Start with Curiosity

SKF NOTE: The first time a kid with the desire to learn picks up a pair of drumsticks and starts playing the most basic rhythm, he or she has the opportunity to learn from all other drummers present and past. In truth, the kid has the opportunity to learn from, to shape his drumming from, all other musicians present and past.

This is especially true of drummers playing improvisational music. I was going to say “drummers playing jazz,” but plenty of musical styles, including blues, rock, and country, make room for improvising.

In turn, the new kid has an opportunity to create drumming/music from which musicians present and past can find inspiration too.

All it takes to begin is curiosity.

Like most kids, I suppose, my first musical interests mirrored the times. But the first drummer to really grab my attention, when I was age 6, was Gene Krupa. The second drummer to do so was Ringo Starr with the Beatles when I was age 12. These two drummers inspired generations of drummers.

Which musicians inspired Gene Krupa and Ringo? My love of music, drumming, and history prompted me to ask the question. I had no idea I would spend my life looking the answer.

Last week I came across this old movie of Baby Dodds. Mr. Dodds was a major influence on Krupa, the best drummers in Krupa’s generation, and beyond. Max Roach and Philly Joe Jones talk of their sitting in nightclubs studying Dodds’s drumming. And then, how many drummers — to this day — are influenced by Philly Joe and Max?

Yes, it’s disappointing these Baby Dodds film clips were filmed without sound, and the sound of Dodds’s drums here is overdubbed. Still, it’s exciting to see Baby Dodds on film, moving, allowing us to study a little bit of his technique.

I sometimes worry that drummers are losing their curiosity, just when the digital age enables us to mine for musical treasures deep and wide. Odds are excellent we’ll strike gold much of the time.

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