As a new pro drummer in my twenties, I spent countless hours listening to, and studying, jazz piano trios: drummer, acoustic bass, acoustic piano. In part, because I was playing in the Millard Cowan piano trio – my first full-time gig, and I wanted to hear how other musicians were expressing themselves in that format. But also, because there were several piano trios made up of top-shelf musicians playing timeless music.
I listened mostly to Ed Thigpen with the Oscar Peterson Trio (1959-1965), Vernell Fournier with the Ahmad Jamal Trio (1956-1962), and Redd Holt with the Ramsey Lewis Trio (1956-1965). These innovative trios were each made up of innovators on their respective instruments: Pianists Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal, and Ramsey Lewis. Bassists Ray Brown, Israel Crosby, and Eldee Young. And the drummers.
The groups expanded the traditional role of the jazz piano trio beyond the familiar song format of: head, solos, trading fours/eights, end. The trios played unique arrangements. In a larger sense, these three groups redefined jazz rhythm sections.
Ed Thigpen, Vernell Fournier, and Redd Holt all had great sounding drums and cymbals. All three endorsed Ludwig drums. They kept their drums tuned/tensioned tight. They created sounds with sticks, brushes, mallets, bare hands – whatever best fit the songs. They sometimes augmented their drumsets with other percussion instruments, i.e. triangles, tambourines. But whatever they played, whether accompanying or soloing – these drummers were always musical. Fournier and Thigpen remain a source of inspiration for any drummer interested in playing brushes.
If I had to choose one album for each drummer? These three had a major impact on me and a bazillion other drummers:
In closing, back in my twenties, when i bought the Peter Nero In Person album, I didn’t expect it to be the great jazz piano trio album it is. Nero on piano, Frank Sostek on bass, and Joe Cusatis on drums left us a marvelous live set. Not a weak song in the bunch. And Cusatis, who plays great throughout, is especially great on Cute and during the West Side Story Medley. This LP was my intro to Cusatis. I’m sorry to report, as of this writing, this date is unavailable in MP3 format.
About ten years ago I started re-listening to those jazz piano trios. And I’ve discovered others of note, i.e. The Great Jazz Trio with Hank Jones (piano), Ron Carter (bass), and Tony Williams (drums). Tommy Flanagan has three terrific piano trio dates with George Mraz (bass) and Elvin Jones (drums). Ron Carter and Tony Williams have also recorded trio dates with pianist Herbie Hancock.
The jazz piano trio remains a classic configuration with unending great musicianship. If readers have suggestions for listening, I thank you in advance for letting me know.