SKF NOTE: Here I’ve excerpted remarks about drum solos from a 1973 roundtable discussion Down Beat Contributing Editor Harvey Siders had with five drummers: Willie Bobo, Louie Bellson, Larry Bunker, Shelly Manne, and Donald Bailey. None of these wonderful players are still with us, but what an amazing legacy they left all of us.
Manne: I don’t always enjoy listening to a drummer unless he’s playing within the framework of the band and the music.
Bunker: When I solo I always think in terms of the structure of the tune, and I play choruses.
Manne: …I resent…the drummer who falls into the trap of becoming obsessed with the technical aspects of the drums – you know, playing all these figures that come from rudiments. It becomes a thing of excitement, not creativity, and I find that I don’t retain that kind of solo.
Siders: Can you think of any example of excitement over creativity?
Manne: I think Buddy Rich is a stupendous drummer, and I have the utmost respect for him. But I don’t really retain anything Buddy plays. [H]e only reaches my head. He doesn’t reach my heart and soul.
Bailey: I think…most people don’t like drum solos…because…the rhythm section stops playing. [Y]ou wouldn’t enjoy a saxophone solo or a trombone solo without accompaniment.
[T]he best presentation of a drum solo I ever heard was Max Roach, when he had the rhythm section backing him up….
Manne: I think everythng depends on your approach to the drums. …I hear everything…on a melodic basis. I never know what the rhythms are going to be. I’m influenced by melodic lines.
Bunker: The drummer has five or six or seven tones available to him, and the colors of his cymbals, and that depends on how complicated a set of drums he’s using. [H]e has to function mostly with rhythmic values and permutations of those rhythmic values.
Bellson: …I used to be a tap dancer. In essence, I’m dancing on the stage. But I’m also thinking melodically, being a music writer. So it’s important to make a solo melodic as well as rhythmic.
Siders to Wllie Bobo: [I]s there such a thing as a long drum solo in Latin music?
Bobo: There certainly is. Latin percussion instruments are basically solo instruments. I deal melodically with my solos.
Bailey: You hear more in a Latin drum solo because they always have accompaniment. I think Latin drummers are more musical than jazz drummers.
Siders: What do you guys think about when you’re taking a solo – long or short?
Bailey: I think about the song I’m playing.
Bobo: I think about solos in that same way.
Manne: I always think in relationship to the melody. It’s merely a boundary, and the challenge is to use that boundary, or stay within the boundary, then go beyond.
Source: Drum Shticks, by Harvey Siders, Down Beat, March 15, 1973