Tag Archives: jazz drumming

FORTY SECONDS OF THREE-DIMENSIONAL DANCE MUSIC

I’ve known and admired the drummer and thoughtful man Kevin Dorn for fifteen years and more.  I could see Kevin in a jazz club, lifting the rhythm and making the other musicians happier — to say nothing of the audience.  In fact, Kevin came by and sat in at Cafe Bohemia for the last pre-pandemic gig, whose date is seared into my neural pathways, March 12, 2020.

Years gone by: 2008.

Kevin is also one of those musicians able to talk about what he is doing in terms that do not bore the insiders nor puzzle the civilians: he is a superb teacher / explicator with no hint of pretension . . . and he is one of those who “can do” as well as explain.  I know this because of the gratifying YouTube videos he has been creating for a year now: just him, his drum set, assorted essential paraphernalia, and a fine clear soundtrack of music and words.  Here is his YouTube channel.

He’s explored the work of Gene Krupa, George Wettling, Cozy Cole, Morey Feld, Nick Fatool, Jake Hanna, and Cliff Leeman so far, and I know his one-man seminar on Buzzy Drootin is in the works.

But this wonderful solo performance caught me in many ways.  Many drum solos lack a compositional shape, but not this.  And in this wildly “busy” world where no one has much time for anything, this solo is forty seconds long.  I urge you to take the time and immerse yourself in the world Kevin creates in honor of Cliff Leeman.  I call it “three-dimensional” because not only can we hear the songs Kevin creates on Cliff’s snare drum, but we can watch the ever-changing human sculpture of his moving arms, one visible leg, and hands.  Art, dear viewers.

 

The back covers of long-playing records (“microgroove”) that I grew up with often wooed the prospective buyer with IF YOU LIKED THIS LONG-PLAY RECORD, YOU’LL LIKE THESE — and then showed tiny cover portraits.  That appeal is a long way back into the past, but if you enjoyed the video above, let me direct you to a more elaborate one: Kevin’s variations on WOLVERINE BLUES:

Such expressive music.

May your happiness increase!

THAT RHYTHM, MAN

It gives me great pleasure to have heroes in music (and elsewhere) who are younger: that they’ll outlive me is a delightful thought — I see a continuity of wisdom and love embodied stretching in to the future.

Years gone by: 2008.

A special member of this crew is percussionist-philosopher Kevin Dorn, whom I’ve had the good fortune to know and admire for sixteen years this autumn. In person, Kevin has always shied away from the least taint of didacticism: he knows many things and will gladly share his thoughts and feelings in the right circumstances, but he’s never itching to tell you why he’s right and you’re wrong: a great humility.

The canard is that those who can’t do, teach, but Kevin has been creating and sharing the most delightful and informative solo drum videos — on request — with us. Here are his most recent offerings.

Inspired by the sounds I heard and saw, I wanted to play drums: the apex of this ambition was buying a pair of 5B parade sticks from Jo Jones at Ippolito’s Drum Shop, but I lacked both the focus and the coordination to make them dance. But I, and others, can live joyously through Kevin while he reveals the deep mysteries behind the sounds we groove to.

Another facet of George Wettling’s magic:

Getting Cozy:

I find this extended exposition particularly thrilling:

and Kevin himself has his say, neatly pressed, as always:

“Good deal!”  You can subscribe to Kevin’s YouTube channel here.

Emerson writes in NATURE (I am grossly paraphrasing) that everything, closely observed, is beautiful.  Proof here.

May your happiness increase!

GEORGE WETTLING’S MANY SELVES

Some artists are too big to fit into one designated category or title: drummer George Wettling is one of them, even though his name is left out of many histories of the music, and when he is mentioned, it is as a “Dixieland” musician or one of “Eddie Condon’s barefoot mob,” both designations either condescending or arcane at this remove.  He was one of those players whose energies went to the band, so I think he was often taken for granted — but replace Wettling in any situation with a lesser drummer, and the change is immediately not only heard but felt.  I proudly say that I was listening to Wettling on records in my childhood, and continue to do so with pleasure. Consider this one.  I know it’s difficult to put Jack Teagarden, Coleman Hawkins, and Joe Thomas to one side, but listen to Wettling’s drumming: intuitive, thoughtful, joyous, propulsive without being narcissistic:

Here is a post I created ten years ago, with more evidence of Wettling’s flexible, uplifting playing.  And here‘s another — with more video and audio. Wettling was quite the painter — a student and disciple of Stuart Davis — as explained  here, beautifully, by Hank O’Neal, in 2017.

