Ed Soph: Old and New Learning Opportunities

SKF NOTE: I was revisiting this morning a 52 typewritten page transcript of one of my Ed Soph interviews. I tell the back story of those interviews in an earlier post.

It’s fun remembering when and where these interviews happened. This one, for example, was at Ed’s Connecticut home. 

It’s also fun bringing back into the light hard-to-find gems from the original published interviews. And sharing gems never-before-published, often simply because there wasn’t room to include it. This 52 page transcript, for example, would have to be cut to around 25 pages to meet Modern Drummer’s feature interview length at that time.

In this exchange, Ed Soph and I are talking about different ways of learning how to play the drumset. Caveat: Ed refers here to the “Peanut Gallery” in the old NYC jazz club Birdland. That was a part of Birdland where no alcohol was served, where kids too young to drink alcohol could still sit and enjoy the jazz.

Ed Soph

Ed Soph

Ed Soph: I ran into Papa Jo a long time ago in Frank Ippolitio’s old shop on 8th Avenue. And I went up to Papa Jo and figured a way to introduce myself and to ask him if he could give me a drum lesson.

I said, “Gee, Mr. Jones. I sure would like to get a drum lesson from you.” He says, “If you want a drum lesson from me, come to such-and-such a club. I’m playing there every night.”

And I’m thinking, “You dumb [so-and-so], Soph.” Click! Those guys didn’t go to teachers. They went to clubs and watched the cats play. That’s gone now! How many kids can afford to go to that club in New York that charged $17.00 to get in to hear Chick Corea, Roy Haynes, and Miroslav Vitous? And then there was a $10.00 drink minimum. Then if you’ve got to pay parking on top of that? Come on!

Scott K Fish: They pay that kind of money to see rock bands.

ES: But those kids aren’t there to learn how to play drums. How can they be if they’re in a 10,000 seat auditorium? My God Almighty! You’ll learn more listening to the record.

Tiny Kahn

Tiny Kahn

I’m talking about going to a club, getting up into the Peanut Gallery like they used to have at Birdland, and just sit there and check somebody out. Or go to the Vanguard, and get there early, and get in that spot that’s right back there by the drums, and watch Elvin. That’s the learning opportunity right there. But times have changed. It’s not happening anymore like it was.

Can you wonder why people get discouraged? It would be nice if they’d give a concert in the afternoon. In the old days, clubs used to have matinees for kids or for musicians who weren’t working.

Again, you see the strength of clinics, of presenting the music in that sort of environment. [S]omething always comes along to fill in the gap. But that gap will never be filled. I mean, can you imagine going into a club and watching Sid Catlett or Dave Tough or Tiny Kahn? Or just going down and listening to Mel Lewis play?

Elvin Jones

Elvin Jones

And the thing is, Scott, that you or I could take a kid…. And I’m not making a value judgement on the kid. I’m just thinking about exposure. We could take a kid who’s into Eric Carr, or into Neil Peart, or who’s into Alan White, and you could say to this kid, “Come here. Have you ever seen Elvin Jones play drums?”


“Come here, kid. You’re coming with me tonight.” You could sit that kid down in that Peanut Gallery at the Vanguard and that kid’s mouth would be on the floor after the first chorus. Simply because he’s never had any opportunity to be exposed to it.


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