Ralph Salmins: A session drummer's diary

31st Jan 2012 | 16:50

Ralph Salmins: A session drummer's diary
Shelly Berg with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Cadogan Hall

Artist: Shelly Berg with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Conductor: Jose Serebrier
Venue: Cadogan Hall
Times: 3-6pm 7.30-10.30

“This was a concert with Jazz pianist Shelly Berg and the RPO the day after a recording took place of these pieces at Air Lyndhurst Hall. My friend drummer/ producer Gregg Field called me from LA and asked if I could help out, as this was his project as a producer and he was also playing on the recording but could not stay for the concert in London.

“Any excuse to hang out with one of the finest drummers in jazz, as well as the RPO is good enough for me! I went down to the rehearsals of the piece and both Gregg and I in turn played the tunes with the trio. This was followed by the orchestral rehearsals, then the recording. Gregg played beautifully, of course! He was producing too so was happy to have a helping hand from me. This gave me a good opportunity to hear the music and get it into my system ready for the concert.

“Shelly has adapted Gershwin's orchestral piano music and added improvised jazz sections to the cadenza sections of the music. None of it was too strenuous except for knowing when to come in! Shelly was just nodding us in at the appropriate time. The music was swing: medium, up tempo and a ballad, along with a Latin version of fascinating rhythm. We were only playing as a trio together, in between the orchestral sections of Rhapsody In Blue and some other great Gershwin.

“This was the treat of a lifetime for me, as I got to play with bassist Chuck Berghofer. This guy is a living Legend. He has played with EVERYONE. He told me that he actually turned down Duke Ellington, Theolonius Monk and ELVIS. Latterly he played with Frank Sinatra in his last band with Gregg. What a musician.

“It was all very quiet indeed. Chuck wasn't even using an amp, so I used my Gretsch USA Bebop set – 18”, 12”, 14” - all with Remo Ambassador coated heads except the bass drum which had a Powerstroke 3. No dampening anywhere. Cymbals: a Sabian prototype 21" ride (pictured to my right) and a 22” Artisan ride with three rivets. 14” Very light Artisan hats. Stick choice was Vic Firth AJ6 only for a very quiet clean cymbal sound, but the majority of it was brushes, VF Heritge brush being my choice.

“This was a setting that challenged my ability to play quietly. It was whisper quiet. I hope I pulled it off. Shelly is a monster player and him and Jose seemed to be pleased.”

Ralph Salmins: A session drummer's diary
13 January 2012
Abbey Road 2

Date: 13 January 2012
Session Time: 10-1, 2-5
Studio: Abbey Road 2
Project: New Eurodisney attraction
Musical Director/Arranger: Joel McNeely

“This was a slightly unusual session, as it was for a new attraction at Eurodisney. We played tracks for a montage that will be used in the attraction. They had new arrangements written by the great Joel McNeely, a phenomenal American arranger that has been writing for films and albums for many years. He's just finished a big band album with Seth McFarlane at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles that sounds like it will be phenomenal. All live to tape

“The line-up in the morning was piano, double bass, drums, guitar and accordion. The afternoon line up was classic big band: four trumpets, four trombones, five saxophones and four rhythm. We tracked everything live and to click.

“The session was quite tricky because they were using the original Disney vocals... Dick Van Dyke from Mary Poppins, Robin Williams and Louis Prima singing ‘I Wanna Be Like You’ from The Jungle Book. Obviously these tracks were recorded before clicks were invented, so the tempi were matched to the originals, which meant they were moving around a lot. It took quite a few run-throughs for us to get the tracks.

“Drums were my standard studio kit, tuned open, as the brief was ‘50s for some things: Gretsch USA Custom 22”x16”, 12”x8”, 15”x15”, 1959 trans badge Ludwig brass 400 snare drum. Cymbals: Sabian 14" HHX Studio hats, 18" Legacy crash, 17" HHX Dark crash, 21" Groove ride, 22" Manhattan Jazz ride.

“For the jazz material I am using Vic firth AJ2 or AJ6 model sticks which have a very small tip for enhanced clarity.”

Ralph Salmins: A session drummer's diary
11 November 2011
Air Lyndhurst Hall, London

Date: 11 November 2011
Session Time: 9am-12pm
Studio: Air Lyndhurst Hall, London
Project: Film
Title: Papadopoulos & Sons
Composer: Stephen Warbeck

“This was a film session for Oscar-winning British composer Stephen Warbeck. The film, Papadopoulos & Sons, is a story of a Greek family living in England. Nice early start on this one... 9am. That means arriving at 8-8.30am, which means I'm out of the house by 6.45am. Ouch. The early start was scheduled because a long day of recording orchestra was needed after our session.

“My drums were delivered by Simon at London Drum Company. My rosewoodvintage Gretsch drums, a mix of an old round badge bass drum and some ‘70s toms: 22”x14”, 12”x8” and 15”x15”. All Remo coated Ambassador heads, except the Powerstroke 3 clear on the bass drum. Cymbals: Sabian, very old 14" HH hats, an 18" Legacy crash, a 22" Groove ride and an old 18" HH Medium crash.

“I tuned, chatted with Nick the engineer for a while, then popped into the canteen for breakfast. On any given day at Air studios one is likely to bump into any number of music luminaries such as David Arnold (Bond Composer), George Michael, Joni Mitchell, Coldplay etc. who all work there regularly. This is a seriously good studio, first put together by Sir George Martin at a cost of $10,000,000.