But the occasion for this post is something new and wonderful — a living lesson in what Wettling DID, offered to us by the wonderful musician (and dear friend) Kevin Dorn, whose bright light is always visible in the night sky:

I had the immense good fortune of hearing Kevin swing out last night with a stellar band led by Evan Arntzen at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola (Evan, Kevin, Jon-Erik Kellso, Mara Kaye, Harvey Tibbs, Rossano Sportiello, Adam Brisbin, Tal Ronen) and in the best Wettling tradition, he sounded like himself without having to try hard to do so.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN REMEMBERS BUDDY RICH (March 9, 2018)

One of the pleasures of interviewing Dan Morgenstern (and there are many) is his generous, thoughtful re-evaluation of musicians he knew first-hand.

One such is the amazing drummer Buddy Rich — legendary yet vilified.  Jazz has its own emotional hierarchy, and fans and journalists create heroes, martyrs, and villains: some of the latter sinning by being popular and making money.  For every Star who rises, others must fall.  But that’s a long sad essay for another time.

Here we are, in Dan’s apartment on March 9, 2018:

A revealing portrait, and there will be more.  Here ‘s one from a year earlier, which I find greatly moving.

May your happiness increase!

DANIEL GLASS, MASTERFUL CHAMELEON: “THE CENTURY PROJECT,” “TRAPS,” AND MORE

I know that the magnificent drummer Daniel Glass is capable of fully engaged conversation; he eats and drinks (pistachios and more), and has a full life away from his drum kits.  But he continues to be so generous in his wise offerings that I don’t quite see how he carries on a life in addition to what he gives us.  I’ll have to ask him whether he actually sleeps . . . when I see him next.  Daniel is so often in motion that a still picture hardly does him justice, but it is a start.

Daniel Glass at 2105 Chicago Drum Show

The wisecrack (so beloved by those who have never been in front of a classroom) is “Those who can’t do, teach.”  Daniel Glass is that rare creature who both does and teaches, and he accomplishes both of those ends with a light yet memorable touch.  When I call him a chameleon, I don’t of course mean it in the zoological way, but I mean it as highest praise: someone who easily and without fuss shows us generously his deep and varied talents, all of which come from a center of knowledge, the desire to inform us with gentleness and accuracy, and a splendid basis of experience — living experience, never dusty.

I should explain that I am not a drummer; my drum career was if not nasty and brutish, certainly short — because I am mentally but not physically coordinated. The high points of my percussion career have been as an observer (watching Krupa, Jo Jones, Gus Johnson, Leeman, and their modern forbears), an autograph-seeker (Jo again) and purchaser (one set of 5B parade sticks bought from Jo at Ippolito’s drum shop.

But I am someone who finds information — beautifully and clearly presented — thrilling.  And if Daniel Glass never put a stick to a drumhead, I would salute him as a splendid guide through matters percussive.  But more about that below.

I first met Daniel in the darkness of Fat Cat one Sunday when Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band was the most admired attraction.  I’d never heard him and was properly suspicious — after all, how good could he be if I didn’t know him? — but within two choruses I realized I was in the presence of a Master, someone who played for the comfort of the band, was in the idiom but not imprisoned by it, a musician with history and innovation balanced neatly within him.

Here’s WOLVERINE BLUES (with Jon-Erik Kellso, Evan Arntzen, Jim Fryer, John Gill, Brian Nalepka in addition to Terry and Daniel):

And here are all the videos from that frolicsome late-December 2015 session.

When I had my Daniel Glass Experience (the first of several) I had no knowledge of this gloriously head-spinning performance from 2009 created by Daniel — with the smallest amount of percussive equipment one can imagine) — the blessed John Reynolds, and the superb Rusty Frank:

Sidney and Jo are grinning, I am sure.

