After recording literally thousands of drum loops by myself, I’ve recently branched out and started producing loops with other artists. And not just drummers, but actual, real musicians. I kid, I kid…
The latest artist I’ve had the opportunity to work with is bassist extraordinaire, Janek Gwizdala. Janek is an old friend of mine from my Berklee days and is one of the most incredible bass players I’ve ever had the pleasure of performing with. While Janek tries not to brag about his performance credits with me, he’s also toured and recorded with some other musicians that you may have heard of…. Randy Brecker, Mike Stern, Pat Metheney, to name a few.
While on a break from the road, Janek stopped by my studio and spent a day laying down a plethora of insanely awesome bass tracks in a bunch of different styles and tempos. These sessions were edited down, sliced and converted into a complete package of WAV, REX2, AIFF loops. We even customized a ReFill specifically for Reason 5. With that said, I’m proud to present my latest production for The Loop Loft, “Janek Gwizdala – The Fodera Sessions”. Check out this video preview of the Reason ReFill below:
This past weekend, while clearing out one of the bedrooms in my house to make way for a nursery (yes folks, there’s a little Gruss set to drop in December), I stumbled upon an old shoebox containing dozens of old cassette tapes from my years at Berklee. A literal time capsule back to 1996-2000, these tapes captured everything from late night jam sessions in 150 Mass Ave, board tapes from various gigs with Jonah Smith, instrumental funk tracks featuring a classmate named John, and most importantly, recordings of my drum lessons with the legendary, Kenwood Dennard.
When I was in high school, Kenwood’s drumming on Maceo Parker’s “Life on Planet Groove” was without doubt, the most influential of all of the CDs I owned. I must have listened to that album thousands of times, learning every funky ghost note and fill that Kenwood laid down on that record. My love for that CD practically bordered on obsession, which is probably why I was so estatic when I found out that Kenwood would be joining the Berklee faculty during my freshman year of college. It’s not often that someone gets to meet one of their biggest musical heros, let alone be mentored by them.
During my junior year, I performed in Kenwood’s “Music of James Brown” ensemble as well as studied privately with him. This was a great combination because he would have the chance to hear me play every week in a live setting with other musicians, and then we would break it all down in my lessons and tweak certain elements of my drumming.
Kenwood always had two drum kits set up in his office, so the majority of lessons were spent with the two of us playing together, refining various grooves and bouncing rhythmic phrases back and forth. Not wanting to forget a single note of our sessions, I always had a tape recorder running so I could analyze everything afterwards. It was humbling enough just playing with Kenwood, it was even MORE humbling listening to a recording of yourself playing with Kenwood.
At the beginning of one particular lesson in 1998, I was showing Kenwood some grooves in 7/8 I was working on. Nothing fancy, just some vanilla funk groove with a lot of emphasis on the “1”. What Kenwood laid on me next was something that would forever change my playing:
You can totally reconstruct the entire DNA of a groove by NOT emphasising the “1”. And when doing this in an odd meter, things can get really interesting. Find the weak part of beats and try turning them into the dominate ones. And this doesn’t only apply to odd meters… it can be just as effective in 4/4.
A few of my favorite moments of this lesson:
– 1:30 Kenwood and I trying to find the “e” of 4
– 6:59 Kenwood asking ME how to play the groove to Super Bad
– 9:35 “You can do that for the next 10 years.” He was right.
Here’s a quick transcription I did of the concept we were working on in that lesson (pardon the unattached 8th note stems). Notice, there is nothing on the downbeat of 1 (other than the hi hat), with the kick drum anticipating each bar by falling on the “e” of 4. Any snare note that isn’t a back beat is to be ghosted.
Every winter, when I travel home to West Des Moines, Iowa to celebrate Christmas with my family, I also take part in a “reunion concert” of sorts with some old friends from high school. Fourteen years ago, just before packing up my bags and heading to Berklee, I teamed up with some other members of my high school jazz band to find a way to get into bars without a fake ID. The solution? Start a funk band. And give it a really bad name.
