Throughout the history of drum set education, Alan Dawson’s influence cannot be overstated enough. In addition to being a world-renowned jazz drummer, he was also a gifted teacher at Berklee College of Music for nearly two decades. His roster of former students includes such notables as Steve Smith, Casey Scheuerell, Kenwood Dennard, Harvey Mason, John “J.R.” Robinson, and Vinnie Colaiuta, and his teaching methods have been adopted by drum teachers worldwide.
One of his many innovations as a teacher was to take pre-existing stickings, such as snare drum rudiments, and apply them around the drums. In this article, I’m going to talk about some of Dawson’s rudimental applications for the drum set, as well as how he applied them to his own playing style.
Dawson utilized numerous snare drum rudiments in his solos. When asked about how the rudiments added to Dawson’s overall melodic sense, Berklee professor Casey Scheuerell commented, “You can’t get around the drums if you don’t have a whole variety of stickings. Stickings get you from one point to another. There are also phrases that are rudimental in nature that can only really get you that sound if you play that rudiment. It’s a part of our basic, fundamental vocabulary. So you need to know a lot of those.”
To illustrate how Dawson employed the rudiments around the drums in a musical context, I’ve included a transcription of his drum solo from the Duke Ellington classic “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be,” taken from Dave Brubeck’s performance at the 1971 Newport Jazz Festival. You can view the clip here (the solo starts around the 1:55 mark): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sm0PA_tccBY.
Dawson often incorporated both the hands and feet when executing rudimental phrases. In “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be,” Dawson utilizes Four-Stroke Ruffs in a very musical and effective way. Below is the traditional sticking.
Four-Stroke Ruff application, measures 5-6 of “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be”
The three-beat triplet idea below is an alternate way of dividing up the Four-Stroke Ruff between the hands and the bass drum, similar to Max Roach’s motif from his solo drum composition “For Big Sid.”
Alan Dawson 2nd solo chorus bars 9-12, “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be”
Max Roach triplet phrase from For Big Sid drum solo, Drums Unlimited (1966)
Another one of Dawson’s favorite stickings was a Paradiddle-Diddle between the hands and feet, substituting “stick shots” for the two rights and the bass drum for the two lefts. Below is the traditional sticking.
Paradiddle-Diddle figure between hands and feet using stick shots, subdivided in sextuplets (from “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be”)
Over-the-bar line phrasing
Another of Dawson’s most creative applications of the rudiments was within the context of an over-the-bar-line hemiola figure. The figure below implies 3/8 time, and was one Dawson used frequently.
Dawson used this same hemiola figure for rudiments based in triple meter, such as the Flam Accent, within the context of his Rudimental Ritual that he assigned to his private students. Below is the traditional sticking.
To create a four-bar phrase, Dawson converted the rudiment’s subdivision from triplets to 8th notes, then back to triplets for the final measure upon the cycle’s conclusion.
Dawson also outlines it in the first two bars of his first chorus on “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be.”
These are just some of the many ways Dawson utilized the rudiments to create ideas that flowed seamlessly between his mind and his limbs. To master phrases such as these, as well as create ideas of your own, I recommend picking up a copy of John Ramsay’s book “The Drummer’s Complete Vocabulary as taught by Alan Dawson.” Review the section on the snare drum rudiments, especially the part about the Rudimental Ritual. Once you have a firm grasp on how each rudimental sticking feels, you can then begin experimenting with them around the drum set. To further explore the rudiments in a jazz context, I also recommend Charley Wilcoxon’s classic books “Modern Rudimental Swing Solos” as well as “Rolling In Rhythm.”
Next week, I’ll explore that legacy further by taking about Dawson’s numerous rudimental applications around the drums.
By: Ryan McBride
Ryan is an in-demand drummer in the New York City area. He has performed with Adam Pascal, Adrian Zmed, and Christine Ohlman, and is on the percussion faculty at Brooklyn Music School.