Book Review: Jazz Drumming Essentials and More, Mat Marucci

Mat Marucci's book Jazz Drumming Essentials and More, review T Bruce Wittet

Jazz Drumming Essentials and More, Mat Marucci

Book $19.99 (Mel Bay)

I like Mat Marucci and I like his books. I have a little history here. I own a tattered copy of Mat’s Progressive Studies for Drums published in 1971. Mat is one of those rare world-class musicians, in this instance a dyed-in-the-wood jazz drummer, who stays contemporary and can explain how to remain cutting edge.

This progression is manifest in Jazz Drumming Essentials and More, which is, in fact, a revision of an earlier Marucci book. When drafting the current volume, Mat discovered that entire sections of his decades-old book required little editing—a good thing for the many drummers who studied from it! Still, Matt spent a lot of time, adding here, subtracting there, all in keeping with his own, ever-evolving stage performance (the guy can blow). He’s been there and lives there, yet he takes nothing for granted, unraveling jazz drumming mysteries in his customary clear, no-frills manner.

Marucci begins by defining “jazz drummer”, which is a tall order he handles well, again by sticking to the basics—the swing tradition, the triplet feel, and how that heritage makes the transition to the contemporary “swung eighths” ethic. Although he evades nothing, Mat avoids the tendency to dwell on some little point and leave the earnest reader behind. Although I could have used a diagram or photo, I super-appreciate Mat’s unique bass drum technique revelations. Mat discusses a combination heel-toe method that is neither the Gadd heel/on beat method nor the Steve Smith variation, but, rather, a sensible incorporation of both heel-up and heel-down methods to best harness available power and control (which Mat recently outlined in an article in Down Beat).

I love Mat’s section on brushes. I don’t know about you but I’ve gone back many times and tried to decipher Philly Joe Jones’s brush treatise (published many moons ago by Premier Drums), especially the diagrams tracing the path of the swish. They have me spinning in circles. Invariably I end up confused as to whether I’m coming or going. Most of the time, I’m not even sure of the start point—where I ought to begin. Now if you want helpful (in addition to Mat Marucci’s book) check out the excellent DVD from Smith, Nussbaum et al. Otherwise, again Marucci not included, those Arthur Murray style brush “swish maps” are the bane of the drummer suffering dyslexia.

Which reminds me of an old joke, given new life by Hal Ketchum who, while fiddling with a guitar strap prior to performing live “Past the Point of Rescue” (avail. on youtube), quips: “Have you heard the one about the dyslexic guy who walks into the bra?”

Mat is economical, sometimes spartan, in his description of basic concepts, which is good because it leaves him space to elaborate on essentials. To whit, when describing his choice of essential rudiments (in addition to the PAS basics), he makes good sense from a jazz drumming perspective. In addition, he spares us from endless examples of the basic ride cymbal jazz rhythm juxtaposed with rudiments that don’t rise to the occasion.

I part ways with Mat on his description of clavé, and his application of the two-bar phrase to Brazilian music. And I think he’s stretching it by applying clavé to rhumba, then typifying rumba as an up tempo version of the former. The way I’ve always understood it, and which held me in good stead in Cuba when asked to sit in, is that the rumba emigrated to Cuba from west Africa via the clavé, whereas rhumba, bolero and all that dance hall stuff is Spanish-inflected stuff that is emphatically not in-clavé. But in fairness I should note that Mat is sorting through the “Latin jumble” for the benefit of drummers learning jazz essentials. This is what the and more in the book title refers to. And the section is a footnote, by no means essential to Jazz Essentials.

I recommend highly that you buy this book. If you’re already into the thick of the jazz life and feel you don’t need it, investigate other Marucci titles. They’ll interest you. As for me, maybe I can get around to reviewing Marucci’s Live…Bakery CD, one of many he’s stewarded. (Bill’s Music Shelf>Mel Bay)