Jazz Drumming is not Dead, It just smells funny!

by Chris Quinlan

JAZZ itself has undergone many transformations over this century with the development of styles ranging from ragtime, dixieland, swing, bop, cool, afro-cuban,latin, free, avant-garde, jazz-rock, fusion, contemporary ...... there are so many "jazz categories" now, the velcro we use to stick the labels on has just about worn out!


If you don't have it already, buy "Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer" by Jim Chapin ..... This book not only gets your independence going but also gives you an insight into the main exponents of various drum styles over the years, up to when the book was written in 1948.The backbone of jazz drumming up to this time was the FOUR-ON-THE-FLOOR Bass Drum, with Hi-Hat on 2&4. Throughout Ragtime/Dixieland, and Swing, you can always count on a soft 1,2,3,4 from the bass drum, as well as the familiar "ting-tingaling-tingaling" on the cymbal. Buy a $4.99 Dixieland or Swing greats CD from the Bargain Bin and check out people like Sid Catlett, Cozy Cole, ChickWebb, Baby Dodds and Papa Jo Jones.

My dad used to buy these Reader's Digest boxed sets of records and never played them; things like "Cocktail Piano Favorites" and other assorted crap. One day I came across one called "Swing Hits"-72 original greats by Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Glen Miller and Artie Shaw. The drummers on this boxed set were Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Dave Tough, Alvin Stoller among others; Buddy Rich had a short solo spot on Tommy Dorsey's "Hawaiian War Chant" Yoiks!!! Now I knew what I had to practice! Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich were the giants of this Big-Band period, Krupa becoming a movie-star of sorts; check out Benny Goodman's Carnegie Hall concert for Gene Krupa at his best and any number of drum-videos available for Buddy Rich. I always preferred Artie Shaw and Duke Ellington as far as Big Bands went for clean, fluid arrangements. One particular Tour-de-force was "Skin-Deep" on "Hi-Fi-Ellington Up-town" featuring Louie Bellson, the first with two-bass drums; an absolutely astounding drum-solo!

Be-Bop and the big bombs!

The mid-40's saw the emergence of Be-bop Jazz driven by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Four on the floor bass drum was minimised due to the fast, frenetic pace of the music; ting-tingaling and the bass player walk lines were the go here for the pulse and not to mention the big accents on the snare and bass drum resembling a Batman fight scene with the Riddler being the rage; .....BANG! .... ZOWIE!! ...KERPLOSH! ....ZING!! It gave jazz just the kick in the back-side it needed! Kenny Clarke, Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones and Max Roach were the main exponents of this style. Check out any Charlie Parker/Dizzy Gillespie /Clifford Brown CD's fora true indication of this period.The mid-50's saw the emergence of Ornette Coleman and his free jazz ideas with Ed Blackwell and Billy Higgins, and also odd-time excursions with Dave Brubeck featuring Joe Morello swinging in every odd-time under the sun.

Miles Davis and Coltrane lead the way

Miles Davis took over trumpet for Charlie Parker after Dizzy Gillespie left around '48-49 and that was the start of over forty years of new directions for jazz. The simplest way to define what kind of journey Miles Davis took Jazz on and the kind of drummers who helped him break the new ground is to simply split his career into sections and pick the album best representing this period:

'49-Birth of the cool- Max Roach drums

'55-Milestones- The 1st great quintet with Philly Joe Jones

'59-Kind of Blue-The most influential jazz album-Modes and Jimmy Cobb

'63-ESP- The second great quintet with Tony Williams drumming.

'69-Bitches Brew-The first Jazz-Rock album-Jack DeJohnette shines

I should mention that this period also included Billy Cobham and Al Foster.

'79-We want Miles-Al Foster is amazing on "Fast Track"

John Coltrane played saxophone for Miles in the 1st great quintet, then went on to forge new boundaries with albums like "Giant Steps" and "A Love Supreme". Elvin Jones, like Tony Williams with Miles, carved his own stamp on John Coltrane's albums, his approach to breaking up the standard tingaling rhythm into broken triplet patterns, developed further by Jack DeJohnette in the 70's was revolutionary during this time. Elvin Jones played drums like a boxer, a continuous stream of dialogue, probing and punching, pushing everything to the limit; Tony Williams had this unmistakable sound, his cymbals sounded like "rain" to me.

Billy Cobham and Steve Gadd

Billy Cobham and John McLaughlan played together on Miles Davis' "Jack Johnson"album; they then teamed up for The Mahavishnu Orchestra releasing "The Inner Mounting Flame" in '71, a great album. During this time another great band was Weather Report with ex-Davis members Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul and eventually the bass virtuoso Jaco Pastorious; great albums from this band were "Black Market" and "Heavy Weather". Alex Acuna, Chester Thompson, Peter Erskine, Omar Hakim and Eric Gravatt all drummed for this band at various times. Steve Gadd first came to my and probably everybody elses attention on Chick Corea's "Leprechaun" album in '75. His drumming style loosely based on cycles of paradiddles broken around the drumkit caused such a sensation that his work is being emulated to this very day. One only has to hear Colauita with Zappa or Weckl with Chick Corea taking Gadd's ideas to a new level to recognise this.

I am just about up to the present and definitely out of space, so I will close by saying that I hope this article gives you the itch to check out some background of where today's drumming styles come from, I haven't a hope of naming every great jazz album or drummer, I've tried to focus on the main innovators and then you can research the rest for yourself. There is a sea of great music out there! Go for a swim!