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Microphone Month

Recording Jazz Drums, Part 2 – The “Single Instrument”

Previously we talked about jazz drums (and we’re referring to “swinging,” mainstream-style jazz) and the fact that in this style of music, drummers rely upon the ride cymbal to generate the “time,” while kick and snare drums are used for accents rather than driving the beat. That calls for a different balance when miking the drum kit.

There’s more to this equation. Jazz drummers relate to their kits in a different way then pop/rock players do. They tend to regard their entire drum kit – snare, kick, toms and cymbals – as a single, integrated instrument, rather than separate elements. Their concept is quite similar to that of a jazz piano player. Although it’s nice to hear a little stereo spread from the piano in this musical context, it’s unnatural to hear the extreme left-to-right panning that sometimes occurs on pop tracks. The same holds true for the drum kit. That’s why, even when multi-track recording became common in the 1960s and even into the 1970s, jazz kits were recorded with a single mic, either placed a few feet in front of the kit or overhead.

For an authentic jazz sound, you should avoid some of the common pop/rock panning tricks applied to drums. Most jazz players use one or two rack toms and a floor tom but don’t expect to hear those panned to any extreme degree. Further, the “kick” drum is often used as an additional big floor tom (which is why most jazz players use two heads with no hole in the front head). So it needs to be treated more like a tom, blending tonally with the others. This is not the time to apply lots of muffling or heavy EQ or compression to get a dry thud.

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