At first we were called Pushin’ Chunky. Then we were D.I.M. (Drunkards In Motion). Several years ago, we somehow transitioned into the rather unfortunate moniker, Chach. Our name may change a lot, but the set list never really does. Stocked full of quintessential bar-funk-soul-r&b-band standards such as Sex Machine, Superstition, Everybody’s Everything and Pass The Peas, it’s three hours of music that we can pull off on an annual basis… without a single rehearsal. Consistent? Yes. Tight? Eh. Tight enough.
In preparation for this year’s Chach-fest, I’ve been brushing up on the ‘ol funk chops. Today’s loop is one of the many Kenwood-esque grooves that will be making the annual appearance down on Court Avenue. Two measures, some swung sixteenth notes and an open hi hat on the “one”. It’s what the best bar bands are made of. And yes, it looks like I finally quit the drum replacer habit.
Last week I had the pleasure of seeing my old classmate, Adam Deitch, perform for all of the incoming babies students at Berklee. Adam had a great band playing with him, including Eric Krasno and my former NYC roommate, Adam “Shmeeans” Smirnoff on guitar. While the band was officially billed as “Chapter 2″, it also consisted of half of the members of Lettuce. If you haven’t checked out their 2008 release, “Rage!”, then you’ve missed out one of the funkiest, most soulful albums of the past five years. These guys graduated from the University of Wally’s with honors and keep getting better every year.
With the snare cranked up tight, and a steady flow of ghost-notes, today’s loop cops more than a few of Adam’s licks. You’ll hear I still haven’t tamed my overly live tracking room (weekend project #172), but for this groove, it seems to work in favor of the mix. I’ll be including the rest of the grooves and fills from this session in the release of Gruss Loops V.
While cleaning up my studio and preparing for the big move, I stumbled across a folder of notes and lesson materials from my Berklee days. Inside this folder was everything from Max Roach solo transcriptions, to South Indian rhythmic cycles, to 4-way independence studies. Flipping through the pages of sheet music was like stepping into a time machine and being transported back to the grimey, unventilated practice studios on Mass Ave. Awh, the good old days.
While taking a closer look at the contents of the folder, one page of handwritten transcriptions jumped out at me. Quintuplet based grooves?? It took me a few minutes, but I finally remembered the source of the music. It was from one of my lessons with the great, Casey Scheuerell. I studied with Casey during my last two years of college and learned a tremendous amount from him. Not just about drumming, but also about the music business as a whole. We spent just as much time talking during our lessons as we did playing on the two kits he had set up in his office.
You Zappa Heads and prog-rockers will enjoy today’s loop. It’s geek funk to the fullest and should probably never leave the confines of your own studio. Loosely based on the above transcription from my lessons with Casey, it’s a 4/4 groove with quintuplets on the hi-hat and a 2+3 rhythmic phrasing. To make things easier for tracking to a click, I actually recorded this as a halftime groove in 5/4… just listen to the shaker for the 8th note pulse. Anyway, I’d like to see someone try to dance to it. Let the math rock begin.
Today, as I was recording and editing drums for “Gruss Loops Volume II”, I thought about how much more interesting it would be (for both me and my subscribers) to collaborate with another artist during the creation process. Scrolling through the massive Rolodex of musicians in my head, one name immediately jumped out as the perfect partner in crime: Bob Reynolds.
Bob is one of my best friends and one of the greatest saxophonists (and composers) I’ve ever had the pleasure to play with. Based in Los Angeles, Bob is an accomplished musician who keeps a busy schedule in both the jazz and pop worlds. He recently finished up a two year long world tour with another one of my old friends, John Mayer, and has also performed and/or recorded with Nellie McKay, Brian Blade, Tom Harrell and a host of others.
Bob and I spoke on the phone for almost an hour, brainstorming of all the possible ways we could collaborate in a method which would be intriguing to subscribers as well as push our personal creative boundaries. After some deep thought and a heated game of rock-paper-scissors (I don’t advise trying to play this over the phone), here’s what we ultimately decided to do:
No loops today. I’ve got something much better. Sit back and enjoy the hip hop stylings of my old mentor, Kenwood Dennard, circa 1985.
I just stumbled across some old cassette tapes of my lessons with Kenwood. As soon as I can find the right adapter, I’ll digitize and upload a few highlights. Don’t worry, the keyboards and headset mic are present in these tapes as well.