Ed Soph – You Can’t Just Think Rhythmically

Ed Soph

SKF NOTE: At 4:30 this morning I was reading a typed copy of my 1978 Ed Soph interview. Soph was always interesting to interview. Smart, curious, a strong grasp of drum history; a player who seemed always willing to re-examine his thinking about drumming and music.

Reading this morning what Ed Soph had to say over 40 years ago — his thinking still holds value for drummers and drum teachers.

I asked Ed to describe his concept for his drum soloing. Here’s his 1978 answer:


Ed Soph: I’m thinking of the melody and the tune when I’m soloing. It may be an extended solo rather than a chorus or two.

I always try to approach it as making a statement.

Take a tune like Straight, No Chaser which has a strong rhythmic identity. I’ll play through the head of the tune and then take some rhythmic or melodic motif — ideally a combination of the two — and build another solo off that. Maybe I’ll go out of time or free up the time and develop a theme and variations, then come back in and play the head again. Just like a good narrative framework in a story.

Nothing sounds worse than when a group’s playing an Elvin-ish swing and the drummer goes into his solo and it comes out like Drums on Parade.

It’s all so easy. It’s all right there if you just open your ears.

Like a horn player, you can’t just think rhythmically. It’s impossible. You have to think in terms of dynamics, articulations, phrases, color, mood, melodies, and tempo.

Which brings me to another point. All drummers should learn some melodic instrument. It’s good for your chops and it’s the best thing in the world for your ears.

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Neil Peart – Fun with the Four-On-the-Floor Bass Drum

Photo courtesy TheFamousPeople.com

SKF NOTE: This excerpt is from the full transcript of my 1986 conversation with Neil Peart. Here’s the back story. Right before I asked this question about playing in 4/4 time, Neil spoke at some length about using odd-time signatures in Rush songs.

Scott K Fish: Do you feel more relaxed playing in 4/4 than in odd-time signatures?

Neil Peart: I don’t know about relaxed. It depends on the context, certainly.

Over the past few years, for instance, when the straight-quarter note bass drum became popular, it’s a thing that you can’t help wanting to get mischievous with. You want to take that quarter note bass drum and have real fun with it. I found that to be a real door.

I opened that door. Just once I wanted to try it; where I’d keep the four-on-the-floor bass drum and see how difficult I could make the hand pattern against that. I found that I got hooked on it. I started to really like the four-on-the-floor bass drum because it gave me so many rhythmic possibilities with my hands. You can keep a steady pulse going, keep a relaxed feel, and at the same time be mentally absolutely frenetic.

So, all things are important.

Here’s something I tried once, sort of as a joke, and found that over the last three or four albums I’ve been able to use it in totally different ways, and not get sick of it.

I really figured that I wouldn’t be able to use it on the new album. I thought I’d exhausted that rhythmic device. Sure enough, I started finding more and more ways that the bass drum became supplemental to the technique that I was looking for.

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Yo-Yo Ma – Musicians Have to Find the Road Never Traveled

SKF NOTE: I’m a longtime fan of Yo-Yo Ma, his music, his artistry as a cellist, and for his ongoing willingness to experiment with music, to take risks. This excerpt is from a new book I’m reading titled, Yo-Yo Ma – Portrait of a Cellist, Mentor, & Musical Explorer, Edited by Megan Westberg.

Ma’s advice here is applicable to all musicians, including drummers.

Yo-Yo Ma: My sense is that the world never needs another musician – you have to create a place for yourself by touching someone whenever you play so that they will want to hear more of what you do.

That’s essentially your only job: to communicate something that another person can identify with, remember, and tell other people about. Then it spreads by word of mouth, and slowly you can build something up.

It’s not the road always traveled; it’s the road never traveled that you have find.

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John Von Ohlen – I Look at Things in an Ass-Backwards Way

John Von Ohlen

SKF NOTE: From the transcript of my interview with John Von Ohlen, published in the March 1985 Modern Drummer. This interview was done by phone. I was in my MD office. John was home in Indiana. My introduction to John’s playing, years earlier, was through Stan Kenton’s Live in London album.

Scott K Fish: How do you feel about drum method books?

John Von Ohlen: I’ll have to tell you a story, reportedly true, about a wise old Indian sage.

This German came to the village where this sage lived and he wanted to find The Truth.

The German was in a bookstore one day and this sage happened to walk by and see him in there. And this wise man knew what the German wanted.

So the sage picked the guy up by the collar, threw him out of the bookstore and said, “It’s not in books, you fool.”

That’s the way I feel about drumming. I’m sorry, but I look at things in an ass-backwards way.

I know it’s nice to have a book. I know these teachers who put out books are well-meaning. Maybe some of them are just trying to make a buck. If some of them have families — they ought to put out a book. But it’s not in books.

What book did Mel Lewis study out of? What book did Elvin Jones study out of?

You might study rudiments. Okay, that’s a good foundation. It’s like learning the scales on a piano. Once you’re past the rudiments, I’d say don’t get too steeped in the book knowledge of drums. You need to go out and work. That’s where you get it. You get it on the job. If a guy works, and he’s a well-meaning drummer, and he’s right in there pitching, and he’s working all the time, these things will come to him anyway.

My main gripe is in developing musclebound chops from practicing things that aren’t natural for you anyway, in the name of speed.

You’ve got your own natural licks. If a guy just keeps playing, man, he’ll come up with some bomb licks that nobody can play. It may not be that big a thing, but there will be nobody else who can play it. Like you’ve got a patent on it. That’s the kind of chops you should have. You should have things that came out — an you didn’t even know how you did it.

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SKF – Stay Positive, America

Stay positive, America
Staff, Piscataquis Observer • March 13, 2020
By Scott K. Fish

Sometimes, when six-year old Grafton was younger, we’d step out of the house to explore or to drive somewhere. Later, I’d notice he had his shoes or boots on the wrong feet. Walking the grocery store aisles, for example, I would see Grafton’s boots and do a double-take.

“You’re shoes are on the wrong feet,” I’d laugh. Grafton would look at me as if to say, “What do you mean ‘wrong feet’? These are the only feet I have.”

Full column

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Roy Haynes – Not Everything I Play Has a Name

Roy Haynes from his “Out of the Afternoon” album.

SKF NOTE: Happy Birthday to drum pioneer Roy Haynes. I am thankful to have listened to Roy in concert twice, and to have interviewed him.

I can’t explain why, but what I remember most of my interview with him, was Roy telling me, “Not everything I play has a name.” His point was, his drumming is made up of sounds, creativity, and not just variations on drum rudiments, Stick Control, or anything else.


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Re-Release of 1957 Philly Joe Jones Date

SKF NOTE: A re-release of note. Recorded in 1957, Hank Mobley Poppin’ date’s lineup of musicians is stellar: Hank Mobley (tenor), Pepper Adams (baritone), Philly Joe Jones (drums), Art Farmer (trumpet), Sonny Clark (piano), Paul Chambers (bass). I just bought the MP3 album. Any chance I get to hear new-to-my-ears Philly Joe Jones, I take advantage of it.

Thank you, Blue Note.

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