Classical Percussion


What a great 2 days I spent with Paquito D’Rivera and an amazing group of musicians. We recorded a piece he wrote by commission for the Jose Limon Dance Company. The work is titled “Ladies in White” (Ballet) for chamber jazz ensemble. With pianist/producer Daniel Freiberg in the control room, the band was Paquito of course, Alex Brown on piano, Marco Granados on flute, Diego Urcola, on trombone and euphonium, Jisoo OK on cello, Gregg August on bass,  Eric Doob on drums/percussion, Arturo Stable, and Paulo Stagnaro on hand percussion, and myself Mark Sherman on a concert marimba.

Let me start out by saying, Paquito D’Rivera is absolutely one of the finest musicians on this planet. I know he was a child prodigy saxophonist, and clarinetist. I believe he played a concerto with the main symphony in Cuba at 11 years old, and of course today he is known for his deeply rooted jazz playing. His cross of Latin flavored music with the bebop, and classical roots has made him tops in his field. The music he composed for the ballet is in 3 movements, and will eventually be performed live with the ballet. Hopefully many times.

I have done many recording dates in my life, but this one was absolutely one of the most challenging dates I’ve ever done. The music was extremely challenging. It required a lot of attention from all the musicians including Paquito himself. I know I practiced many of the lines and various marimba parts for many hours just to work out stickings, and just get it in my head and hands. Same I am sure for all the players. I was most impressed by many of the other musicians some who I had worked with before, and some not.

Marco Granados is a flautist I have never heard, but wow he sounded beautiful, as we doubled many melodies together. He was very precise with great intonation. The high end of the marimba with flute doubling is a great sound.

Alex Brown is a pianist to be heard more of. He plays his butt off. Not only did he execute the parts beautifully as a classical pianist, but also his solos were really great jazz solos. He has a bit of a Lyle Mays feeling at times, but again deeply rooted in the jazz tradition, with great command of the language, and he played the Latin grooves really well. A pianist I would call anytime!

Gregg August is a bassist that I had worked with in the past, but I really got to hear him play at a higher level on this session. His intonation is beautiful, he plays Arco (with the bow) really well, his groove is strong, and of course he reads well in order to play this piece in the first place. Very solid with a beautiful sound.

Jisoo OK was another highlight of the date playing cello. She was much more than OK. She was amazing. An incredible body to her sound. It is rich, in tune, and passionate. She played the parts with a vengeance for the music. She had technical precision and a lot of emotion in her playing. I think she touched us all with that. The cello is such a beautiful instrument.

Diego Urcola played trombone and a baritone horn, or I think they also call it a Euphonium. What a beautiful player. He played both instruments with great skill. He blew some beautiful solos on the Euphonium that had the smoothness of a flugelhorn. His improvising skills are excellent, as he has a broad understanding of the language. I have had Joe Magnarelli playing trumpet, and flugelhorn on several of my CD’s in the past. I love that sound of flugelhorn, and vibes, and immediately upon hearing Urcola play I had the same smooth feeling except a bit lower, and deeper.

I found Eric Doob to be a very multi dimensional drummer, covering all the styles needed in this piece. He had a broad understanding of the various Latin feels, as well as could swing well.

Latin percussion, and hand percussion is an area of music that I have always faked very well on many jingles, and film dates in my life. I used one groove my whole life, and it worked for those types of music, but whenever I was asked to play a real Latin gig with authentic musicians, I always told the leaders, “please get an authentic player. I am just a jazz musician. I never really knew all the traditional types of hand drum grooves, but the two percussionists Arturo Stable and Paulo Stagnaro that Paquito hired for this recording sure did. They were grooving in their booth with an amazing array of instruments.

A group of musicians getting together to honor the code we live by, which is to take the music as serious as life itself. To come together having never really known each other at all, but all with the same goal. In this case to do justice to the incredible work of music Paquito D’Rivera composed. Every part written mattered, and had great purpose. Clearly this work was well calculated, and thought out. I really admire the work done on this project, because rather than remain in a pattern, Paquito seems to be always forging ahead looking for new things to create, and new ways to contribute to the art form.  That is something I have always tried to do in my own life, and working with masters like Paquito only sets a great example for us all. Hats off to you Pacman for this incredible contribution, and thanks so much for having me on the recording. I am very grateful to have been part of it!

