Tuesday, December 02, 2008

IJO Benny Goodman tribute

This Thursday the Impressions in Jazz Orchestra will once again take the stage at Dominion-Chalmers Church, this time to present our tribute to the famous 1938 Benny Goodman Orchestra concert at Carnegie Hall.


The original concert was the first time "Jazz" was presented in a concert hall, and it was a roaring success. The concert was also recorded, though this fact was forgotten until Goodman found the discs in his house during a move around 1950 or so. The recording was subsequently released and went on to be one of the biggest selling jazz albums of all time.

I discovered this music when I was five years old and leafing through my parents record collection. After I heard Gene Krupa on drums my focus intensified (I had already been banging on pot and pans) and I just about wore that album out. I'm sure my family got sick of hearing it after a while, but not enough so that they didn't get me my first drumset when I was six! :) My drumming really started with this album, so it's quite thrill to be playing this music 40+ yars later with the IJO.

Technical notes: for this music I had to decide as to how authentic I wanted to get in its reproduction. Drum sets in the 1930s didn't have Ride cymbals (the largest of the cymbal family in diameter) for that typical"ding dinga ding" sound one most often hears in jazz. Time was mainly kept using press rolls on the snare drum (coming from that drum's military origins) and a steady 4/4 on the bass drum. The hi-hat did exist and was used, mainly as contrast to the rolls, with a closed dry sound for quiet sections, and a sloshy open sound when the music started to shout.

When I was growing up I saw clips of Gene Krupa (and others) on TV playing these old songs, but of course they kept with modern times and used the ride cymbal. But I also knew the music did not sound quite the same, and it took a while to figure out why. When I later found out the correct style I noted it but still used the ride like everyone else did whenever I played Sing Sing Sing. But when IJO dirctor Adrian Cho told me we'd be recreating much of the 1938 concert I decided to use the correct playing style.

The main issue for me has been to keep the press roll style swinging but also QUIET. It's a fairly busy noise going on, and quite fun to do, but it's really easy to let the volume build, and so I'm trying to behave. ;) If one listens to the original recordings one can hear Krupa snapping off rim shots and other little sticking tricks, which would interrupt the flow if one was playing a ride or the hi-hat, but since one is already grooving on the drum one can add comments to the sound without disturbing the rhythmic flow.

I'm also using thin 7A sticks, the kind I'd normally only use for quiet, small-group jazz gigs, as back in those days that was about the largest available. And that size helps keep the volume down and also reduces mass in the hands for the various sticking tricks. I guess if I wanted total authenticity I'd also use calf heads, but umm, no thanks. They are expensive, and like any natural product they are subject to humidity and temperature fluctuations, and the drums can go out of tune during a show as the room's moisture content changes. Instead I'm using Remo's Fiberskyn heads, which do a pretty good job at emulating calf. (I've used these on my 1966 Rogers kit for all my IJO large-group gigs.)

Probably the main highlight for me on this show is that we will be playing the FULL version of Sing Sing Sing, which means also the Part 2 that is on the recording but not in published sheet music (just about every version you hear of this song by any band will only do Part 1). Part 2 was a Head arrangement, meaning it was put together by the band at rehearals and on gigs without being written down at first. So while I've played this song many times this will be the first with the full version!

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