"People who make no noise are dangerous."
--Jean de La Fontaine

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Show Set-Up -- The Producers

I have been really busy over the last few months and haven't had a chance to post. Among the things that have kept me busy, was playing a run of The Producers for a local theater. I love playing in pit orchestras. I enjoy the pressure of the live performance, unpredictable casts, and creating various sounds and grooves. 

The set-up I used for The Producers was an example of how I usually play shows. This show has a drum set and percussion book which call for various instruments and sound effects. I had to play both books for this production so my set-up is a combination of everything I could cover from both.  

This picture shows the bulk of the instruments I used for the show. As you can see, everything has to be close so I can find it in the dark. I usually do not like to use plastic instruments, like the jam blocks, but for this show a lot of my work had to be played with sticks so I used plastic instruments. Pictured: Bass drum, snare drum, floor tom, 2 jam blocks, a mounted tambourine, cowbell, bongos, 14" hi hats, 20" ride, 12" splash. Also pictured is the ratchet which has been attached to the bass drum with a c-clamp. If you have a solid way to mount a ratchet so it doesn't fall on the ground every time you use it, please let me know in the comment section. Until then, I'll continue using the c-clamp. 

The right side of the kit is basically in the picture above but in this picture, you can see sticks, brushes, mallets, and a 16" crash cymbal.

The left side of kit included a triangle, a glockenspiel (sitting on a trap case), a mark tree, and my music stand with a light. Not pictured is a pair of castanets on a machine, a slide whistle, and a siren whistle. 

I have decided to post more of my set-ups so I can show you how I approach some musical situations. This particular set-up was a lot of fun to put together and the show was a success.  

Friday, August 28, 2015

14" Sabian HHX Legacy Hi Hats and 21" Sabian HHX Legacy Light Ride

I have been exploring Sabian cymbals for the last few months and the following two cymbals are the latest additions to my collection: a pair of 14" HHX Legacy Hi Hats and a 21" HHX Legacy Light Ride. I didn't know much about these cymbals when I bought them, but after some research (typed Sabian Legacy cymbals into Google) I found out that the line was designed in part by Dave Weckl. This makes sense once you hear these cymbals. They sound like a cross between Buddy Rich's cymbals and plates you would use to play smooth jazz. I know that doesn't sound very appealing but trust me, these cymbals are solid. 

Let's start with the hi hats. Out of the box, these cymbals look great. There's not a lot of ink on top of the cymbals and they have a finish which makes them appear like they have already achieved a sweet patina. The hi hats are a little heavier than I would like, but are probably lighter than most of you would use. I can't be sure, but the top hat seems to have less of a bow than other hats being made by the big cymbal makers. This particular fact reminds me of old Paiste 602 hats. That last bit could just be in my head. Either way, they have a great chick and sound great in jazz and rock settings. I was impressed with the sloshy sound these cymbals make. They really come alive when you play Jo Jones licks on them, especially if you open and close them with your left hand while playing with a stick in your right. Overall, these are great multi-purpose hats but I think they will really shine driving a big band.   

The 21" HHX Legacy Light Ride is different. It's so different, I am not exactly sure where to use it. It has a descent ride sound. In fact, when I first started playing it, it kind of reminded me of Buddy's ride. It has a high pitch with a lot of wash but plenty of stick definition. The washy quality doesn't allow this ride to fit in every situation but the fact that the wash is so controlled also inhibits the cymbal. In other words, it's too washy to sit on the right side of the kit and has too much definition to be a crash ride. With that being said, this ride still has something that makes it work in the set-up. It makes a really nice crash. It has a lot of crash sound and a fast decay so it doesn't gong out. I found that on a rock gig, the cymbal worked really well as a left side ride. I could crash it but also use it for a different ride sound, especially when the band played 60s garage rock. The cymbal suffered a little when I tried it on a piano trio gig. It didn't sound bad but it wasn't right. I haven't tried it yet but I bet it's going to sound pretty good on a big band gig.

Overall, I like the Sabian Legacy cymbals. I like them enough that I am probably going to check out the 22" Heavy ride and the 17" crash. I'll let you know how they work out if I get them.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

22" Sabian HH Big and Ugly King Ride

As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently started playing Sabian cymbals. Those of you in the know understand the history of Sabian and will recognize that they make quality cymbals for professionals all over the world. One of the reasons I have always avoided Sabian in the past was that the seem to have the worst marketing team in the world. It's like they purposely market cymbals in such a way that I wanted to completely avoid them. The new Big and Ugly series follows this mold. As I'll explain, I'm glad I disregarded the marketing.