Here is a wonderful interview where Daniel explains where he came from and where he is taking us.  It’s from 2012, so some of the references to “now” are perhaps slightly out of date, but it gives a wonderful sense of who he is as a musician and scholar:

Part One:

Part Two:

I couldn’t keep up with the articles, books, and videos that Daniel has created, but I can say a few words about his two 2-CD sets, THE CENTURY PROJECT and TRAPS.  The first would have pleased Isiah Berlin because Daniel is both hedgehog and fox: his knowledge and love and enthusiasm is both intensely focused and broad.  THE CENTURY PROJECT, on the face of it, is a history of jazz drumming from 1865 to 1965 — and it accomplishes that purpose beautifully — but it is also a quietly subversive, never didactic, history both of American music and of the contributions from other cultures.  We think of the trap set as an American creation, but Daniel opens up that perhaps narrow idea to ask where the Turkish tom-toms came from, the Chinese cymbals, temple blocks, and so on.  Never dull but splendidly researched.

Here’s Daniel explaining and beautifully demonstrating “double drumming,” which was a revelation to me — both the history and the performance:

Here’s the splendidly musical solo with which Daniel concludes THE CENTURY PROJECT — on a cousin of SING SING SING:

Oh, and did I mention there is music?  Daniel and friends (including our own Dan Barrett and Dan Levinson) move from New Orleans parade music to ragtime to early jazz onwards to swing, bebop, and beyond.  Even if you’ve never come closer to drumming than tapping impatiently on the arm of the couch in the doctor’s waiting room, these musical interludes are priceless as jazz and as history.

And here is a very brief introduction to TRAPS, the companion 2-DVD set which beautifully displays and anatomizes a century of the most gorgeous vintage drum sets:

Even I, who know little about vintage drums aside from the sound of Zutty Singleton’s cymbals in 1928 or Sidney Catlett’s hi-hat in 1944, or the way those drum sets looked in still photographs and films, found this riveting up-close history.

Daniel’s website — found here — offers a fascinating blog, podcasts (philosophical and percussive) opportunities for lessons in person and via Skype, the aforementioned books, DVDs, and more.  Clinics and gigs of all kinds — from Terry Waldo to Eydie Gorme and Marilyn Maye, from private parties to Christmas celebrations and swinging big bands.  He has much to share with us, and he offers it generously.

May your happiness increase!

BEST REGARDS FROM SIDNEY

His Majesty, Sidney Catlett.

SIDNEY to WALKER

Postscript.  My pal, the jazz and popular music scholar David J. Weiner, thought the picture could be made to look just like new — and I like his generous efforts very much.  Sidney shines through, no matter what the color scheme:

SIDNEY to WALKER brightened

May your happiness increase!

HAL SMITH RECALLS WAYNE JONES

With Hal’s permission, here is a tribute from one great jazz drummer to another — its source Hal’s website.

jones

My friend and teacher Wayne Jones passed away on Thursday, May 30. He celebrated his 80th birthday on May 21, and married the devoted and caring Charlotte on May 24.

It is difficult to express just how much Wayne meant to me as a person and as an inspiration for drumming. From the time I met Wayne — at the 1972 St. Louis Ragtime Festival — there was never a moment when I worried about his friendship.

Though I had heard Wayne on 1960s-era recordings by the Original Salty Dogs, hearing him live was a life-changing experience! He unerringly played exactly the right thing at the right time, with the right touch and the right volume, with an economy of motion, though I think he must have had the loosest wrists and fingers of any drummer I ever saw! The Original Salty Dogs were, and are, one of the greatest Traditional Jazz bands of all time. But with Wayne on drums, they were something else. The late Frank Powers described the Dogs’ rhythm section as “The Cadillac of Traditional Jazz Rhythm Sections.” Frank’s description was spot-on, and Wayne’s drumming was an integral part of that sound.

He played with a lift, even when using woodblocks and temple blocks to accompany John Cooper’s ragtimey piano solos. (I remember when a musician who heard one of my early recordings, featuring woodblocks, said “You need to listen to Wayne Jones. Now, there’s a drummer who swings!”) That stung at the time, but my critic proved to be correct. Wayne swung when he played Traditional Jazz! 

Not only did Wayne inspire me with his onstage performances. He also made invaluable contributions to my Jazz education by sending boxes and boxes of reel (later cassette) tapes, LPs, CDs and photocopies of articles. A chance comment such as, “You know, I’m really interested in Vic Berton” would result in a large box of cassettes arriving a few days later, containing every Berton recording in the Jones collection. Wayne was totally unselfish and giving, and I am humbled to think how much of his free time was taken up with educating “The Kid.” Whether in person or in a letter he could be gruff, but always soft-hearted. No one ever had to question his sincerity or generosity.

