Drummer Talk

Carl Allen, “Drums as a Melodic Instrument” #PASIC14 Live Blog

Carl Allen’s resume reads as a who’s-who of jazz history sidemen. From Freddy Hubbard to Wayne Shorter, Carl has played with many jazz greats within the last 40 years.

Carl opens the masterclass with a solo performance that is sensitive, yet explosive. Repeated tom motives as melodies work their way through various permutations.

The kit is not close mic’d, but rather mic’d with open, room mics.


During this time, I want to talk about why melodic drumming is important tome . Show of hands: how many drummers do we have here? Ok, how many musicians who happen to play drums?

I look at the drums as a melodic instrument as well as a rhythmic instrument.

WHenI was 21, I was on the road with Freddie Hubbard. I told Freddie, I have a problem. I’m hearing what you’re doing, the way that I’m hearing the instrument and I want to do what you guys are doing on the horns. He started laughing because I reminded him of me. He gave me permission to explore.

My favorite question is “what if.” It’s why I have this ballad snare!

I’m always hearing melody in my comping and my playing. At the core of all if it is orchestration, what Billy Higgins called ‘dressing up the music.’ But you have to know what the music is.’

Everyone is responsible for the melody, regardless of members. We’re either playing then melody, supporting the melody, or getting in the way.

Regardless of your styles, the our job as drummers is to make the music dance. Our dance partner is the bassist, Developing a relationship to know how to create that dance. What part of the kit is dancing with the bass? Ride in jazz. The length of the bass player’s notes. The placement.

We have to be really aware of how we hear music. How we hear it reflects how we play. If we’re not happy how we’re playing, ask your self what or how’s your listening to.

Art Blakey asked me at a gig, ‘do you play the drums or do the drums play you?” Your touch produces your sound. Be mindful how you tune the instrument. It’s very personal. I don’t have any muffling intentionally, The bass drum is often forgotten. But we cut a hole and put a winter coat in it. I keep my drums open because I want to control the volume and the tiimbre.

How your cymbals work together. If you have a cymbal that you love and you look for another one, it’s like adding another member to the family.


Plays and demonstrates a technique of short and long notes on the kick with higher and lower pitch.

The bass drum is more than just playing time, In jazz, we want the bass drum to be felt and really heard. The bass drum adds a center. I started to explore the different timbres and colors we have.

One of the things I learned from Art and Elvin is shaping the music.

Q: Do you take the pitch of the shells in consideration?
A: The pitch can change once you put the heads on there. We are mindful of the music and the sound in my head how I want the instrument to sound. I find equipment t that helps me get the sounds I want to hear. I used to tune to pitches, I used to. I tune the drums in a way that I can play melodies, but also to the room. I find the note that projects what I want to hear.

Q: Tension on kick to bend pitches.
A: Always thinking of melody, I tend to tune my bottom heads tighter than the top. Be mindful f tuning the drums to the room. You also have to adjust your touch to the room.

Q: Touch versus technique
A: Technique is important: however, concepts is further. All the chops with no concept of how to express yourself, you’ll just sound busy.

Plays a version of “Afro Blue” demonstrating pitch and touch to comp the melody.

I had the great pleasure of producing a record with Al Foster on drums. I had the benefit of being able to watch him bring all these things on the recording.

Continue to ask yourself “what if.”

Younger musicians will play a melody, take 640 solos, then play the melody. All of the great soloists’s solos are extensions of the melody. The more we play the melody the more confident we are.

One of the lessons I learned from Miles Davis is that it’s important for us to play with confidence and conviction. When Elvin and all those guys played, they left everything on the stage. Art said every time you play, play like it’s the last time. We are the pied pipers, everyone follow as we play. When you do that, you’ll find will be into what you’re doing.


Regardless of what music you lay, its important that you love it. After I joined Freddie Hubbard, he said I have to learn to play with more intensity. So I played louder. e told me, not louder, more intensity. He looked at me and said, ‘listen to Elvin, Max, and Connie Kay.” He kept giving me drummers to listen to for a year. He said, ‘what do I play? What do you play? If I have to tell you what t play, I’ll find another drummer.

There are no shortcuts. Freddie could’ve told me, but I wouldn’t have learned it for myself. Embrace the journey. Don’t be afraid to explore. Take chances. Have fun. The music will give yo what yo put into it.

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