This chant became a warm up exercise along with being one of the most challenging chants to perform at fast tempos. “Change The Guard” has alternate titles and was written by alto saxophonist Steve Coleman. This lesson is based off the version recorded on Tao of Mad Phat. There are numerous live versions on audio and video and this composition and chant have been the skeleton for many performances where other classics are superimposed into this particular sequence. Most Western chants start with a kick drum and a crash. It is the most common familiarity in Western drum set concept. However, “Change The Guard” begins with the snare followed by a double kick and a ride bell pattern. It sounds backwards. Then there is the form that is S S L or Short, Short, Long. You can call this the framework from which the composition is rhythmically based. There are two sections that flip flop triggered by a horn cue I play on rhythm guitar during the performance with the accompaniment. When I auditioned for Steve in April of 1996, I walked into Ultra Sound rehearsal studios in NYC on West 30th in Midtown Manhattan. It seemed as if every drummer in New York City was there. I didn’t intend to nail this audition or be chosen for the band. I attended because a friend suggested it and I figured it was a fast way to meet a lot of drummers in an instant. Many of the drummers that auditioned before and after me were typical and didn’t have the ability to translate unusual rhythmic patterns on the spot. Steve was looking for a musician with quick ears and the sense to adapt in an uncomfortable situation. Next thing I know, I’m in the band and my first gig was scheduled for North Sea Jazz Festival in July that year. Steve was beginning his residency plans in which he sets up residence in a city for a couple weeks performing, woodshedding and conducting workshops. The band was in residence in Oakland, CA and Stanford University from June – August 1996 and those weeks set the pace for the following six week European Tour. I would go on to work with this band for the next 6 years until 2002. I rejoined in 2012.
I had a great time playing and teaching this chant as it came out a lot more organic than I first intended. There will be more on the word “organic” later. The things to notice are how the kick and snare mirror each other. The phrases are identical. This was highly influenced by the music of James Brown. “Say It Loud I’m Black And I’m Proud” is a reference now that I think about it. I listened to that cut a lot as a very young boy watching the turntable spin as the funk took me over. Boom, bap, bap, boom, bap is how “Say It Loud” begins. Boom, boom, bap, bap is how this one begins! The pedaled hat/ride helps to establish the landmarks between kick and snare. There are many areas to consider where the spaces occur which is the center theme of all chants. The point is to always keep track of the shape in order to keep place and make music. One more point is to realize how easy it is to slip into a duple feel while learning this chant. It can be played in duple with the slightest shift in feel so be aware of keeping the triple feel bounce.
A new approach is used to remember the form of this chant. Subdividing the frame into three long beats and two short beats creates Long, Long, Long, Short, Short or LLLSS. Always remember: a Long beat is 3 pulses and a Short beat is 2 pulses. This is a much easier way of retaining the shape instead of counting. Although the chart written uses a simple pattern similar to the cymbal and kick drum, the cymbal pr ride can be played various ways as demonstrated in the video with the accompanying music. The key point is to play the chant inside the framework of LLLSS. Once this is mastered at 160BPM, the chant can be performed at faster tempos.
The chant has a rhythm and blues vibe for sure. Although it is in 11, another way to look at this is as a shape. A Long beat equals 3 pulses and a Short beat equals 2 pulses. All chants and rhythms can be broken into Long and Short beats. It’s a better way to keep track of the shape. We never break down anything into one pulse because that can be infinite. So we only need to limit all rhythms to 2 and 3 pulses. You will understand this as we continue from here on. In this case we have Long, Long, Long, Short as the structure and shape or “LLLS” for short. It is the same as 3, 3, 3, 2. However, it is much easier to retain the letters L and S rather than numbers which always change. This keeps you from counting. It is difficult to count while performing. Instead of counting 11 beats in repetition, visualizing long and short beats is the way to go. This will be useful when performing complex lengthy chants.