So, let's start with the name. I get it. The entire series is made of ride cymbals that are "big" and "ugly." The thing is, they're really not. The series is comprised of six ride cymbals most of which are 22" with a couple of 24" mixed in for fun. Ok, they're kind of big, but they are anything but ugly in looks or sound. In fact, these are some of the most beautiful and interesting looking cymbals Sabian has ever made. They look like cymbals that sound great. Why Sabian named this series Big and Ugly is beyond me, but the demonstration videos on their website may explain more about their thinking than I can. The demo video is some guy who uses all of the rides as crash cymbals and one giant set of hi hats. It's fine, but I think most of us would rather hear what these cymbals sound like being used as rides...you know, because they're rides.

Anyway, enough complaining about Sabian's poor marketing. I bought a 22" HH King ride. I usually use smaller rides but I am not afraid to go big. Out of the box, this cymbal looked beautiful.  The top is unfinished and the bottom is completely lathed except for the underside of the bell. The cymbal easily bends in your hands and has that beautiful warble that I want in my cymbals. For a 22" it's pretty light. I must say that this cymbal has all of the characteristics I look for in a ride. I picked the King ride over the others in the series because it sounded like it would be the most versatile. I'm not sure it would work on every gig, but I took it to all of the ones I've had in the last few weeks and it performed like a king.

The cymbal is very complex and has a Tony Williams kind of vibe. It has perfect stick definition and a great shoulder crash. If you play modern jazz, this cymbal is definitively worth checking out. I took the cymbal on three gigs; a piano trio gig, a quartet gig and a country gig. You would think a cymbal like this would be too big for a piano trio but it performed pretty well. It sounded great at low volumes and never got out of control as we got louder. The piano player liked it, although he liked my flat ride better. The quartet gig was even better and this cymbal sounded amazing under a tenor player. The cymbal sounded ok at the country gig although I will probably bring a different one next time. It might be a little too complex sounding for George Jones tunes, but it didn't stick out in a bad way.

I recommend checking this cymbal out. It has been a treat to play and I think I will buy some of the other plates in the series. When I do, you know I'll tell you about them here.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Toy Cymbals

I like anything that makes noise. I have a collection of odd cymbals, some of which have been discussed in other posts, that I thought would be fun for you readers to actually hear. Please keep in mind that everything was recorded with a digital camera and that all of the playing was done with one hand.

The Splat

This is a special cymbal for me and I have had it a long time. I bought it and a snare drum for $10 at a yard sale. The cymbal was one of my first experiments. The cymbal is 10" and is made of very thin sheet brass which I drilled and added a bunch of rivets. It sounds pretty weird but in the right spots, is perfect. 


 This recording is the cymbal by itself. It's so light that it works well on a hi hat clutch. The rivets  are heavy enough that it doesn't make sound when  you play the pedal.


This is the cymbal mixed into a groove. 

The Crasher

The Crasher is a pair of Royce cymbals that I found. They are thin and have warped edges. These edges allow them to sit on top of each other without getting stuck together and thus make a cool sound. 

Here is what both cymbals sound like. Apart, they sound terrible but I dig the sound they make together. I have tried to adjust the tension, i.e. making the cymbals clamp tighter together, but it doesn't work. Only having the cymbals lay on top of one another in a loose fashion works.

Toy Hand Cymbals

This is a pair of mini hand cymbals that would come with a kid's instrument set. They sound terrible when crashed together.

However, they work wonders for snare drum sounds. This is an older studio trick where you can change the sound of the snare by adding a splash cymbal. It gives the drum a snappier sound, especially when heard through good microphones. I like using these cymbals for this so I don't mess up my good splash cymbals and because these cymbals have a little handle attached, it makes it easier to get them off the drum when I'm finished.


Sorry about the poor camera work here. I wanted you to hear what the snare sounded like with a groove. The camera is sitting on my floor tom, which I am not hitting, and wouldn't stay still. I thought it looked cool so I decided to keep the video. The playing is so-so. 

If you have the opportunity to find some cheap toy cymbals, grab them. You never know what kind of fun you could have with them. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

1970s A Zildjian Swish Cymbal

This is a 20" A Zildjian Swish cymbal with 6 rivets. The swish cymbal has a long history in the jazz world as being the cymbal that every big band player must have. I have wanted one of these for a long time and couldn't stop myself from buying this one when it came up.

