Groove Demonstration on Ahmad Jamal's 'Poinciana'
The drum beat to Ahmad Jamal’s Poinciana is a deceptive yet hypnotic groove, below I will explain the hallmarks of Vernel Fournier’s classic groove to 1958’s Live At The Pershing album featuring ‘Poinciana’.
Brief history on the song Poinciana
Originally written in 1936 by lyricist Buddy Bernier & composed by Nat Simon – This tune was often sung by crooners such as Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra, however the feel was more commonly that of a ballad than a quasi-rhumba beat.
Ahmad’s Guitar Trio (1955)
The Classic Trio (1957 - 1962)
A few years later Ahmad changes his lineup and switches the guitar chair for a drummer who was the infamous Vernel Fourier. Still with the great Israel Crosby on bass, they would release one of the best selling jazz albums of all time ‘Live At The Pershing’ and it’s hit single of course would be ‘Poinciana’.
Ahmad’s landmark recording of Poinciana, 1958
Vernel Fournier (1928 – 2000) was originally from New Orleans and made his way up to Chicago playing with some of the great R&B groups of the day while working at the Bee Hive Club in Chicago’s South Side. It was during this time he met Ahmad Jamal and began playing in his trio with Israel Crosby.
How to play the groove to Poinciana
When deconstructing this groove, it helps to be reminded that Vernel’s hometown of New Orleans was a direct influence.
In a New Orleans 2nd line parade the bass drummer will have a mallet in the right hand playing dotted 8th/16th pattern. In his left hand will he’ll play the up beat 8th notes on a cymbal mounted to the bass drum. Generally the cymbal will be upside down and will be struck with a coat hanger/screwdriver/etc. That is the sticking patterns DNA of what Vernel is doing with his hands on the drumkit.
In the head of the tune the left hand is on the hi-hat playing up beats of 1, 2, 3, then resting on beat 4. Once the solo begins he moves that left hand to the dome of the ride cymbal, plays all 4 up beats and the hi hat then also plays up beats with the foot pedal.
In 2016 I played over the original recording and put together a video demonstration of this beat with transcriptions and a bit of history. My late basset hound Iko got in on the action for a brief cameo. Good boy!
In Mr. Fournier's own words.
Vernel discusses ‘Poinciana’
In January of 2020 my trio played this live in the studio.
Rich Martin, piano
James Driscoll, bass
Rich Malloy, drums
Later in life Vernel wrote a drum book entitled ‘Drum Techniques‘ with sticking patterns & etudes. It reminds me a bit of George L. Stone’s ‘Stick Control’ & Anthony Cirone’s ‘Portraits’ in Rhythm. This book also includes the entire drum transcription to ‘Poinciana’. Drum Techniques has been out of production for sometime, however I do have a copy.
Have questions about how to play Poinciana? Please reach out. 🙂