Drummer Shortcomings Lead to Innovations Pt 2 – Roy Haynes

SKF NOTE: Yesterday, 9/22/20, I wrote about Kenny Clarke’s frustration trying to play left handed snare accents while crossing his right arm over-and-above his left while keeping time on his hi-hat. His frustration was the catalyst for Clarke’s experimenting with keeping time with his right hand on a ride cymbal. That change is now a standard way of playing drumset.

I tended to attribute evolution in drumming to artistic insight, flashes of musical inspiration. Yet, the more I learned about drummers and drumming, the more I discovered innovations were sometimes a result of more practical matters.

For example, for years I assumed jazz drummers in the 1960s used smaller “bebop” kits because the 18×14 bass drum, 8×12 and 14×14 toms lent themselves to a more melodic style of drumming. Yet in separate interviews in the 1980s, both Max Roach and Elvin Jones said they used the smaller drums because they fit better in a car trunk or in the back of a station wagon.

So much for flashes of musical inspiration.

Roy Haynes is credited as the first drummer to move away from playing the hi-hat with his foot on the 2 and 4 beats. For a long time, that was the rule of thumb for playing a drumset. You played the hi-hat on beats 2 and 4.

Roy Haynes treated his left foot on the hi-hat much the way he treated his right foot on his bass drum. Both were independent parts of the drumset.

I don’t remember how, but one afternoon, at a Hip Ensemble rehearsal in Roy Haynes’s basement, our conversation turned to Roy’s hi-hat playing. His rehearsal drumset was a bright white four-piece Ludwig. He gave me permission to sit at the drumset. I didn’t play, but I did rest my foot on Roy’s bass drum pedal. It was surprising how loose his foot pedal springs were adjusted. Almost as if he didn’t use the spring tension at all.

If I tested his hi-hat I don’t remember. But when our conversation turned to his not playing a strict 2 and 4 hi-hat — Roy laughed. He knew many people, including me, spoke about his hi-hat independence as a flash of musical inspiration. But the truth is, he said, try as he might, he was never able to play while forever keeping strict 2 and 4 time with his hi-hat. Instead, he developed his classic style, his one-of-a-kind voice.

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Drummer Shortcomings Lead to Innovations

SKF NOTE: Sometimes innovations in drumming – stylistic and/or equipment changes that become standard – begin as one drummer’s, or a few drummers’, workaround to a shortcoming. Discovering the root of such innovations is a favorite part of studying drumming/music history.

Shortcoming may not be the most accurate description. Let me start with one example of a current standard for drummers that was once a workaround for one drummer’s physical challenge.

History credits Kenny Clarke as first to use a ride cymbal as the main timekeeping part of his drumset. Before the ride cymbal, drummers’ used the snare drum, the bass drum, and then the hi-hat as their primary timekeeping elements.

Clarke, however, ran into the same physical challenge every drummer faces keeping time on his hi-hat. He was a right-handed drummer playing a standard four-piece drumset configuration: bass drum, snare drum, small and floor toms. His snare, small tom, and bass drum were set up in front of him. His floor tom was on Clarke’s right side and his hi-hat was on his left side.

Kenny Clarke played with his right arm crossed over to his hi-hat, situated above his left hand, which he used to play accents on his snare. This is a physically awkward way to play. In an old Down Beat story, Clarke said he found this physical limitation made it tough for him, especially playing in a big band, to use left hand accents of any volume.

Clarke wondered, What if I leave my right arm where it is naturally – on my right side – and keep time on a cymbal on a cymbal stand instead of crossing over to the hi-hat?

It worked. Keeping time on his (ride) cymbal freed up his left hand movement. Probably few drummers living today remember when using a ride cymbal was a curiosity. Ride cymbals are standard drumset equipment.

Long after Kenny Clarke’s solution to the limitations of playing the hi-hat with the right arm crossing over the left arm, there was another workaround: use two hi-hats; one placed on both sides of a drummer’s set-up.

I first saw Jack DeJohnette with two hi-hats when he was with Charles Lloyd in 1966. If not Jack, I don’t know who was first with the two hi-hat idea. But I think using two hi-hats was popularized by drummer/teacher Gary Chester, his New Breed method book, and his students — like Dave Weckl.

More drumming shortcomings turned to innovations to come.

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Tommy Aldridge on Sonor Drums – 1975

SKF NOTE: An ad from the May 20, 1975 Down Beat magazine. Tommy Aldridge is an imaginative drummer. He was bound to Black Oak Arkansas by contract long after he lost interest in the group.

Tommy’s still drumming really well. On top of that he is a nice man.

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Connie Kay – Learning About Drums from Sid Catlett (1959)

Modern Jazz Quartet. Connie Kay is standing center. Photo courtesy imdb.com

SKF NOTE: I am reading the Kindle edition of Conversations in Jazz: The Ralph J. Gleason Interviews, Edited by Toby Gleason. The book is a compilation of interviews Ralph Gleason had in 1959 with leading jazz musicians, including John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Philly Joe Jones, Duke Ellington, and separate interviews with the members of the Modern Jazz Quartet.

The interviews are interesting and insightful. My one criticism? The book is more expensive than most Kindle books: $17.41. Obviously I was willing to pay that price. Gleason’s writing is a major influence in my life. I am grateful for this book of his newly released interviews.

That said, I hope Mr. Gleason or someone else will re-edit Conversations in Jazz. Run on sentences, run on paragraphs, and sloppy punctuation make this book harder to read — and enjoy — than need be. Perhaps the paper book versions are better edited. I don’t know.

Still, jazz history lovers will appreciate this book. Ralph Gleason had a great relationship with all these musicians. The mutual respect and love — notwithstanding the poor editing — comes through each of these conversations.

This excerpt is Gleason with Modern Jazz Quartet drummer Connie Kay. Asking Kay about his informative years as a drummer, Gleason says, “Did any of the [already established] drummers help you?” Here, in part, is Connie Kay’s answer.

Connie Kay: Sid Catlett. Now here’s a funny thing about him. We never actually sat down with the drumsticks and the drum pad or the drum book. But I got more out of him by sitting, just talking to him, not talking about drums, but about anything in general.

But by his conversation and his feel for things in life I could see why he played the drums the way he did, and I learned more from him that way about drums than if I think if I just sat up and said, “Sid, show me how you do this and show me how you do that; how you do this and how you do that.”

We hung out together. Sorta just pals. And I really got a lot out of it.

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Gretsch Artists Lists 1983

SKF NOTE: These lists are part of the sales materials I used in 1983 as Northeast District Sales Manager for the Gretsch Musical Instrument Co. Most of the musicians listed are drummers. Some are well-known. Tony Williams and Phil Collins, for example.

Other drummers listed are less well-known to me. Perhaps these lists will be of use to music historians trying to solve who-played-what-and-with-what-band puzzles.

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