Paquito D’Rivera
file://localhost/Users/marksherman/Desktop/Cadence_Sherman.pdf

Time To Practice, And Write

I have one week until I depart for Napoli, and then Germany for festivals in the north. I reside for the next week in my house in Colledimezzo Italy. My vibes are set up in the garage of my father in law here, and I will practice, and write for one week. It is rare in my life when I have this much down time to practice, and write, and relax a bit. When I was attending The Juilliard School in my college years I used to practice, or shed as we musicians say for 6 hours a day. It always amazes me how even at my age of 54 years old, I still have the desire to practice my craft. To perfect the many diminished, and altered patterns, and scales. To search for new ideas, and possibilities, as well as to simply write a few new tunes, and learn new tunes that I still don’t know. The motivation in the music is for life, and I expect to play until I literally drop. Hopefully that is a long time from now.

The art of jazz improvisation is a continuous quest. It never seems to get old, and the constant searching for new stuff to play on the vast amount of standards, blues, and rhythm changes written by all the music masters. Of course these days I work a lot out of the Nicolai Slonimsky book titled “Thesaurus Of Scales And Melodic Patterns”. This book was Coltrane’s handbook. It has a huge amount of information in which he dissects the octave into multiple parts. The “Sesquiquadritone  section is the division of the octave into 4 parts, and gives you many different diminished patterns, and scales that are all applicable in the jazz genre, and the classical genre as a composer. So I practice a lot from this book , and learn the different scales, and patterns in all keys, but of course I try to live by the advice I give to my many students, and that is, “Practice does not make perfect”. PERFECT PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT”!!!  Practice everything slowly and correct. Not fast and wrong.

Fast and wrong 1000 times will give you no results. Slow and perfect  10 or 20 times will give you major results!

Mark Sherman

Wow! It sure is a different scene in the studios these days than when I was in the thick of it in the 80’s, 90’s, and early 2000’s. The other day I recorded 23 cues for a motion picture entitled “Should’ve Been Romeo”. The amazing thing is the engineer, composer, and other musicians are all working in LA. I recorded my parts in my office at home in New York. I have done this many times now for various jingle, and film composers. They send you pdf’s of all the music, and a reference mix of each tune in wave format with click track, and I add the  parts requested on vibes, or whatever instruments they want using my Apogee ONE’s and Pro Tools to record with. Then I upload it to a site like Media Fire where you can upload heavy memory files for them to download in LA. Then they put it up on their mix in their studio, and make a few adjustments, and that’s it. I email an invoice, W-9, and I-9 form, and I get paid.

In the studio scene in the 80’s and 90’s I used to have to travel down to the studio. Pay for parking. Go to the studio and record for a while. Then we would all break at “Possible 20’s” bar on 55th st. This place was named after the standard studio call of 1 hour with a possible 20 minutes overtime. So when you finished one date and had a 40 minute break till the next date, you would hit Possible 20’s for food or drink. These days you need not leave your house to do a high profile film date. What a world of technology we live in. Most of that  possible 20 studio scene is now dead as there is much less studio work in New York these days compared to the old days. Now everyone has Pro Tools , and the equipment necessary to record with, so it eliminates a lot of studio time to be purchased by the producers. It has closed many fine studios in New York City as they just cannot stay alive.

