The Secrets of Chick Webb’s Drumming Technique 1938


John P. Noonan

SKF NOTE: John P. Noonan‘s terrific piece, The Secrets of Chick Webb’s Drumming Technique, (Down Beat 1938), which I’m excerpting here, is a valuable inheritance. John Noonan is a noted percussion player and teacher who studied with Ed Straight, Roy C. Knapp; he was percussion instructor at Illinois Wesleyan University, a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and is a member of the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame.

That 1938 Down Beat was among a couple boxes of old Down Beat magazines I bought in the early 1970’s from McKay’s Music Store, Davenport, Iowa. Pre-internet, those magazines were a great find for an aspiring drummer and writer. Any magazine articles, such as John Noonan’s piece on Chick Webb, out-of-print, and not included as part of a book, were tough to find.

On top of that, to have such an insightful piece on Chick Webb’s drumming technique written by a respected drummer while Webb was still living, still performing, is rare. At least, in my experience. I’ve used Noonan’s article as a source in a couple of my published writings. Almost 80-years after its publication, and 40-years after I first acquired it, here I am again sourcing Mr. Noonan’s piece on Chick Webb.

Drum heads mentioned in Noonan’s piece are made of animal skin, most likely calfskin. The first plastic drumheads were about 20-years into the future.


“[Webb] spends a lot of time balancing the tone of his snare and bass drum, until they sound right to him,” John Noonan writes. “He uses the conventional separate-tension bass drum, equipped with tympani heads and the regular type of separate-tension snare drum.”

Webb’s bass drum is played “free… no mufflers or pads dampening the tone. This is a fine effect when the drum in tuned low, but calls for good pedal foot control to balance the volume of the drum.

“[Webb] watches all his drum heads closely and at the first sign of their drying out or losing their life, he changes them. The snare drum is also tuned low pitch (not too tight) using the regular type heads.

“His cymbals are the finest Turkish, both for stick work and on his High Hat. Webb like a light drum stick (7-A) for general use.

“The outstanding part of Webb’s drumming, I think, is dynamic control,” Noonan continues. “He is a past-master of the art of shading on drums. His playing drops to ‘nothing’ and up to a frenzied roar, as the arrangement demands. He does this effect with either sticks or brushes….

“[H]is drumming always remains solid (the test of the swing drummer). He makes good use of the high High Sock Pedal [sic] in the usual ways, holding four in a bar on the snare drum with the left hand — the right on the High Sock for solid ensembles, here again controlling the volume to suit. The band seems to depend entirely on Webb for these changes from piano [soft] to forte [loud].

“His use of brushes is a study in itself. Fast rhythmical figures or swishes of exactly the right length are used. This latter trick is a Webb art.

“Webb is a firm believer in the ‘play what you feel’ school. He advocates this system to all drummers. He advises young drummers to work on the rudiments for stick control and then apply their beats as they feel them, never losing sight of the type and style of the arrangement,” Noonan said.

“Every drummer is familiar with the famous Webb breaks. [T]he breaks are ad-lib…according to the arrangement of the tune. Webb looks over the arrangement containing breaks or solos for drums, and gets clear in his mind, the type and kind of break he believes will fit. Then he experiments a few times until he finds a solid idea for his solos and then phrases them in this category.

“The man is also a fine showman, combining the rare combination of virtuosity and showmanship.”


Posted in SKF Blog | Tagged , , , , ,

Curious About ‘White Album’ Demos, Outtakes, Photos, Video

SKF NOTE: Remixes of great Sixties popular music I’ve heard are hit or miss. Having grown up listening to the original mixes, the clarity (sterility?) of some Sixties remixes kills the music’s charm. The Motown remixes are the most infamous I can name.

But from the music I’ve heard, and the back stories I’ve read, of The Beatles’ “White Album,” this looks like a winner. I still have fond memories of sitting with “that old gang of mine” in front of record players, listening many times to the original vinyl stereo albums.

Mostly I’m curious about all the music on this “White Album” Anniversary Edition never before released to the public; the Esher demo tapes, the outtakes, and the studio banter. Also, the photos and videos.

The remix engineers do a good job here explaining their work. It’s fun seeing clips of Ringo in the studio with white hand towels draped over his drumheads. They definitely added to Ringo’s sound.

Posted in Drum/Music News, SKF Blog | Tagged , , , ,

Unreleased Frankie Dunlop with Monk Quartet 1963

SKF NOTE: Wow! Unreleased Monk with Frankie Dunlop on drums. Live! Thank you, Gearbox Records. I bought an MP3 copy of this last night.

Frankie, as always, plays great. His drum sound is deep, wide open. Don’t miss it.

Here’s some background on the recording. I’m assuming “saved from a skip” means a garbage can or a trash bin. Thank you in advance to anyone who can confirm or correct me.

With the original tapes recently saved from a skip, some 55 years later the recordings have now been faithfully restored, mastered and cut using Gearbox’s legendary all-analogue process (even using the exact same lathe as Blue Note did back in the day). The result reveals a window into a performance that shows Monk in his prime, just one year before he would go on to become one of only 4 jazz artists to ever appear on the front cover of TIME magazine.