Years later, Wayne wrote some wonderful liner notes for projects I was involved in. I will never get over the kind words he wrote for a session I made with Butch Thompson and Mike Duffy, but anyone who reads those notes should be aware that my best playing is because of Wayne’s influence!

By the time he wrote those notes, I considered Wayne to be family. I know Wayne felt the same way…Once, during the San Diego Jazz Festival, I commandeered an empty venue with a piano to rehearse the “Rhythmakers” for a recording to be done immediately following the festival. We had been playing for just a few minutes when Wayne wandered in. Obviously he was out for a stroll, in search of coffee for when he walked in the room he was in street clothes — no band uniform or musician badge. He found a seat near the back of the room and settled in to listen. Vocalist Rebecca Kilgore looked up from her music, spotted Wayne and stammered, “Th-th-this is n-not open to the p-public!” Wayne replied, “It’s o.k. I’m family!”

wayne jones color

We had many wonderful “hangs” over the years, during festivals in St. Louis, San Diego and elsewhere. “Talking shop” was always fun, though Wayne had interesting opinions on all kinds of things besides drums and drumming! For instance, he was passionate about Elmore Leonard’s writing and frequently quoted lines of dialogue from Leonard novels when he wrote letters. During the past couple of years, I always enjoyed the phone calls with Wayne when we discussed the characters and plots of the television show “Justified” (which is based on Elmore Leonard characters).

Fortunately I had a couple of chances to visit Wayne at home while he was still able to talk and listen to music for extended periods of time. He had slowed down considerably, but still had a fantastic sense of humor and well-informed opinions concerning a variety of subjects — particularly the contemporary Traditional Jazz scene. The last visit was a lot of fun until his expression turned serious and he looked down at the ground and asked quietly, “You want my cymbal, Kid?” Wayne knew that his playing days were over, and he wanted to find an appropriate place for his “signature” cymbal. It was difficult to keep my composure, but I gratefully accepted “that” cymbal which livens up so many recordings by the Dogs, Jim Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band, the West End Jazz Band, Neo-Passe’ Jazz Band and more. The cymbal went to a good home, where it is respected, well-cared-for and used in special circumstances only. The first time I used it — with the Yerba Buena Stompers — John Gill, Leon Oakley and Tom Bartlett looked up immediately, recognizing the presence of an old friend on the bandstand.

On a recent phone call, Wayne had difficulty conversing on the phone. We got through the conversation — barely — and I wondered if that would be the last time we talked. Unfortunately, it was. When I called again, he had fallen and was headed for the hospital. He died peacefully in the early hours of May 30 and I never had a chance to tell my mentor “good-bye.” But fortunately I was able to convey how much he meant to me during a performance a few years ago. 

There are certain “Wayne licks” that have great appeal to drummers who studied his records and his live performances. (Drummers who have listened closely to Wayne, including John Gill, Chris Tyle, Steve Apple, and Kevin Dorn, will know what I mean). At a festival in the late ’90s, I was playing with Bob Schulz’s Frisco Jazz Band when Wayne came into the room and took a seat a few rows back from the stage, but directly in view of the drums. He scrutinized my playing with the usual poker face. I thought about the description of Baby Dodds seeing George Wettling in the audience one time and “talking” to George with the drums. So I deliberately played in Wayne’s style. Tom Bartlett wheeled around and grinned through his mouthpiece. Kim Cusack eyed me and gave a quick nod, as did Mike Walbridge. But, best of all, out in the audience Wayne looked up, set his jaw and slowly nodded his acknowledgement. I would not trade that moment for anything.

Farewell, Wayne. Friend, teacher, inspiration. You will never be forgotten and you will always be loved.