I have had 2 swish cymbal besides this one and got rid of both. The first I returned to the factory because it had cracks where the rivets were drilled and frankly, it sounded terrible. The other was a beautiful 22" Bosphorus which I still can't believe I let go. (Long story) This Zildjian is certainly no replacement for that Bosphorus but it sounds great. It has a complex, articulate ride sound with just enough sizzle.

I'm not entirely sure about the history, but it seems that swish cymbals came with 6 rivets until the 1980s when they were bumped up to a beefier 22" with 20 rivets. I like the 6 rivets over the 20 as that many rivets can be hard to control. This cymbal had 3 original rivets when I bought it but they were steel and had rusted. I replaced all the rivets with some brass Bosphorus split rivets which are lighter and have a more musical sound to my ear. I can't wait to take this cymbal on my next gig and see how it performs with a tenor saxophone.   

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Elephant Bells

I was wandering through an antique store in Amish country when I stumbled upon these little beauties.

These are commonly called elephant bells or meditation bells. The following is from creekbed.org which explains what these bells do better than I can.

"The bells are cast in factories in a small town called Jalesar. This is a town in a northern state of India, called Uttar Pradesh; an area well known for brass work. The cloisonn-like coloring is done in another town situated close by, called Moradabad. The bells are hung about the elephant's necks so the Mahouts can locate their animals while they are out in the jungles.

The style of these bells has not changed since the 17th century as can be seen on Mughal paintings from that period."

I really love the detail on each bell. I am not sure how old these bells are or how they ended up in Amish country. All I know is that they are useful in the percussion world, including serving as part of the instrumentation for several Lou Harrison compositions.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

New Sabian Cymbals Post 1-- 22" Artisan Medium Light Ride and an 18" Ed Thigpen Signature Flat Ride

Well, a lot has happened recently. I never thought I would say it but...I am a Sabian artist, sort of. I was an artist with Bosphorus Cymbals and when the company split, I continued as an artist for Crescent Cymbals. Earlier this year, Crescent sold everything to Sabian, including their artist roster. It's a weird time that I have yet to completely understand but I am excited about the possibilities. Since I did not actually own any Sabian cymbals, I thought it might be nice to pick some up. I think of my first order from Sabian as having 2 parts. Part 2 will be discussed in another post. 

The first cymbal in my Sabian order was a 22" Artisan Medium Light Ride. The first thing I have to tell you is the presentation of this cymbal is unlike anything I have ever seen. The cymbal came in its own velvet lined bag which included a letter that discussed its inclusion as part of a very limited run of cymbals. Pretty cool! In addition, the cymbal looks amazing. The logo is small and the hammering markings are unique.

Of course a cymbal can look amazing but it is the sound that is most important. I took this cymbal on a gig too see how it would perform and I have to tell you that I have mixed reviews. The gig was a typical jazz group with piano, bass, and drums augmented with 3 horns players and a singer. I thought this cymbal would be an interesting choice with so many horn players.

This is a big cymbal and it responds a such. It has a lot of wash and can easily get out of control, which is a problem. I must say however that no matter how washy the cymbal got, the stick definition was always clear. I will admit that the cymbal did not match well with my Crescents. It didn't seem to have the same complexity or subtlety. The cymbal was just too aggressive for playing standards. There was a point in the gig where I started playing a groove like Elvin and the cymbal really came alive but moments like that were few and far between on this gig. During a set break, two of the horn players asked me not to use this cymbal while they were soloing. Ouch! With that being said, I still like this cymbal. I'm just not exactly sure where or how to use it. I am not giving up on the Artisan series and I think with a little extra love, this cymbal will become a favorite in the future.

I was super excited about the second cymbal I received in this order. It is an 18" Ed Thigpen Signature Flat Ride. If finding a ride cymbal is difficult, I believe that finding a good flat ride is damn near impossible. I have had several and have never been completely happy with any of them. I used to own a 22" Ed Thigpen Signature Flat Ride which was a nice cymbal but it was simply too big for any gig at which you would need a flat ride.

Anyway, I requested this ride and Sabian made one for me at their custom shop. I'm really excited about this cymbal. I haven't had a chance to use it yet on a gig but it sounds amazing out of the box. I added 2 rivets to the cymbal yesterday and it really made this plate sing. It has a beautiful crystal sound with all of the refinement you would hope to have in a flat ride. If you're looking for a good flat ride, this might be the one.