Mercy, Mercy, Mercy

I’m the house drummer in a weekly jazz jam session at the Pita Jungle in Chandler, Arizona. Because my students are most familiar with rock and pop, I encourage them to expand their horizons by going to the Pita to hear live jazz. I also try to get them to sit in, whether it’s playing drumset or accompanying me on the shaker. It’s a great opportunity for them to play with top professional musicians.

Although the audience and the band members are extremely encouraging and forgiving, it can still be quite a frightening experience for the students. To help with this, I normally prep them to play a specific bossa nova or funk tune–something with straight (or slightly swung) eighths–so that they feel a little more comfortable. One of those tunes, Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, a funky standard originally written by Joe Zawinul, fits the bill.

Here is a recording from 1966 by the Cannonball Adderley Quintet with Zawinul on keys and Roy McCurdy on drums. It became a surprise crossover hit at the time.

The Buckinghams added lyrics in their 1967 hit version.

About 10 years ago I recorded a demo of Mercy, Mercy with a band called Jivie and the Tribe. The performances were pretty solid, and I’ve used it since for educational purposes.

Here is that recording followed by a slightly simplified transcription of my drumming in the first chorus (the first time through the 20-bar form).

02 mercy mercy mercy


• There are four unique sections within the 20 bars of the tune. The first section (let’s call it A) is eight bars long, and each successive section is four bars long: B, C, and D. It’s important to try to hear this structure to better understand my rhythmic and melodic choices.

• Notice the use of ghosted notes and open hi-hat notes in the A section to help create feel and additional interest.

• Most of the fills are fairly syncopated and lively. Thinking back, I might been trying to spice things up, knowing that this recording would be used to get gigs.

• You can hear the functionality in my playing in the B, C, and D sections. For instance, my choice to play consecutive quarters on the snare move right stick to the ride cymbal seems to create momentum in the music. When you play this song, you could use these patterns as a launching pad to come up with your own parts.