Shaughnessy: Dave Tough Like Elvin in His Sense of Time


Dave Tough

SKF NOTE: In 1985 I clipped and saved Whitney Balliett‘s piece, Little Davey Tough, from my copy of The New Yorker magazine. This was a writer’s standard pre-internet method for building a personal resource library.

Mr. Balliett’s piece is timeless and should be interesting to any one who values drummer Dave Tough, and/or is curious to know drum history’s high points. Balliett interviews musicians who played in bands with, or were otherwise close to, Dave Tough. People such as Bob Wilber, Chubby Jackson, and Ed Shaughnessy.


…Ed Shaughnessy…hung around [Dave] Tough when he was fifteen or sixteen and Tough was with Woody Herman. [Shaughnessy] said of [Tough] the other day, “No drummer could match his intensity. He used a havy stick with a round tip. He had the widest tempo, the broadest time sense, and in that way he was like Elvin Jones. He was always at the center of the beat, even though he gave the impression he was laid back.

“He played loosely, with not much tension on the stick, and he tuned his drums loosely. He kept a glass of water and a cloth on the bandstand, and before each set he would dampen the cloth and wipe the footpedal head of his bass drum with a circular motion. That drumhead was so loose it almost had wrinkles in it.

“He told me he did this because he didn’t want the bass drum to be in the same range as the bass fiddle. He didn’t want the two to compete. And he tuned his snare and tomtoms the same way, so that they were almost flabby.

“He was a master cymbal player — maybe the greatest of all time. He had a couple of fifteen-inchers on his bass drum, plus a Chinese cymbal and what we call a fast cymbal — a small cymbal you use for short, quick strokes. And he had thirteen-inch high-hat cymbals.

“He’d use his high hat, wiether half open or open-and-shut behind ensembles, and when things roared he would shift to the big, furry sound of the Chinese cymbal. He had a very loose high-hat technique, and he was always dropping in offbeats on it with his left hand.

“He often used cymbals for  punctuation where other drummers used rimshots or tomtom beats. He told me he didn’t want to interrupt the rhythmic wave.”

Source: Little Davey Tough, by Whitney Balliett, The New Yorker, November 18, 1985

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