Nobody better than Lawrence, MA's own Leonard Bernstein...
Here's a lick for you to play around with...
Occasionally, when I'm reflecting on our discussions during rehearsals, I find myself realizing that I might have used a phrase or alluded to a concept which may not be clearly understood by everyone. One example would be the use of the term 'pocket'.
What is pocket? Is pocket time? Feel? Groove? Is the drummer the only person that can play with pocket? Or can the rhythm section be in the pocket? How about the entire ensemble?
It's a hard idea to explain, but you definitely know it when you hear it.
The first thing I would say is that pocket is not groove. The pocket is the place the groove strives to be . All music has a groove/feel (or should!), but to get it in the pocket all musicians need to consistently play the groove with the same feel, in a way that is appropriate for the song. It's the ideas of consistency and appropriateness that are at the core of pocket.
Consistency allows all ensemble members to feel supported, and able to anticipate the music in a way that allows them to lock in. It also allows the listener to feel as if they can access the music easily, and free of unexpected variations.
Appropriateness of feel, is also of prime importance. If the musicians aren't contributing to the music in a way that serves the song (and not ego), it will never sound right. Overplaying or underplaying can both destroy pocket. Pushing the beat, or laying back too far can as well. The band needs to collectively find the right recipe for the song.
In thinking about this, the song below immediately came to mind. The musicians are all impeccably consistent and tasteful. It doesn't hurt that the drummer is Nate Smith (arguably the most in-the-pocket drummer out there today). It also features Blake Mills, one of the most exiting young guitarist going.
Take a listen and leave any thoughts you might have...