Hal Smith

May 31, 2013

A few words from JAZZ LIVES.  I’m happy that we can see and hear Wayne swing the band.  Here’s YOU TELL ME YOUR DREAM (I’LL TELL YOU MINE) by a 1996 edition of the Salty Dogs.  Although Wayne doesn’t solo, his sweetly urging time is always supporting the band, and the just-right accents and timbres behind the ensemble and soloists are masterful.  Catch the way Wayne ends off the tuba solo and rounds up the band for the final ensemble choruses.  The other players are Kim Cusack, clarinet; Bob Neighbor, cornet; Tom Bartlett, trombone; John Cooper, piano; Jack Kunci, banjo; Mike Walbridge, tuba:

And at the very end of 2010, nearly the same band (Cusack, Bartlett, Kunci, Walbridge, Jones) with two ringers: Andy Schumm, cornet; Paul Asaro, piano, performing SMILES.  Again, masterful work: hear the end of the banjo chorus into Bartlett’s solo, and the way Wayne backs Schumm:

Thanks to Ailene Cusack for these videos (and there are more appearances by Wayne and the Dogs on YouTube).

After hearing the news of Wayne’s death, I kept thinking of the star system of jazz — which elevates many wonderful players, giving them opportunities to lead bands, have their own record sessions, and we hope make more money.   But so many exceedingly gifted musicians are never offered these opportunities.  I would take nothing from Gene Krupa, for instance, but for every Gene there were many beautiful musicians half in the shadows: think of Walter Johnson, Jimmie Crawford, O’Neill Spencer, Cliff Leeman, Buzzy Drootin, Nick Fatool, Harry Jaeger, Gus Johnson, Shadow Wilson, Denzil Best . . . and Wayne Jones.

Wayne didn’t lead any recording sessions; he might not have had his picture in DOWN BEAT advertising a particular drum set — but he lifted so many performances. Wayne leaves behind some forty years of recordings with Clancy Hayes, Marty Grosz, Frank Chace, Eddy Davis, Jim Kweskin, Terry Waldo, Edith Wilson, Frank Powers, Jim Snyder, Carol Leigh, Tom Pletcher, Bob Schulz, Jim Dapogny, Turk Murphy, John Gill, Don DeMicheal, Jerry Fuller, Sippie Wallace, Franz Jackson, Jim Cullum, Ernie Carson, Jon-Erik Kellso, Mike Karoub, Ray Skjelbred, Peter Ecklund, Bobby Gordon, and three dozen other players in addition to the recordings he made with the Salty Dogs.

We won’t forget him.

May your happiness increase.

PAY ATTENTION! SOMETHING FOR JAKE HANNA (Dec. 28, 2011 and beyond)

This just in from Maria Judge:

WPKN-FM Bridgeport, Connecticut (89.5 Mhz) will be broadcasting a tribute to Jake on the Carl Frano Show this Wednesday, December 28, 2011, from 1-4 pm EST.  Those outside of the listening area can hear the show online by clicking on the Live Play button in the Listen Now box in the upper left section of the website here.  If you don’t get to hear the show on the 28th, it will be archived on the site.    Many thanks to Joe Corsello for arranging this.  He was invited to be the musical guest but very kindly suggested they instead pay tribute to Jake through his music.

MEL LEWIS on JAZZ DRUMMING

Here’s a link to a website that offers a series of 1989 interviews that master drummer Mel Lewis (1929-1990) did with Loren Schoenberg on WKCR-FM — exploring the history of jazz drumming from Baby Dodds to Elvin Jones:

http://www.pas.org/experience/oralhistory/mellewis.aspx

A master musician commenting on his ancestors (including Stan King, Paul Barbarin, and Tiny Kahn) and colleagues — invaluable!

“PAY ATTENTION!” CELEBRATING JAKE HANNA (August 8, 2010)

The greatest artists have a way of making us comfortable.  We see them, unannounced, come on the stage, and we relax and get ready to be delighted.  “This is going to be wonderful!” we think, before the first note has been played.  Hank Jones and Milt Hinton and Ruby Braff and Vic Dickenson and another dozen others always evoked that feeling.  And Jake Hanna. 

 Jake lifted up every session with his beautiful sound, his floating, encouraging time, his own delight at being there.  But he was so consistently generous that I fear he didn’t get celebrated sufficiently when he was alive.  But the musicians knew, and wise listeners did also.

He isn’t with us anymore — to push the band joyously on his hi-hats, to crack wise on the bandstand, to tell long scurrilous hilarious stories off it.  But his presence is very much real and alive.

