Mel Lewis: ‘I Own Four Sets of Drums’

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SKF NOTE: Arnold Jay Smith interviewed Mel Lewis for the June 1, 1978 Down Beat. Revisiting that interview last night, I don’t recall Mel owning four drumsets, each different in configuration, that he used for different situations.

Mr. Smith asks if Mel has played Gretsch his whole life. Mel answers that he’s played Gretsch drums all his “professional life.”

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Mel Lewis: “I own four sets of drums of which the number one set, the road set, is a Gretsch maple with a two tom-tom setup on top, an 8″ x 12″, 9″ x 13″, and a 16″ x 16″ on the floor. There’s a standard snare, 5 1/2″ x 14″, and a 20″ bass drum. I still use calfskin heads on the bass and snare. That’s why the bass has such a nice, big sound.

“I keep a walnut [Gretsch] set at the Village Vanguard. There’s only one tom tom on top, 9″ x 13″. Everything else is the same.

“I have a smaller [maple] set I use for small group work [with] an 18″ bass drum, 8″ x 12″ and 14″ x 14” tom toms. Snare drums are always the same size.

“I also use a little ASBA, a French set given to me by Daniel Humair. It’s a tiny bass and snare that I use for trio dates, a novelty set.”

Mel described his cymbal set-up this way:

“There’s a 16″ or 18″ to my left, depending on the size of the group, a 20” ride and special cymbals. There’s a very old A. Zildjian with a couple of pieces cut out. I bought it in 1944…. With the [Thad Jones-Mel Lewis] band I use a 20″ Zildjian with two rivets, which is all I ever use. I use them all for crash and ride.

“As for my hi-hats, I use two 14″ band cymbals. In marching bands they would be played with two hands…for accents.”

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