Sandy Brown Jazz

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Lorraine Baker, Caroline Scott

and the Art Of Drumming

by Robin Kidson

 

 

Jazz puts a particular emphasis on rhythm; and not just any rhythm but a swinging, syncopating beat which makes you want to tap your feet even on the slowest blues. Since the earliest days of jazz, the instrument of that beat has been the drum – or, rather, the drum kit with its variety of different drums and cymbals. As jazz has evolved, so different styles of drumming have developed. Certain conventions have also emerged. For instance, the drummers and their drums have often been in the background, both sound wise and also in their stage position in live Buddy Richperformance. But from time to time, the drummer is allowed to take the limelight for another convention: the drum solo. Subtlety is usually not the selling point of the drum solo and many of the star drummers of jazz – Gene Krupa, for example, or Buddy Rich – can sometimes seem keener on displaying their physical stamina rather than their musicality.

 

Buddy Rich

 

When 'free jazz' came along in the nineteen sixties, the freedom sometimes applied to the beat as well as everything else. It is difficult to tap your feet to Albert Ayler’s Spiritual Unity, for example, or Coltrane’s Ascension. However, it is surprising how much free jazz retains the distinctive rhythms of the music. Take the daddy of free jazz, Ornette Coleman, whose music usually has a strong rhythmic pulse. Even Free Jazz, the piece which arguably kick-started the whole movement, has a beat of sorts provided by not one but two drummers, Billy Higgins and Ed Blackwell. Blackwell went on to become Coleman’s regular drummer, and continued into a long career often playing with ex-Coleman alumni like Don Cherry or Charlie Haden. He died in 1992, aged 62.

 

Ed Blackwell playing with the Mal Waldron Quintet in 1986.

 

 

 

Which brings us in a rather roundabout way to Lorraine Baker, a young British jazz drummer inspired by the playing of Ed Blackwell. She has recently released her debut album, Eden, on the Spark! label (last month's Recent Releases). It is made up of pieces played by Blackwell at various times in his career and composed by musicians with whom he collaborated. This includes Ornette Coleman’s Blues Connotation; two pieces by musicians associated with Coleman: Charlie Haden’s Chairman Mao and Don Cherry’s Mopti; and, finally, three pieces by musicians of a slightly younger generation who played with Blackwell later on in his career: Thumbs Up and Pentahouve both by Mark Elias, and Dakar Dance, by Karl Berger.

 

Listen to Mark Elias' number Thumbs Up from the album.

 

 

 

Lorraine Baker has rearranged these tunes with her bass player, Paul Michael. “I have always admired the dance-like quality of Blackwell’s playing and his strong sense of melody”, says Baker, “I wanted to create my version, taking existing tunes that featured him and reimagining the arrangements in a modern setting whilst showcasing my own style as an improviser.” As well as Michael on electric bass, Baker is joined on Eden by Binker Golding on tenor saxophone and Liam Noble on piano

The result is a splendid piece of music making which also highlights some interesting trends in jazz and particularly in jazz drumming. First, Viola SmithLorraine Baker is one of a growing number of women beginning to make their mark in jazz, a genre that used to be seen as very much a masculine endeavour. Jazz drummers, in particular, were almost exclusively male, so to see female drummers competing with the best on their own terms is a cause for celebration.

One wonders how Viola Smith, one of the first female jazz drummers, handled things when we read that she 'gained notoriety as the "female Gene Krupa" and the "fastest girl drummer" (our underlining of 'notoriety'). It is worth noting here that in the supposedly stuffy, conservative world of classical music, they order things differently with few thinking it significant that the most prominent classical percussionist is a woman – Dame Evelyn Glennie. 

Viola Smith

 

 

 

 

 

Perhaps this video of Viola Smith with Frances Carroll and her Coquettes gives us a picture of the time.

 

 

 

 

 

Lorraine Baker's Eden also reflects changes in the role of drummers in jazz. The drum kit is emerging from the back of the stage with drummers like Lorraine Baker fronting their own bands and composing their own pieces. It is significant that the big jazz act of last year – Binker and Moses – was a duo of saxophone and drums with the drums seen as very much the equal of the sax. And drums are increasingly seen not just as time keepers but also as lead instruments in their own right. This has led to much more subtlety in drumming styles with more complex polyrhythms – and Lorraine Bakermore virtuosic drummers often with a solid academic training. Both Lorraine Baker and Moses Boyd (the Moses half of Binker and Moses), for example, are graduates of Trinity Laban School of Music.

These shifts in drumming styles have been accompanied, and to some extent led, by developments in recording, mixing and amplification technologies allowing the drums to be heard much more clearly.  It is noticeable on Eden, for example, how crisp Baker’s drumming sounds.

An upsurge of interest in the whole field of drumming has been cemented by Sky Arts recently devoting a whole series of programmes to The Art of Drumming with drummers talking eloquently about their technique and how the art has developed over time.  