Jake’s niece, Maria Judge, has organized a musical celebration in honor of Jake.  It will be held in his hometown, Dorchester, Mass., on August 8 at 2 PM.  Musicians who loved Jake and who shared his artistic vision (loosely paraphrased, it went something like: “If you’re not going to swing, what the hell are you doing on the bandstand?”) will be there: Becky Kilgore, Howard Alden, Randy Reinhart, Warren Vache, Harry Allen, Joe Ascione (playing a set of Jake’s drums),  and Joel Forbes.  Knowing Jake — and how deeply people loved and admired him, there will be a great deal of laughter and swing.  I would give anything to be at the back of the hall with my video camera, and hope that someone takes my place.

The Hometown Celebration will take place on Sunday, August 8, beginning at 2 PM, at Florian Hall, 55 Hallet Street, Dorchester, Mass. 02124.  Don’t know how to get there?  Look-a-here . . . and there’s more information on the brand-new website, http://www.jakehanna.com.  My title (and one of my most-used tags)?  “Pay attention!” was one of Jake’s favorite phrases.  Attention must be paid . . . .

WHAT, NO CAKE? (April 22, 2010)

There are Underrated Musicians, Musicians Deserving Wider Recognition, Neglected Musicians, and Ignored Musicians.

Here’s a picture of a very fine jazz individualist, born one hundred years ago today.  How many people will recognize him?

“That’s BUZZY DROOTIN!” I hear some of my readers saying.  Right you are. 

Buzzy played most often with Eddie Condon’s bands — in the club and on records — but you can also hear him with Ruby Braff, George Wein’s Newport All-Stars, Max Kaminsky, Sidney Bechet, Jack Teagarden, Vic Dickenson, Jimmy McPartland, Ralph Sutton, Wild Bill Davison, Herman Autrey, Herb Hall, Claude Hopkins, Benny Morton, Pee Wee Russell, and family members Al and Sonny Drootin. 

I was lucky enough to see him at close — sometimes deafening range — in 1972, at the Sunday afternoon jam sessions run by Red Balaban at Your Father’s Mustache.  We sat right up in front of the bandstand, so Buzzy and his drums were about ten feet away, and his characteristic snare and ride-cymbal work drove the band.  His playing wasn’t fussy; he didn’t make aural jokes as did Jo Jones — but his tempos never faltered, and he had immense energy.  His sound was entirely his own, and I can still hear and see in my mind’s eye the simultaneous open-mouthed sounds (somewhere between a roar and a growl) that he made in the last sixteen bars of his solo. 

His intensity was remarkable: I never saw George Wettling or Dave Tough in the flesh, but Buzzy had some of that same “I don’t care!” energy and ferocity.  Yet who remembers him today? 

Kevin Dorn met Buzzy and celebrates him in his own playing, of course. 

I would like to take credit for remembering his birthday, his centenary, but I have to give credit to Confetta Ras and her magnificent ON THIS DAY IN JAZZ AGE MUSIC website (one of the most generous cornucopias I’ve ever seen) for reminding us all of what April 22 is all about (http://jazzagemusic.blogspot.com/). 

P.S.  I know I have among my readers not only people who’ve heard Buzzy but also those rare folks who have played alongside him.  Comments and celebrations, anyone?

SIDNEY CATLETT AT 100

A  jazz blog like this one might easily become necrological– mourning the deaths of musicians and jazz scholars or sadly celebrating players who have been dead a long time.  It’s a battle to tear one’s eyes away from the rear-view mirror and focus on the present.  But since I do not expect to see the celebrations for Big Sid Catlett’s two-hundredth birthday, readers will forgive me. 

Sidney Catlett was born on January 17, 1910 and died before I was born.  I don’t believe in “the best,” but Big Sid might well be The Master — at least Max Roach thought so, as did Jo Jones.  Beyond legend, there is the recorded evidence: he could play propulsively and eloquently with Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Don Byas, James P. Johnson, Sidney Bechet, Mildred Bailey, Art Tatum, Oscar Pettiford, Buck Clayton, Ben Webster . . . and those are only the recorded performances I can call to mind.

Ruby Braff remembered that when he listened to Louis Armstrong’s records with their creator, Louis said to him, “There’s that Catlett again!  Seems like he was on every swinging record I ever made.” 

But being versatile, in itself, is not enough: many musicians have been versatile without being particularly distinguished.  What made Sidney Catlett so special? 

