Hi-Hat Masters

  • Posted on: 5 July 2011
  • By: Sheldon Kreger

For drumming, one of the primary evolutions which occurred during the pop revolution of the late 70's through the early 90's was the emphasis of the hi-hat as a leading voice. Although the hats were being used as far back as the early 1920's, the development of more sophisticated mic and mixing methods really allowed drummers to dig into these instruments in a new way. Whereas early hi-hat use was primarily for time keeping, modern drummers now use the hats in sophisticated accent patterns as a key component of comping vocabulary.

Timekeeping - either pumping with the left foot on down or up beats - was a common trick even for early jazz drummers. Using the hat as a grounding point of the wild jazz drum set vocabulary allowed the drummer to maintain an external point of reference as songs moved forward. This trend continued in early shuffle music, when the pattern was propelled forward by the right hand on swung eighth notes. As time passed, the music straightened out, allowing the drummer to articulate hi-hat sticking in quarter, eighth, and sixteenth note patterns. This monotonous phrasing again provided a strong reference point in early popular music.

Eventually, professional drummers realized the potential for the integration of accent patterns on the hi-hats. These techniques helped retain a more organic and responsive feel as grooves became more complex. Although he was certainly not the first, an exaggerated example of such playing is Billy Cobham. Here, he mixes both time patterns (eighth and sixteenth) and accent patterns (down and upbeats).

Billy Cobham DVD: Glass Menagerie

Of course, the most famous hi-hat master is Stewart Copland. He strongly contrasted a very tight, staccato, closed sound with a very loud, dirty, open effect. He also integrated advanced reverb techniques as quickly as they developed.

Reggatta De Blanc

Manu Katche is also well known for his signature hi-hat methods. Often accused by pop musicians of being a jazz drummer, and accused by jazz musicians that he is a pop drummer, Katche certainly has a unique vocabulary of smooth hi-hat accent patterns.

His solo album "Neighborhood" is one of my favorite jazz albums of all time, featuring my favorite trumpet player Tomaz Stanko and sax master Jan Garbarek.

Manu Katche MP3 Album: Neighbourhood

Finally, no discussion of the hi-hat is complete without mentioning Carlos Vega. Often overlooked as a simple pop and smooth jazz studio machine, Vega was one of the greatest players to ever live. His timing is so precise that he was able to continue the left foot pumping motion while playing advanced accent patterns on the hats. I also just love the sound of Paiste cymbals.

Get the DVD - trust me!

RIT Special / Steps Ahead - Double Time Jazz Collection, Vol. 6

Or, if you want to see something a bit funkier, check out the same group playing with Abe Laboriel.

Lee Ritenour & Dave Grusin / GRP All-Stars - Double Time Jazz Collection Vol. 4

Here is a list of my all-time favorite songs with advanced hi-hat action. The links will bring you to my Amazon store for instant MP3 purchase.

Manu Katche: No Rush

Russ Miller: Mosquito Bite

Stewart Copeland: Darkness

Stewart Copeland: Spirits In The Material World

Stewart Copeland: Walking On The Moon

Stewart Copeland: Driven To Tears

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