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June 17, 2016.

A friend over at Not So Modern Drummer asked for my input today regarding the jazz ride cymbal beat. He referenced a comment made by Shelly Manne, and asked for my input. Below is my response. Keep in mind that there are many more variations here and we could explore the topic in much greater depth, but I think this encapsulates it fairly well:

This is in response to the statement by Shelly Manne re: "The ride beat is the easiest and most difficult thing a drummer will ever play".

My take:

Shelly is correct of course. The actual notated rhythm of the ride beat is absolutely simple. However, the trick is how the drummer interprets that rhythm. I am approaching this from the jazz drummer's perspective since the traditional ride beat we're talking about is primarily associated with that genre. In my view, there are many ways for it to be interpreted, such as:

1. True dotted 8th and 16th. This is what I call more of a "two step" rhythm where the bass player is hitting "1" and "3" rather than using a walking bass pattern.

2. Triplet feel. This is where the dotted 8th and 16th are played in a triplet feel. Think in terms of this being the "swing" version and the bass player is probably playing a walking pattern.

3. Accents. There are different ways to emphasize this rhythm. Example: If the snare and high hat are playing on 2 and 4, accenting the ride beat on 2 and 4 provides more "drive" and "power" much like what you might do on the out chorus (or "shout" chorus). If the high hat and snare are on 2 and 4, but you accent the ride beat on 1 and 3, you get a more lilting, or "dancing" rhythm.

4. Mixing it up. No one ever said that the ride beat can never vary. Sometimes a mixture of the dotted 8th and 16th, along with other nuances is what you need. Sometimes more nuances, sometimes less. Case in point for "less": Killer Joe, from the Quincy Jones album "Walking In Space". Listen to Grady Tate as he syncs up with the bass and lays down straight quarter notes on the ride. This swings SO hard that it is insane. Also, using different accents between the snare and bass drum will contribute to the "color" of the pattern. Again, examine "Killer Joe" with the cross stick on 4. What Grady played on this cut was absolutely 100% right for the tune.

Bottom line: The ride pattern is a starting point for the drummer. What you need to do is to find what works best for the tune at hand, and also for the players you are working with. If the tune has to really swing, then you need that triplet feel. If the rest of the band is having a tough time for some reason, then you may have to dial it back and lay the groundwork in a more fundamental way to get them through the chart.

Listening recommendations:

Swing at its finest "subtle yet swinging": Papa Jo Jones, Grady Tate, Mel Lewis

Hard bop "busier" style: Philly Joe, Elvin, Tony

Hard bop "straight ahead": Art Blakey, Max Roach

Big Band "hard driving": Buddy Rich, Sonny Payne with Basie

Big Band "smooth and swinging": Dave Tough, Big Sid Catlett, Don Lamond 


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