By chance, the March 2012 issue of the NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD has an intriguing concentration on drummers — or improvising percussionists.  And I was delighted to see two portraits of my hero Sidney Catlett in the opening pages.

The French jazz drummer Pierre Favre, who will turn 75 this April, writes: “Big Sid Catlett . . . was my biggest influence.  He was like a sorcerer.  He was precise and fluent when he played time and when he played the melody his unexpected rim shots shaped it and made it swing.  I was talking to Tony Williams and he told me: ‘Big Sid Catlett was my biggest influence too.'”

Jazz journalist and blogger Clifford Allen hears Sidney in these ways: “There’s dynamism in Catlett’s swing, his brushwork weighty yet particulate, deft and muscular pushed up against the velvety wall of [Ben] Webster’s tenor . . . . Catlett’s pared-down, seemingly effortless swing was a far dry from drummer-showman contemporaries and helped knit together the rhythm section . . . . His work . . . may have paved the way for what would become a penchant for traditional and early bebop sides, since most of the . . . musicians played with one foot in ‘the new thing.’  Very few drummers traversed the eras of ragtime / Dixieland, Swing and bebop, but Catlett is one who was broad-minded and creative enough to do so.”

Sidney Catlett, so substantial, lends himself to a variety of empathic interpretations.  Listen!


  1. Oh man, I’m leaning on the love button here.

  2. Reblogged this on Denton Jazz Chronicles and commented:
    Reposting from cool cat Michael Steinman’s “Jazz Lives”

  3. Oh boy, oh boy! Big Sid was the master, and no mistake. Who else could have played with the Armstrong All Stars, Benny Goodman, Parker and Gillespie (depping for his protege, Max Roach), then recorded with Eddie Condon and gone on to record with Sidney Bechet and gig with Muggsy Spanier – all without noticeably hanging his style?!

    Truly one of the greats.

  4. Oh, and a further point: on the 100th anniversary of Big Sid’s birth (Jan 16 2010) I wrote a eulogy over at ‘Shiraz Socialist’, and was astonished and very, very pleased to receive this comment from Ed Shaugnessy (copied below exactly as I received it):

    Big sid was a warm generous
    Mentor to young drummers like
    Meon 52nd the 40′s.
    I’ll always be grateful+ try
    To be the same to “the kids”

  5. What else can you say about a drummer who reportedly played for Bunk Johnson and Dizzy Gillespie on the same day and both of them LOVED his drumming?

  6. ‘Big Sid’ was one of the few who were able to make jazz history, even with their physical … absence!

    I think, “The Earl” with the drum-less Benny Goodman Orchestra proved all the more the importance of a great, inspiring skin beater, as was ‘Big Sid’ Catlett:

    He made it even, but in advance (!), with some wonderful live performances of Mel Powell’s great chart, where ‘Big Sid’, with his full, and round drum sound, and his inimitable beat propelled Benny Goodman, Cootie Williams, and Mel Powell to undreamt, swinging heights in 1941.

    The LP:

    ‘Big Sid’ Catlett is also one of my heroes.

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