RIMSHOTS, CYMBALS, STOMP and SWING: MISTER GEORGE STAFFORD

My friend and mentor Andrew and I have been having a conversation in cyberspace about the delicious unerring playing of drummer George Stafford. Stafford drove the Charlie Johnson orchestra, but he appeared on precious few recordings.  Here’s a particularly brilliant one — led by the Blessed Eddie Condon — as “Eddie’s Hot Shots.”  They were, and they are: Leonard “Ham” Davis, trumpet; Jack Teagarden, trombone and vocal; Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow, C-melody saxophone; Happy Caldwell, tenor saxophone; Eddie, banjo; Joe Sullivan, piano; Stafford, drums.

This is the first take of I’M GONNA STOMP MR. HENRY LEE — part incitement to Dionysiac ecstasies, part ominous warning:

Please listen to Stafford!  His rimshots behind the first ensemble chorus, lifting everything up — emphatic YESes all through; choke cymbal behind the earnest saxophone; pistol-shot rimshots all behind Teagarden’s singing; divine rattling and cackling on the wooden rims alongside Sullivan’s piano — excited commentaries; cymbal crashes and rolls into the final ensemble chorus, and a closing cymbal crash.

I am away from my books as I write this, so I cannot be sure, but I think Stafford died young — 1935? — which is a great sadness, although what he had to say to us was plenty.  Priceless, I think.

As much as I revere Catlett, Jo, and Gene, I would make space in my own Directory of Percussive Saints for George Stafford.  He goes right alongside Walter Johnson, Eddie Dougherty, O’Neil Spencer, and two dozen more.  They made the earth move in the most graceful and exultant ways.  Bless them.

P.S.  I’M GONNA STOMP has four composers — Jack and Eddie, Eddie’s friend George Rubens, and the magically invisible pianist Peck Kelley.  There’s a novel in itself . . .

May your happiness increase. 

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13 responses to “RIMSHOTS, CYMBALS, STOMP and SWING: MISTER GEORGE STAFFORD

  1. norman churcher

    hate to say this but the line-up i have for eddie’s hotshots lists him as stratford, not stafford.

  2. Never saw the first variation before, so I think (with all due respect) it might be a misspelling. He was the brother of the blues singer Mary Stafford. Thanks for letting us know!

  3. Doug Pomeroy

    A nice record, to be sure. (Victor’s own transfer on their “X” label 10″ LP
    has a much fuller sound than that shrill HMV 78. Do I complain too much?)

  4. Michael – forgive me for being a bit technical here, but Stafford is playing what Jo Jones referred to as “stick up on top of a stick.” Although Krupa does this with the tip of the (left) stick pressed against the snare head, hitting that stick with his right stick, I believe Stafford has the left stick flat against the rim and the head, then hitting that stick with his left. No other drummer I am aware was able to get this same sound. It’s also interesting that behind Joe Sullivan’s piano solo, George is playing on the shell of the bass drum – rather than the rim of the snare.

    I believe Krupa mentioned Stafford as a favorite of his.

  5. Thanks to Mr. Tyle for the details on how Stafford played those things.

    Joe Sullivan stole more than his share of records, didn’t he? For instance, with Krupa driving the getaway car, on Nichols’ “China Boy”:

  6. For any readers of JAZZ LIVES who don’t know, Mister Chris Tyle is not only a great scholar of the percussive arts, but a dynamite cornetist, clarinetist, singer, bandleader. Who knows what talents he has not yet revealed to us! Dear Chris, I thank you very very much for adding this information to my inaccurate blogpost — it’s all to honor George Stafford and those delicate intoxicating arts he and others practiced. And, readers, please stand back and admire the way Mister Tyle has graciously corrected me — that’s the way to do it when you are Right and the other person is so clearly Misinformed. The light touch swings the band in cyberspace, too. Blessings on your sticks, Chris!

  7. That record doesn’t bother me at all . . . heard it first when I was perhaps 12 . . . it sticks with you, doesn’t it?

  8. Dan Morgenstern

    Been a Stafford fan for decades. He resurfaced recording-wise in l935-36
    with Red Allen (great session with Chu, Dickie Wells, Cecil Scott), Art Karle
    (great Frankie Newton, Bushkin debut session) and Mezz (Newton again,
    Bud F., Willie the Lion), which was his last. Birth and death dates (l898-1936) uncertain, brother of singer Mary Stafford, both may have changed
    family name, per Chilton). Research needed!
    He was an original.

  9. Thank you, Dan! I knew the later dates because of my worship of Newton and Red — which we share — but thanks for the birth and death dates. TB? I wonder. How sad a short life, how magnificent a legacy.

  10. Anyone else ever ponder whether young George, playing within acoustical limitations, might be the drummer on Thomas Morris’s “Original Charleston Strut”?

  11. Michael, I appreciate the kind words!

    However, rather than using the word “misinformed” perhaps “unaware” might be more appropriate. After all, it’s a pretty unusual technique and not something I’ve ever seen any drummer do – in person or on video.

  12. john maimone

    Hello Michael,

    I am enjoying your post: Rimshots, Cymbals, Stomp and Swing: Mister George Stafford.

    My name is Johnny Maimone, longtime loyal fan of Jazz Lives; plus, charter member of the NJ Jazz Society. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for posting “live” videos on Jazz Lives. It brings back for me the after hours impromptu jam sessions which were prevalent in the heigh-day of night clubs and jazz joints.

    May I acquaint you with drummer Johnny Blowers who was the master of back beats, rim shots and exciting accents in all the right places? Johnny’s biography, “Back Beats and Rim Shots” was published by Scarecrow Press. It was written by Warren Vache, Sr. for whom I typed the manuscript for the publisher from audio cassette interviews of Johnny which Warren and I did.

    A prime example of Johnny Blowers knack to make a band swing even more, is the CD from 1975, “Jazz It’s A Wonderful Sound.” It features Johnny with Warren Vache, Jr., Clarence Hutchenrider, George Masso, Dawes Thompson, Dick Wellstood, & Warren Vache, Sr.

    Your most loyal servant, Johnny Maimone Also, 20-year DJ for the NY Swing Dance Society

    ________________________________

  13. Dear Johnny,

    Happy to have you reading and watching and listening! I was entranced by JB’s work on airshots with the Berigan band . . . all the way up to the Eighties, when I saw him (where?) and got his autograph on a Joe Marsala lp. He was a FINE drummer! Thanks for reminding us all —

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