 

Lorraine Baker

 

Lorraine Baker’s work on Eden reflects many of these changes in the drummer’s role. The album is bookended by two solos, for example, which are light years away from the pyrotechnic solos of old. Baker gradually and subtly builds her solos in a compelling and absorbing way. The drums are well to the fore on the other tracks; on a piece like Dakar Dance, the drums are almost the lead instrument with the other musicians falling into line behind them.

The same applies to Pentahouve with its complex but absorbing rhythms. “I wanted”, says Baker, “to elevate the melody with a simple accompaniment, building gradually as layers overlap. The drums play almost continuously, picking up on the melody in different ways, highlighting yet never overpowering the tune and offering an emotive solo response at the conclusion”. That final solo response also has some interesting subtle electronic enhancements.

 

Lorraine Baker playing the drum part of Dakar Dance.

 

 

A word too about the other musicians on the album who play beautifully. Coleman’s Blues Connotation hits a compelling groove with Binker Golding (the sax half of Binker and Moses) in superb form.

Lorraine Baker is touring with her band throughout November, leading up to a formal launch of Eden at the Vortex in London on 29th November. Click here for further details on Lorraine's website. For details and samples of the album, click here.

 

Lorraine Baker Eden
Caroline Scott Khoalesce

 

 

Whilst Viola Smith and others like Terri Lyne Carrington have led the way, we now see a refreshed emergence of UK-based women playing drums - Cheryl Alleyne, Sophie Alloway ..... and at the same time as the release of Lorraine Baker's Eden, another British drummer, Caroline Scott, is releasing her debut album. Like Baker and Boyd, she is a graduate of Trinity Laban and is Caroline Scottbeginning to make a name for herself on the British jazz scene. Her debut album is called Khoalesce and is due for release on 9th November. She leads a band with Kevin Glasgow (bass), Duncan Eagles (tenor saxophone) and John Turville (piano).

 

Caroline Scott

 

Caroline Scott is a Scottish drummer who has been noticed on the London jazz scene in recent years. She has played and recorded in a wide range of musical environments, from theatre shows and jazz big bands, to playing on BBC's 'Strictly Come Dancing'. 

Caroline has worked with leading conductors such as Marin Alsop (a protégé of Leonard Bernstein), playing at London's Royal Festival Hall in March and April 2018. Caroline has also lived in Boston where she played regularly with jazz bands and she plays drums and timpani in various orchestras including the Amati Orchestra and BBC Elstree Concert Band. You would hardly notice that in 2017, Caroline underwent open-heart surgery which meant that she was unable to perform for several months, but it was during this time that she began composing what would eventually become Khoalesce. Accepted on the Masters course at Trinity Laban with a full scholarship she was set the task of composing and recording an album within a year - an amazing achievement. The result is Khoalesce which incorporates and develops what she had started whilst recovering, itreflects the contrasting atmospheres and moods that have influenced the creative process.

 

A short video of Khoalesce being recorded.

 

 

 

Caroline not only leads the band but has written all 11 tracks. She proves herself adept at a range of compositional styles from the jazz-rock of Big Flashing Lights, through wistful ballads like Overflow and Golden Jubilee, to the Fifties Blue Note swinging blues of Blues For Kev. Like Eden, there are the same complex rhythms which still make you want to tap your feet. There is also the same crisp sound quality. Unlike Eden, though, the drums are mainly in the background, but still superbly played and bang on the beat.

 

Caroline Scott recording with the band Cygnus Flare.

 

 


Click here for further details of Khoalesce and click here for Caroline’s website

 

Finally, it is worth checking out the international 'Hit Like A Girl' annual contest (click here) where you can see videos of this year's winners. The contest is open to women drummers worldwide - girls and women aged between 5 and 65 have entered in past years from more than 50 countries and winners have come from all over…Japan, Indonesia, Chile, Poland, US, the Dominican Republic, and other countries. To enter, you need to upload a video and complete an entry form, usually by the end of April each year - for details click here.

Prizes for the 2018 contest included a wide variety of drumsets, cymbals, drumheads, sticks, hand percussion, snare drums, accessories, scholarships and special awards. In addition, all 2018 HLAG participants receive a link to the Hit Like A Girl Power Pack 3 which features downloadable content from many of our media sponsors, including Drum Channel, Drumeo, Hudson Music, Drum!, PAS, WGI, Sick Drummer, Digital Drummer and many more. In addition to the recognition, drums and drumming equipment the Champions and “Performance Award” winners receive, several “Achievement Awards” are given to players who exhibit outstanding drumming skills as well as commitment, dedication, perseverance and a positive attitude. The recipients of these special awards are determined by Hit Like A Girl’s directors, sponsors and judges.

 

Hit Like A Girl contest image

 

 

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Other pages you might find of interest :

Jazz Violins And Cellos
Kansas Smitty's House Band
Video Juke Box
Jazz As Art

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