Frankie Dunlop on Mingus the Perfectionist (or, Frankie! The Tempo’s Gone Down!)

SKF NOTE: A favorite moment from my interviews with the great drummer Frankie Dunlop. Now, for the first time, listeners can hear Frankie’s impersonation of Charles Mingus as Frankie describes a moment on The Half Note bandstand drumming with Mingus.


SKF NOTE: Leafing this morning, July 13, 2019, through my original edited version of my Frankie Dunlop interview, I came across this edited version of the full conversation in the YouTube video posted here.

If nothing else, the two versions give readers an idea of how bits-and-pieces of normal conversation — the spoken word — are left behind when editing the written words for reader clarity.

Scott K Fish: How did you get in Mingus’s band? What happened to Dannie Richmond?

Frankie Dunlop: This was for a job in Washington, DC. Dannie couldn’t make it. I knew that I was basically filling in for Dannie. But I knew that if Mingus liked my work, later on I might be recommended for other jobs — which did happen. Mingus recommended me to Sonny Rollins, who I did go with.

But playing with Mingus was an experience. It kept me together.

I remember one time when I was playing with Mingus at The Half Note. We were in the middle of a tune like Salt Peanuts, and Mingus says, “Hey, Frankie. Keep playing. I got to go over here and talk to Joe.”

Joe [Termini] owned The Half Note.

Well, the tempo was way upstairs and I wasn’t adjusted to playing that fast anyhow. I’d just gotten into New York.

Playing at that tempo was bad enough with the bass. Here I was with just a piano player.

Mingus finally comes back on the bandstand after several minutes, picked up his bass and starts playing. Same tune.

He turns to me and says, “Hey, man. Hey, Frankie. The tempo has gone down, man! That’s not the tempo I started.”

And I guess it had gone down. I was scuffling.

He didn’t tell me about that because he disliked me. If he didn’t think I could have made the gig, he wouldn’t have hired me. But Mingus was such a perfectionist, that the things the average musician or bandleader would say, “To hell” with, he wouldn’t let it slide.

All of the geniuses are like that. They may be eccentric, but deep down inside they’re concerned about their music. Monk, Mingus, Rollins, Miles Davis — they didn’t want any substitutions, nothing second-hand for what it was really supposed to be.

I’m glad I came up under the guiding light of those cats.

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Human Expression vs Human Perfection

SKF NOTE: I was in my home office, Yo-Yo Ma was on tv, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. I wasn’t familiar with Ma or his music. But after a few seconds of only half-listening to the sound he produced on his cello, I left my office to see who was this amazing musician.

That was in the early 1980s. I’ve been a Yo-Yo Ma fan since. In recent years I have especially admired Yo-Yo Ma’s adventures in music; his willingness to travel untested musical roads with uncommon musicians from many different musical genres.

Watching this trailer to Yo-Yo Ma’s Master Class, I loved his view of “human expression vs. human perfection.”

A good lesson, if you ask me, for all musicians. Including drummers.


At one point I had the audacity to think I could play a perfect concert.

I was in the middle of a concert and I realized everything was going perfectly.

And I was bored out of my mind.

That was the moment that I made a fateful decision that I was actually going to devote my life to human expression versus human perfection.

Music connects people. You’re sharing something with others. You’re almost like the scientist for the inner soul.

Source: Yo-Yo Ma, Master Class Official Trailer

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Stories Drummers Might Like?

Photo by Leeloo Thefirst on

SKF NOTE: Modern Drummer Publication’s CEO recently announced a renewal of the enterprise.

Meanwhile, a member started a thread wondering what kind of articles actual and potential MD readers want to read.

I wonder how many MD readers are interested in the written word. With no data for proof, my educated guess is video is now a more popular learning format than reading.

Second, third, and fourth place most popular learning formats vary among audio, photos, and text. Depending on which format works best with an article.

If we’re talking strictly about past vs. future Modern Drummer articles, it’s important to remember MD started pre-computers. Video and audio weren’t serious options for at least MD’s first decade.

When I left MD in 1983, the one person with a computer was founder Ron Spagnardi. And “computer” is a generous term. Ron’s was an early word processor. That it enabled Ron to cut, copy, and move text without limit was its exciting feature.

As for what kind of articles MD readers want to read? Great question.

