This week Mike Jellick will be coming to the Dirty Dog Jazz Café. Mike will be playing the Dirty Dog’s beautiful Steinway piano. Alongside Mike will be his rhythm section. Seldom do we see jazz pianists appear without some friends on bass and drums to put down a steady beat behind them. The drummer and bassist will allow Mike to break loose from the beat, and we will still be able to tap our feet to his music.
We all share the need for a steady beat. It is something we don’t think about until we are surrounded with noises with an erratic beat. We can become agitated and long for some quiet. We would like to be somewhere where we can hear our own heartbeat. Ahh, our good old heart sending out a comforting kathump, kathump,kathump.
It is interesting that we go through our day doing things like scratching our heads or we stir a cup of coffee with a definite rhythm even though it is not necessary. A steady rhythm is a basic part of human life starting when we were in a comfortable place with only our mother’s breathing and heartbeat. Even after we are thrust into a less peaceful environment we often seek out a calm place where we are alone with our natural rhythms. We try to walk and talk at a steady pace. We check our watches when we run to keep ourselves on a steady pace. We easily fall asleep riding in a train with the steady click clack of the wheels on the tracks and drift off when we hear the consistent sound of waves on a beach.
It is not surprising that this steady beat has been essential to our music. The pulse of our music starts us dancing or at least nodding our heads or tapping our feet to the beat. We all like to believe we have rhythm.
Workers in the fields and boatmen pulling on oars chanted and sang to the repetitive movement required in their tasks. To break the monotony they began to sing a little behind time and sometimes prolonged a note while they hung onto their oars a little longer.
Slaves pulled on their oars using traditional rhythms from Africa including the simultaneous use of two or more conflicting rhythms called polyrhythm. This rhythmic conflict became the basis of American jazz. Early blues singers accompanied their songs with layering repeated polyrhythms in different registers on their guitars. Syncopation which accented off beats followed. This led to ragtime, jazz and now we hear these same rhythms in funk and rap.
Jazz loosened the melody line from the beat, added more beats and played around the beat . Artists stretched out notes then jumped them in early. This became the essence of jazz. It worked because someone was there beating out a ground beat. The steady sound of the boat oars and the ring of the hammer on the railway spike was always still there.
Listen to Frank Sinatra sing with a good band playing with a steady beat. He seldom starts or ends a phrase on beat, but it sounds right and jazzy.
Detroit’s jazz, like the city itself, is known for its persistence. The music maintains a powerfully steady beat from beginning to end. It is who we are and the reason the city has turned out legions of great bassists and drummers. This has allowed Detroit to be a dynamic town for experimental music.
DRUMMERS ARE NOT PERFECT
Jo Jones said “The drummer is the key—the heartbeat of jazz”
Studies do show that drummers keep remarkably good time but they don’t keep perfect time. In jazz the tempo is a fluid thing. The music slows and it speeds up. Drummers are free to pass off that ground beat to another instrument. It might be the pianist’s left hand or the lower ranges of the bass or sax or whatever, but that steady heartbeat will usually still be there, and the music swings. We never see bands show up at the Dirty Dog with drum machines. Besides, drum machines never take solos.
Drum solos are like car chases, a critic once noted, nothing can happen until they’re over.
AND THE BEAT GOES ON
THIS WEEK AT THE DIRTY DOG JAZZ CAFÉ
October 18 – October 21
Michael is so gifted. He is also another example of Detroit jazz artists who continue to learn and grow. Each time he comes to the Dirty Dog he brings something new, which he will be sharing with his band mates. Come on out.
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