“The hall is usually used for orchestral recordings and films. I've played on many scores in the room and made a few records there too. I love it, such a transparent sound. The band was (not surprisingly) playing Greek-style music. The line up was : Bouzouki, some other Greek sounding plucked instrument, violin, acoustic guitar, double bass and drums. Stephen is such a lovely relaxed guy that his sessions are always very relaxed and fun. He knows how to get good results. That's usually by not rushing it and tweaking things until we get it right.

“Most of the music we played was quite simple and it was just a matter of getting a good feel and making a few things up to fit in with the atmosphere required by Stephen and the director.

“This part is an example of how simple things can be! A lot of the time drum parts are very simple in order to leave the drummer a lot of freedom to put in the right part for the music. We listened back to the takes in the control room while watching how they were working with the picture. This looks like it will be a great film.”

Ralph Salmins: A session drummer's diary
14 October 2011
Angel Studio 1

Date: 14 October 2011
Session Time: 3-5pm
Studio: Angel Studio 1
Arranger/MD: Chris Walden/ Bill Ross
Project: Film called Journey 2
Track: 'What A Wonderful World'

"Chris and Bill are amazing arrangers/composers from LA who have worked on great albums and movie projects. I've worked with Chris before on several occasions in London. Chris came over from LA specially to conduct this chart and arrived at the studio direct from the airport! It was a version of 'What A Wonderful World' for the end of the film. It is a combination of what Chris described as an 'Island Feel' and swinging big band. Figures A to D on the chart had a really nice latin groove and then the chart broke out into full-blown swing at bar 77. The end of the chart finishes in the same feel as the beginning. The demo had a kind of rim-groove that felt great. I did something of my own that was similar; a mozambique with the right hand on the rim and the left had cross stick on the snare drum without snares. Snares came on for the swing section.

"Once the big band joined in, it was pretty full-on... classic big band style. This was played live with the full band: Four trumpets, four trombones, five saxophones doubling woodwind, piano, double bass doubling electric bass, electric guitar doubling acoustic guitar and drums. Percussion (bongos & shaker played by Luis Conte) was already on the track. All to click of course. The chart was beautifully written, as always with Chris, with simple clear phrasing as appropriate... easy to play and making a lot of sense... what a joy!

"We played a run-through and then made about four takes. A few things were changed in the process, and Bill was listening from LA and producing, talking to us on Skype. All in all a lovely thing to do... a musical chart that played itself. We finished early and left tome for a few overdubs. Strings were going down at 7pm. Chris was on a flight back the next morning."

Click to the next image to see what gear Ralph used on the session.

Ralph Salmins: A session drummer's diary
14 October 2011
Angel studios continued...

"Drums were a new USA Gretsch kit of mine: 22"x16" bass drum, 12"x8" and 15"x15" tom on legs with a vintage chrome on brass Ludwig 400 snare drum. Heads: Remo coated Ambassador tops, Remo clear Ambassador bottoms, except the floor tom which has a Remo coated Emperor on top. Minimal dampening... small piece of tape on the snare drum and a Protection Racket bass drum muffler. Cymbals: Sabian 14" Artisan Light hats, 18" HHX crash, 17" Legacy crash, 21" Legacy ride, 22" Artisan ride with three rivets. Sticks: Vic Firth AJ2... perfect big band sticks with a clean sound."

Ralph Salmins: A session drummer's diary
30 September 2011
Abbey Road 2

Date: 30 September 2011
Session Time: 10am-1pm
Studio: Abbey Road 2
Project: Arthur Christmas
Artist: Harry Gregson-Williams/Bill Nighy
Track: Make Someone Happy

"This was a film session for forthcoming movie Arthur Christmas. The arranger, Nick Ingman, wrote a lovely old-style arrangement of 'Make Someone Happy' for Bill Nighy to sing in character. Nick rehearsed the orchestra for about half an hour, then Bill came and sang the song with us live on the floor. After that, we recorded multiple versions of the track without vocals in order to have flexibility. The feel of the chart was old-fashioned '50s/'60s-style slow foxtrot tempo. I played brushes throughout with a light feel. The chart was very simple with no real phrasing to speak of... just time.

"I was in a booth in the corner of the studio. The composer for the film, Harry Gregson-Williams, was producing in the control room and was mainly giving direction to the strings. We probably played the chart 25 times in all including other versions. It's fairly unusual to have a rhythm section and orchestra track at the same time these days... although it is really quick and good fun. You have to keep your head down and get on with it! We finished early!

"I used some vintage Gretsch drums; a mix of an old round badge bass drum and some '70s toms - 22", 12" and 15". Minimal dampening on the bass drum, only for an old school sound. I used a '60s Ludwig 400 snare drum for a retro sound with no dampening. Heads were all Remo coated Ambassadors, except the Powerstroke 3 clear on the bass drum. My cymbals are all pretty dark anyway, but I used some very dark old Sabian hats that I've had for 25 years... nice and thin; an 18" Legacy crash, a 22" Groove ride and an old 18" HH Medium crash.

"Old mics were used such as a Coles ribbon and Neumann U 67's as overheads for an authentic vintage sound."

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