Jazz Clave, Part 1

A couple of years ago I started using some grooves that I had noticed Philly Joe Jones playing frequently as an introduction to jazz comping. I called these grooves “Jazz Clave” because of the way that he would use them as an ostinato over long stretches of the tune, sometimes playing a pattern for 32 bars, or even a whole solo of 3 or 4 choruses. I found these patterns while listening to and transcribing the four records he made with Miles Davis for prestige records in 1956; Cookin’, Workin‘, Steamin‘ and Relaxin‘.

In this post I’m going to focus on these one bar “clave” grooves. In Part Two I’ll talk about the accents or “clave” like patterns that these grooves outline. These are patterns that he’ll play for long periods of time, 8 bars at minimum.

6 jazz claves

Once you’ve played through the six patterns it’s important to start using them musically. Pick two patterns and a tune to sing them over. One pattern for the A sections, one pattern for the B. You can also try playing along with a record, change the pattern you’re using every time a new soloist starts playing or try changing the pattern every chorus. Spend time planning out how you will arrange these (first chorus pattern A, second chorus pattern B, etc) and then spend time improvising your way through the tune in a similar way.

You’ll notice that I included an “empty” bar of time on the ride cymbal. This is an important pattern to keep in mind. Not only does it outline the two emphasized “weak” beats in the measure (more on this in Part Two) but it also represents a moment of rest. Comping is a game of tension and release, the moments that you choose to play these “jazz claves” will be emphasized by the moments that you choose “not” to play them.

This is a great exercise if you are just getting into playing jazz or if you’ve been going along wondering what to play when you are comping. A frequent misconception about jazz drumming is that it has to be busy. It’s no wonder, musicians like Tony Williams and Billy Cobham are awe inspiring to watch and listen to, who wouldn’t want to play like that? I think people forget though that Philly Joe was one of Tony’s biggest influences. The ability to play a tune with simple vocabulary is essential to then be able to play it with more complex phrasing.







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