Thumb through a 1980s era MD. You find a message from Ron Spagnardi, letters from readers, full-length interviews, short profiles of emerging drummers, method columns, product reviews, ask a pro Q&A, ads, and a teaser page for the upcoming issue. Then there were readers’ polls, Neil Peart drumset giveaways, and other features.

That MD issue format came together pre-internet. Yes, there were a couple of other drummer magazines competing with MD for subscribers and readers.

Today, the competition is everything internet related: social media, bloggers, forums, the works. Everything posted online is arguably online forever. Ever improving search engines make it easier to find information online.

Without going into depth, I think the path for any online drum endeavor is to find a niche in need of filling. Maybe it’s a segment of the drum world on which no one is championing. Or maybe it’s a drumming perspective only you can offer the drum public.

That’s age old advice. But I think it applies now more than ever.

Now, the question about what kind of articles 2023 MD readers would like, takes me back to 1983, a few months before I left MD.

At the time, MD’s editorial staff had become so efficient at putting together each issue we opened a block of free time each month. I approached Ron with the idea he allow a few days of the monthly free time to be used for finding and interviewing local drum legends in different states.

My suggestion backfired. Ron’s wife interpreted it as me saying I didn’t have enough to do. Which was true, but not in the way she meant it. Just the opposite. I was suggesting a way to be more productive, not less.

My point? I still like the idea of finding and featuring local drum legends. Maybe they’re players, teachers, drum shop owners, retired — there are tons of variations.

But the local legends are out there. Their stories deserve telling.

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Hal Blaine: Have Fun, Play Drums

SKF NOTE: I found this in one of my external hard drives. It’s a drum method the great Hal Blaine released in 1968.

Have fun. Give Hal Blaine’s album a listen.

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Study Gary Chester with ‘New Breed Approved’ Original Chester Student

SKF NOTE: This is a unique, fascinating idea I spotted yesterday on theGary Chester the Drummer” Facebook page. The post below is edited from the original.

Gary’s daughter, Katrina, is offering to pair drummers who want to study her father’s classic drum method book, “The New Breed,” with “New Breed Approved” Gary Chester students as teachers.

You can read this full post and contact Katrina through her Facebook page


Consultancy with Katrina Chester

Pairing serious drummers to learn “The New Breed” with NB Approved original Gary Chester students as your teacher.

I write this with a deep sense of gratitude to Katrina Chester for her steadfast determination to honor and promote the work of her late father Gary Chester. Mr. Chester was first and foremost a masterful drummer. As a studio musician he played on many of the many of the most popular recordings of the 1960’s and 70’s (A jaw dropping discography is presented in his masterpiece book The New Breed.)

When back problems forced his retirement from the studio, he opened a teaching practice and, over several years, developed “systems”, which were to appear in his classic book “The New Breed.

Many top drummers of the day sought him out for lessons. I bought a copy of the “New Breed” and began working with it. I achieved only limited results because I failed to follow all the detailed instructions Gary laid out in the book.

That all changed when I…came across a video of one of Mr. Chester’s top former students discussing the benefits of studying the method. I noticed…several videos posted featuring other top former students.

I watched them all…. [T]here was a link to contact Mr. Chester’s daughter Katrina to be connected to one of them for lessons.

So, I reached out to Katrina via the email link and filled out a questionnaire. Katrina…matched my interests and abilities to a “New Breed” teacher. A real game changer for me, [with] benefits that…far exceeded my expectations.

[A]ny drummer… motivated to study “The New Breed” will benefit immensely from the help of a qualified teacher. Who better to arrange it than the passionate, well-connected daughter of the master himself, Katrina Chester?

Dann Sherrill, Nashville, TN

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High Marks for Wicket’s Period Drumming

SKF NOTE: This video grabbed my attention two days ago. I was unfamiliar with drummer Alan “Sticky” Wicket. But his period suit, drumset, and his swinging primarily on the snare drum is fun and instructive.

This is the style of drumming Gene Krupa was using on “China Boy,” when I first heard him and got hooked on drums.

After some digging online I learned Mr. Wicket is a well-regarded British jazz drummer. Turns out, he has a bunch of YouTube videos where he plays beautiful vintage drum sets, and talks about and demonstrates, how drummers played on the vintage drumsets in their heyday.

The drum sets are great to look at and hear. So is Wicket’s drumming.

Wicket has a Facebook page highlighting his big swing band. The last post is dated April 2022, and the Facebook link to his big swing band website is broken. I wish I had better info on his current status.

Wicket videos appear on the “Next Level Chops” YouTube page.

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