As I developed my piano trio in preparation for recording our recent album, I shedded a lot on brushes and checked out many brush recordings. There are tons of great ones out there, but here are just a few of my favorite albums and tracks.
“I Want to Be Happy” (Papa Jo Jones, drums)
The Impeccable Mr. Wilson (Verve, 1957)
Papa Jo’s feel on this tune is incredibly light and intense at the same time-so heavy it feels like someone is standing on your chest. Jo’s interjections on the hi-hat are super-slick, and his interplay with Teddy Wilson during the trading section is remarkable. This is a classic and incredible demonstration of restraint and finesse.
“Mean Streets” (Kenny Washington, drums)
Jazz Poet (Timeless, 1989)
Kenny plays some great brushes on this record. Especially worth mentioning is “Mean Streets,” swinging out at 360-bpm-plus. Kenny plays a fantastic solo. His articulation and musical ideas are truly top rate. His vocabulary is firmly rooted in the jazz tradition, but he applies plenty of fire and puts his own personal spin on things.
“John’s Abbey” (Philly Joe Jones, drums)
Time Waits: The Amazing Bud Powell (Blue Note, 1958)
This tune features some of Philly Joe’s classic swinging brush playing complete with a fiery solo. Other highlights are his solos on “Sub City,” “Marmalade” and “Monopoly.” There’s plenty of Philly’s classic vocabulary to be found in these solos, all played with brushes.
Jeff Hamilton Trio
Jeff Hamilton Trio-Live! (Mons, 1996)
Jeff is one of my favorite brush players alive today. He’s rooted in the tradition of Philly Joe Jones and the great brush players before him, but he’s expanded the vocabulary and developed a technical facility that is unmatched. This cut is nearly 360 bpm-a challenging tempo to maintain with brushes-yet Jeff does so masterfully. He plays some beautiful phrases, especially during his solo, and switches from brushes to sticks, back to brushes, seamlessly.
Barry Harris Trio
“There’s No One But You” (Elvin Jones, drums)
Preminado (Riverside, 1961)
Elvin has a fiery, inventive approach to playing with brushes that is very different from players who predate him. Check out this tune, where he often gets a long sweep with a slight accent on beats two and four within his brush pattern. (You can hear this particularly well at the beginning of Harris’ piano solo.) I especially dig this because it reminds me of one of the go-to New Orleans grooves, what I like to call the “straight” (as opposed to syncopated) second-line, where the right hand plays the ride-cymbal pattern on the snare, hi-hat or ride while the left hand plays buzzes on beats two and four.
Ahmad Jamal Trio
“Music! Music! Music! (Put Another Nickel In)”
“Woody’n You” (Vernel Fournier, drums)
At the Pershing: But Not for Me (Argo, 1958)
Vernel is one of the most tastefully swinging piano-trio drummers of all time. Check out how he suggests some of his hometown New Orleans bass-drum funkiness underneath his brush playing on this cut. Also, the tune “Woody’n You” perplexed me for a long time until I realized that he achieved his very articulate attack by playing with the brush wires about halfway exposed out of the retractable handle.
“Easy Does It” (Buddy Rich, drums)
Oscar Peterson Plays Count Basie (Verve, 1956)
Most people think of Buddy Rich as the powerful, technical genius of the ’70s, but this is a very subtle, tasteful and swinging side of him. You can really hear on this record how the great Jo Jones influenced Buddy, and he sticks with brushes for most of the album. Buddy starts “Easy Does It” with brushes on the hi-hat, and when he goes to brushes on the snare at 1:07, it’s some of the smoothest brush playing you’ll ever hear.
Bill Evans Trio
“Gloria’s Step (Take 2)” (Paul Motian, drums)
Sunday at the Village Vanguard (Riverside, 1961)
When I first started studying with Johnny Vidacovich in college, he recommended that I check out this record. “Gloria’s Step” starts with Paul playing very sparingly yet interactively during the head. He continues to interact with the pianist and bassist during their solos, never really laying down what could be called standard time.
Stanton Moore is an acclaimed New Orleans-based drummer and clinician, and a founding member of Galactic. His first acoustic jazz album, Conversations, is available now on the Royal Potato Family label. Visit him online at stantonmoore.com. Originally Published