My dear friend Uwe Zanisch is a generous fellow, as his website SATCHMOTUBE proves — on it he collects television appearances of Louis Armstrong, some of them never seen before.

But this post, for a change, isn’t about Mister Strong.

It’s about the New Yorkers — the “New Yorkers Tanzorchester” made up of hot players including George Carhart and Danny Polo and one other, who made some wonderful Goldkette-inflected records in Berlin in late 1927 / early 1928.  Here’s the label of one of the more incendiary sides, OSTRICH WALK:

And something even better — although how many of us have seen a picture of that 78?  Here’s a formal portrait of the band, with young David Tough to the right. 

As a typical Twenties band portrait, it is oddly diffuse: the young men in their tuxedoes look as if they did not know one another, as if their clothing fit very poorly.  Three of them are gazing off to the left — two skeptically, one far away; one stares challengingly, coldly at the camera; one takes its measure.  And then there’s Mister Tough — not even identified by name in the Bear Family booklet from which this picture comes (thanks to Uwe!). 

His hair threatens to explode from its pomaded state; his light eyes are both searching and even suspicious.  Do we read into this face the one that William P. Gottlieb captured in the basement of the Greenwich Village club — amused, mournful, rueful, trapped?  When we see two pictures, two decades apart, we might play the game of IS IT THE SAME PERSON — but all we know of him is the lovely singular music he had in front of him, his intelligence, and the sadness of short life and helpless self-immolation.   

When I think of Tough, I think of his cymbals and bass drum accents on FORTY-SEVENTH AND STATE, of his solo on the Charlie Ventura Town Hall Concert, his relentless playing behind Hot Lips Page on THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE, and those are exaltations of body and spirit.  But it’s impossible to think of him without grieving for him.  And I may assume too much, but sadness and distance are in the early photograph as well.



  1. From laugh-out-loud funny at your description of the group photo, to the sad-but-true staring into Tough’s aged, sunken eyes. Thanks for sharing so much with us.

  2. I had never seen a picture of Dave Tough. My mother mentioned him so many times when reminiscing about the “jam sessions” at the Melrose cottage in the early years. It’s funny how you picture a person in your mind, and in actuality they look nothing like you imagined. I sensed a sadness in his pictures also. Thank you for the post NM


  4. Frank Sinatra once spoke of Sondheim’s “lovely marriage of words and music.” He should have read your blog…

  5. That’s the perfect description of Tough’s expression in the two photos.

  6. When I saw the Gottlieb photo for the first time I was really shocked by the look on his face. I knew nothing about his life and thought: Why a man is just so sad when he has so much soul in his playing….Today, I still do not know. Also on the older picture he seems not happy, just as the others…Hard times probably…

  7. I have a vivid memory of my old mate Len Barnard holding forth at length about Dave Tough’s drumming. Weariness from our long gig that night, stress from ongoing health issues and decades of musicianly cynicism fell away as he passionately described the sounds and techniques he had learned listening to Tough.

  8. Wonderful photos of one of the great drummers and a sad,troubled genious. Don’t forget his storming work with Woody’s First Herd (Northwest Passage, Apple Honey, etc), the band that Tough sounded happiest in.

    Has the single session he made as leader (with, as I recall, Joe Thomas, Jerry Jerome, Bernie Leighton and a bass player) ever been re-issued?

  9. That session was on the Jamboree label — the 78s occasionally pop up on US eBay — and it was once reissued on an Onyx lp called TOOTIN’ THROUGH THE ROOF, under Joe Thomas’s name. Lovely playing although if you want to hear Tough in action in the late Forties, look for Brad Gowans and his New York Nine — on RCA and once on CD — from 1948 (I think). Thanks for writing! MS

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