Posted in Audio, Drum/Music News, SKF Blog | Tagged , , , ,

The Beatles: Just an Excuse for the World to Go Crazy

SKF NOTE: Andy is on three George Harrison albums: Dark Horse (1974), Extra Texture (Read All About It (1975), and George Harrison (1979). Andy Newmark, Max Weinberg, and I were present at this interview in Manhattan — I think it was Andy Newmark’s apartment. Listeners will hear traffic noises sometimes.

This interview was meant for inclusion in a book Max and I were co-writing at the time. Our original book concept changed to a format I felt was too close to my work at the time as Modern Drummer’s managing editor. Max and I parted amicably. I retained our Andy Newmark interview and others (Paul T. Riddle, Jaimoe), and Max went on to write his book, “The Big Beat.”

I’m just revisiting Andy Newmark’s interview. The first time I saw Andy playing was at Westbury Music Fair (1971) with Carly Simon who had just released her first album, “Anticipation.” Andy’s drum fills on the album title track are classic.

Andy was the only drummer on John Lennon’s last album, “Double Fantasy,” and on Sly Stone’s “Fresh” album.

Max opens this excerpt asking Andy about his first meeting with George Harrison. Andy talks about that, about recording with George in Harrison’s home studio, and about George Harrison as “a regular guy.”

Posted in Audio, SKF Blog | Tagged , , , ,

The King of Pandeiro: Yikes!

SKF NOTE: Robert Leebrick, after my “Hidden Drummers of Iran” post, wrote asking me if I had ever heard of Wellington Moreira the King of Pandeiro. Mr. Leebrick included a Facebook video which, unfortunately, I am unable to embed here. The good news? The King of Pandeiro has a few excellent YouTube videos, so I will share one here.

According to Wikipedia, “The pandeiro is a type of hand frame drum popular in Brazil, and which has been described as an unofficial instrument of that nation.”

Watching the Iranian tonbak drummers and Wellington Moreira always brings to mind drumset players who swear they could be great drummers if they only had more drums and cymbals.

Thank you, Robert Leebrick

Posted in Drum/Music News, SKF Blog | Tagged , , , ,

‘Hidden Drummers of Iran’ Documentary

SKF NOTE: I came across this amazing drummer in an online news story about a Kickstarter campaign to fund a “Hidden Drummers of Iran” documentary. Ruairi Glasheen, the author of the news story, is also the “Hidden Drummers” documentarian. This one-minute Instagram video leaves me wanting to hear more from this drummer and her colleagues.

As of this writing, Mr. Glasheen has raised $2,325 toward his Kickstarter goal of $5,916.


Rhythm revolution: Young Iranians revive ancient drumming traditions
By Ruairi Glasheen, for CNN Updated 8:18 AM ET, Tue September 18, 2018

CNN)I first encountered the tonbak — Iran’s indigenous drum — as a student, when I heard it on an old LP I found in a dusty corner of the library at London’s Royal College of Music. Instantly, I was hooked.

A small, goblet-shaped drum, the tonbak…drives the fast and frenetic rhythmic intensity of Persian classical music.

The tonbak is usually made of walnut, ash or pear wood…with a thin piece of camel or goat skin.

Beyond formal drumming techniques, tonbak players have — over the instrument’s long history — devised a seemingly limitless range of deviations using different parts of the hands, fingers and nails to create entrancing solos and accompaniments. The modern generation’s top players have taken innovation a step further, incorporating elements of melody….

Today, Iran’s tonbak drumming scene is thriving.

[M]astering the tonbak is a long process that requires finding a teacher willing to take you under their wing, prayer and a lot of practice.

Full Story

Posted in Drum/Music News, SKF Blog | Tagged , , , ,

Songwriting with Soldiers?

Songwriting with soldiers a powerful way to tell their stories
Scott K. Fish, Special to the Piscataquis Observer • September 14, 2018

“For me, art is to tell truths that are hard to tell. Songs are incredibly powerful vehicles to get you into another person’s heart,” Mary says as her video begins. She tells of her invitation from another Texas songwriter, Darden Smith, to “come be a part of a [military] veterans retreat.” Fifteen veterans and four songwriters working for two-and-a-half days at a retreat center.

Full story

Posted in SKF Blog | Tagged , , , , ,

Willie Salutes Sinatra: Return of the Gentleman’s Code

SKF NOTE: Willie Nelson, one of my favorite musicians, released his new album today, a tribute to Frank Sinatra titled, “My Way.”

Last night, prior to today’s album release, I listened to Willie sing “One for My Baby (And One More for the Road) from his new album. What a classic tune. Music by Harold Arlen, words by the one-and-only Johnny Mercer. Boy, could Mercer write lyrics. He was a good songwriter too.

In the very early 1970s I first heard the song “One for My Baby” on Frank Sinatra’s “Live at the Sands” album and loved everything about it. Soon I was singing the song, brushes in hand, sitting behind my Gretsch drumset at The Steamboat Lounge, Nicky’s Tavern, and almost every other place I played.

Willie gets my two thumbs up for his rendition of “One for My Baby.” Yes, his 85-year old voice is weaker, scratchy, and can’t hit all the notes he once hit. But to my ears, Willie’s voice — heck, his entire 85-year old musicianship — adds to the song much more than it detracts.

I bought my copy of Willie’s “My Way” and look forward to listening to it. By the way, whatever happened to the “Gentleman’s Code“?

Posted in SKF Blog | Tagged , , , , , ,