For one thing, his instantly recognizable beat.  Even simply keeping time — using one of his seemingly numberless varieties of wire-brush sweep or playing the hi-hat — his time is identifiable.  Whitney Balliett, who first helped me to listen so closely to Sid, noted that Catlett played a fraction ahead of the beat — many drummers find the best and sit right down on it — but Sid’s time seemed to urge the band forward in the most jubilant way, although he didn’t ever rush.

Along with that beat there is his gallery — or galaxy — of sounds.  His drums sound alive.  The snap of his closed hi-hat.  The seductive come-with-me of his brushwork.  The thump of his tom-toms.  The masterful NOW! of a Catlett rimshot.  Drummers of the Forties and beyond tried to copy him and some came close to capturing the broadest outlines of his style — J.C. Heard for one — but their sounds are somehow flatter, narrower, more monochromatic.  So his sound is immediately identifiable — dance music, no matter what the context. 

As with all the great artists, much of Sidney’s mastery is not just in what he did — but what he wisely chose not to do. 

Many drummers, then and now, play at the same volume as the horns.  Sidney knew how to play very softly — which made his thundering climaxes so impressive.  Some drummers insist on filling up all the spaces.  Or they accent every note, enthusiastically but unthinkingly.  The result gets tiresome before a chorus is over, rather like a forest of exclamation marks or someone with a point to make who emphasizes every word. 

Sidney knew when not to play, when not to dramatize, when not to continue the pattern.  There were exceptions: I think of Lou McGarity’s bridges on Benny Goodman records, where Sidney, either enjoying McGarity’s exuberance or wanting to push him along, drives the rhythm section along with relentless accents that could fell a sequoia.  But Catlett understood space and variety, and surprise.  He was a great dramatist behind his drums. 

So his percussive world sounds undated — springy, elegant, and funky.  The listener says, “That’s Big Sid!” but that awareness isn’t because Catlett thrusts himself to the forefront; rather, it was because he makes his fellow musicians sound better than they themselves thought possible.

 

I’ve been admiring his playing for as long as I can remember — one of my earliest musical experiences was hearing Louis’s RCA Victor TOWN HALL CONCERT PLUS, and delighting in the way Sid pushed everyone along on AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’.  Later, I heard him with the Blue Note Jazzmen and every jazz group I could find.  But he continues to amaze.

“Amaze?” you say.    

As an experiment, take any record on which Sid plays a particularly engaging, swinging part (that would be ALL of them) and listen to it once.  Admire the sounds he makes, the comments he provides, the support he gives to the band.  Then, play it again, and try to anticipate his shifts, his accents.  Experienced listeners will be able to divine some of the general motions — here, Sid will shift to the hi-hat; here’s a break coming up.  But if you try to play his accents along with him, it’s nearly impossible.  Sid’s pulsing work, his amazing accompaniment, is never rote.  I would suggest ROYAL GARDEN BLUES by Edmond Hall and the Blue Note Jazzmen — his playing is stirring, as is his work on the recently discovered 1945 Town Hall concert with Bird and Diz. 

His music is amazingly generous.  He lived a very short life and his recorded career is only slightly over two decades.  But he gave so much to his fellow musicians and to us that it seems as if he played more — and at a higher level — than the musicians who lived longer.

And he mastered the problem of being a forceful individualist while serving the community with every breath.  A question of Ego, if you will.  Catlett shouts for joy, but he does it so the band is even more joyous as a result.   

He died backstage at a concert, his arms around Helen Humes, telling her a funny story.  An admirable death, I think.  A a life well-lived. 

Jim Denham, on his fine blog, SHIRAZ SOCIALIST, has just written a tribute to Sidney: http://shirazsocialist.wordpress.com/2010/01/16/big-sid-b17-jan-1910-d25-march-1951/

Ricky Riccardi really understands the majesty of Sidney: http://dippermouth.blogspot.com/2010/01/celebrate-big-sid-catletts-centennial.html

And, or those seeking legal ecstasy, there’s a live ROYAL GARDEN BLUES from 1948:

http://dippermouth.blogspot.com/2009/09/one-hot-garden.html

Ricky also sent this from British jazz drummer John Petters — information about BBC radio programs about Sidney:

