doctors.

Art Blakey - Mambo Master
Art Blakey - Mambo Master

Loop #79

Today’s loop takes Art’s patented mambo pattern and chills things out just a bit… all the way down to 240bpm. You’ll have to add your own percussion section and 3:2 clave (sorry, I was out of limbs), but you should be able to get that hard bop sound you’ve been looking for.

The rest of the grooves and fills from this session will be available in the highly anticipated release of Gruss Loops – Volume III.

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240 BPM

The Art of The Vamp

As you might recall, I previously blogged about Art Taylor and his masterful uptempo timekeeping. Tonight, I’d like to focus on another aspect of his legendary drumming: playing over vamps.

Art Taylor
Art Taylor

For those of you who are new to this term (my wife just asked why I was writing about vampires), here’s a quick definition: A vamp is a repeating musical figure or accompaniment. A vamp may consist of a single chord or a sequence of chords played in a repeated rhythm

This sounds deceptively simple, but locking in with a band making it all swing is the hard part. Check out Art’s playing on John Coltrane’s “Syeeda’s Song Flute” to hear what I’m talking about:

Loop #78

Tonight’s loop is an 8 bar vamp that emphasizes the “1” and the “and” of 2 of each measure. This is one of the more traditional rhythmic phrases in jazz vamps and is usually supported along with the piano and bass… and guitar (couldn’t leave Wes out).

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220 BPM