This exercise is an attempt to achieve some of the freedom Elvin had with triplet figures not only around the drums, but also phrased through the music. The first step is to pick a rhythmic source, I’m using Ted Reed’s Syncopation, Set 1 and 2 starting on P. 33. You could also use a couple measures from a tune you like (Oleo could work well) or a phrase that you compose. The second step is to learn the “triplet ways”, look up John Ramsay’s Alan Dawson book for reference.
Here’s where we’ll start. Pick two measures from Syncopation, these are the two I used:
Now you’ll work through them using simple phrasing ideas; AAAB, AABA, ABAB, etc. Here’s what that looks like as bass drum = the line, snare drum fills in the triplet:
Once you feel comfortable sing a tune while you play, I chose Autumn Leaves, you’ll feel the arc of each phrase more intensely by hearing it against the melodic phrase.
Finally, when you’ve played through your written source material, begin to improvise each B. As with any improvisational exercise it’s up to you how far you allow yourself to stray from the original parameters. I found myself working in two ways. First, with a steady ride cymbal “in the style” of the written exercise, essentially “improvising” a measure from set one or two. Second, without the steady ride cymbal allowing myself to freely play through each B, keeping in mind the goal is to play with a triplet feel.