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Today I was on the panel of faculty members from the Juilliard School jazz department for a forum on the subject matter “How To Practice”. The panel was made up of department chair, and drummer Carl Allen, saxophonist Ron Blake, pianist Frank Kimbrough, bassist Ben Wolfe, drummer Kenny Washington, and myself. What an honor to do this, as well as it is a subject matter that I feel very strong about, as I have preached this to students globally for many years. I have seen so many of my students over the years return to the next lesson having not improved. Many times it is because their practice method is not good. As human beings we always want to improve fast, and be the best quickly. Unfortunately this approach does not work. Whoever  invented the expression “practice makes perfect” should be hung. It is a bad guidance quote. It should read “Perfect practice makes perfect”. There is that fine line between practicing properly, and not.  Many student come back week to week saying ” I practiced 5 hours a day”, but I do not see an improvement relative to 5 hours a day for a week. That to me means the student has wasted a lot of time.  Practicing wrong will surely waste your valuable time. That is what I spoke about. Practicing slow, and building the speed up slowly, rather than going fast and repeating constant mistakes. Focusing on one phrase, or measure at a time. How to practice scales, and other skills we work on as players, of jazz, and classical music. The other five of my esteemed colleagues had fantastic things to say, like learning the music away from the instrument in your head. Focusing on one thing at a time. making a practice journal. Using a stopwatch or kitchen timer to force yourself to practice one scale or drill at a time for a specific amount of time. Things like this. Anyway it was a really informative forum for the students who are already some of the finest young jazz students in the country, as the curve at Juilliard is extremely high. Getting into the school is probably one of the most competitive auditions nationwide. They just don’t accept anyone. I think it is even harder to get in than when I attended, and the year I got in they accepted only 2 students out of maybe 100 or more applicants. Myself, and Dan Druckman, the  current 2nd percussionist in the New York Philharmonic, and head of the percussion program in the classical percussion department at Juilliard. I really believe in this type of forum/masterclass, as with a group of faculty members such as the one mentioned here, the students get a really deep look at how these seasoned pros have dealt with the topic throughout their own quest for improvement. I sure wish they had a jazz program run by someone like Carl Allen when I went to Juilliard, although my extensive classical training has served me well in my own career, and has made me a better all around musician. I was watching these students suck up every word we said, as each faculty member got up, and spoke for 20 minutes or so, about there method for practice, and improvement. The funny thing was we all basically have similar approaches, but different wording, and slightly different concepts, but each approach was valid, and spelled the same formula for success. Those students are very fortunate to have faculty members who care enough, to take their valuable time to do this type of class. What a fantastic environment to learn in, being surrounded by this faculty of people like Rodney JonesRon Carter, Kenny Barron, Steve Turre, Eddie Henderson, Andy Farber, Billy Drummond, Bob Stewart, Antonio Ciacca, Joe Temperly, and the six mentioned above (forgive me if I forgot anyone). Next week’s forum is with legendary drummer Jimmy Cobb. I will be there!

 

Mark,Lenny,Jammey

Today I played a recording date for Chesky Records in a church in Brooklyn. It was David Chesky’s idea to put Lennie White, Jamey Haddad, and myself together for a recording with all percussion instruments, and drums. It was quite an experience. Lennie White whose playing I have admired since I first saw him with Chic Corea, and “Return To Forever” many years ago, was really great to work with. Additionally Jamey Haddad was also incredible to work with. We played together years ago on Howard Shore’s film score for the movie “The Score”. Jamey is a master world percussionist. My set up was the classical percussion mixed with some groove percussion, as well as playing the vibes which is what most know me for these days. Lennie played what Lennie always does, and that is to play the drums with great feeling, and expertise. The session was recorded with the audio file technique that has made Chesky Records the label it is today. In front of our set-ups was two heads of dummies(pictured below, which contained one microphone in each ear, used to achieve perfect surround sound in a headphone mix, and then there was one super duper microphone in the middle. The music was totally improvised, and created in real time using themes for each piece. Themes like Tranquility, Peace, Battle, War, Water. We used these different moods and words to define the direction of the music. Pretty amazing stuff came out of it, as we were all able to bond beautifully and create something different. This was a far cry from any session I have done in my life. Much different than the jazz sessions I have been doing as of late, but lots of fun. I admire Dave Chesky for stepping out of the ordinary formats, and trying something quite a bit different!

Mark's Percussion set up

MARK ON LENNY WHITE'S DRUMS

Mark Sherman+David CheskyDummy microphones

Play back and Iphoning