 Here are two programmes about this sensational musician this Saturday:
The Late Paul Barnes @ 23:00 on BBC Cambrideshire, Essex, Kent, Norfolk, Northampton, Suffolk & Three Counties. (Paul celebrates the
Django Reinhardt Centenary next week)

The live link on line will be:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/playlive/bbc_radio_norfolk/

and from Sunday until the following Saturday on Iplayer:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p002mhdx

And Alyn Shipton discusses Big Sid with drummer Richard Pite on ‘Jazz Library’ on BBC Radio 3 at 16:00 on Saturday. This is from the Radio 3 website:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00ps0sk

The show will be on the BBC iplayer following the broadcast

Big Sid Catlett was arguably one of the most naturally talented percussionists in jazz history. To celebrate Catlett’s centenary in January 2010, Alyn Shipton is joined by drum expert Richard Pite to pick the highlights of a recorded catalogue that includes work with the swing orchestras of Fletcher Henderson and Benny Goodman, the modern jazz of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and the original Louis Armstrong All Stars.

Big Sid Catlett – born 17 January 1910, Evansville, Indiana, USA, died 25 March 1951.

Coda: A word or two about the audio-visual aids.  The Drumerworld video (posted on YouTube, of course) brings together Sidney’s three main filmed appearances (leaving aside JAMMIN’ THE BLUES) — two quickly-made films from 1946-7, SEPIA CINDERELLA and BOY! WHAT A GIRL, with a guest shot by one Gene Krupa, as well as a Soundie of YOU RASCAL YOU by Louis.  I treasure these film clips but find that they need to be absorbed on two levels.  Since musicians were required to pre-record their music and then mimic playing it for the camera, what one hears and what one sees are always slightly out of step . . . so one must be able to adapt to this.  But the games Sidney and Charlie Shavers play . . . !  I have also liberally seasoned this blogpost with what might seem an odd phenomenon: YouTube videos of famous jazz records a-spinning.  For those who did not grow up with vinyl or shellac records, what could be more dull?  But I find it nostalgic in the best way — because I spent so many hours of my childhood and youth staring at the spinning label in a kind of happy trance while the music poured out of the speakers . . . very life-enhancing, and a way of getting Sidney’s sound into this post.

JAZZ PAGES WORTH READING

Through the magic of Google Alerts, I was directed to two new jazz-related blogs, both of which are worth a serious look, for different reasons.

Jon McCaslin’s FOUR ON THE FLOOR came to my attention because of a recent feature on Papa Jo Jones — irreplaceable, perhaps inscrutable, certainly uncontrollable.  Here Jon has collected a number of video clips that shine the spotlight on Jo.  And his blog is full of other intriguing stories!  Visit it at http://jonmccaslinjazzdrummer.blogspot.com/ .  By the way, “Four on the floor” doesn’t only refer to manual transmission: it refers to the life-enhancing practice, among drummers of another generation (as well as Hal Smith, Kevin Dorn, Chris Tyle, Nick Ward, and Jeff Hamilton) to use the bass drum to keep the rhythm going. 

Through a rather circuitous route, I found myself rapt, staring at one beautifully-designed record label after another on Ted Staunton’s website.  Ted modestly says that he doesn’t own all the records, but he has assembled them in logical order and told a bit about the history of each label.  And the labels themselves are often lavish Art Deco miniatures:

Because the Beloved and I are now on Maui, I thought this label was particularly appropriate:

Ted’s site can be found at http://www.tedstaunton.com/.  You’ll be astonished!

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2009
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Steinman and Jazz Lives with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

EDDIE LOCKE (1930-2009)

The great players of a certain generation are leaving us in body, although what remains in sound and memory will outlive us all.  I remember Eddie Locke as one of the anchors of Roy Eldridge’s band at Jimmy Ryan’s, at various concerts and gigs across New York City — cheerful, energetic, musically attuned, a disciple of the Master, Papa Jo Jones.  And what better tribute could he have had then to be chosen by Coleman Hawkins for the rhythm section?  

Like Ruby Braff, Eddie should — if art is measured by the calendar — have been a vigorous bopper, playing alongside Clifford Brown rather than Willie the Lion Smith.  But he followed that four-beat rhythm he had heard in the Forties.  It sustained him and he sustained every group he played with.   

Eddie will be missed!  But photographer John Herr caught a beaming Eddie in June 2008: a treasure.

Photograph by John Herr, June 2008