Studying Big Sid Catlett in 1947 Movie

SKF NOTE: Long, long ago I read somewhere — album liner notes? magazine interview? jazz book? — Sidney “Big Sid” Catlett was the main influence on Max Roach’s melodic drumming style. It may have been Max’s March 20, 1958 Down Beat with Don Gold, in which Max said, “…Sid Catlett has been my main source of inspiration.”

Max composed a now famous drum solo dedicated to Mr. Catlett titled, “For Big Sid,” inspired by the opening horn riff on Louis Armstrong’s song, “Mop Mop,” a drum solo feature for Catlett.

After discovering the Roach/Catlett lineage, typical of me, I bought as many recordings as I could find with Sid Catlett on drums. To date my favorites is the live “Satchmo At Symphony Hall 65th Anniversary: The Complete Performances,” album (1947). A spectacular band playing spectacular music, including Catlett’s classic “Mop Mop” drum solo. Listening to Big Sid on this entire album is a joy, a two-hour drum lesson.

That said, I went searching for Big Sid Catlett video last night and found this old movie, “Boy! What a Girl!” Catlett appears in three scenes. The most famous is with Gene Krupa. It starts in this video at 47:39.

At 08:31, a house rent party scene, there’s we can study Sid’s right hand cymbal technique.

The swinging dance scene starting at 30:02 offers a look at Catlett and his drumset, including his front bass drum lettering telling us Big Sid Catlett was Esquire Magazine’s jazz drummer poll winner in 1944 and 1945. But he’s not playing on this number.

That changes at 39:00 with some good footage of Sid making use of his entire drumset. Granted, the instrument tracks in this movie are overdubbed, but take notice of how Catlett plays with almost no wasted motion. Amazing.

Gene Krupa enters the scene starting at 47:39. After a brief exchange with Big Sid asking Krupa, “Well, what do you want?”, Krupa plays, then returns Catlett’s sticks.

Years before, Big Sid Catlett was in Krupa’s famous drum chair with the Benny Goodman Orchestra. The album, “Roll ‘Em! Live in 1941,” is entirely Big Sid with the Goodman Orchestra.

Catlett says, “I know who you are. You’re Gene Krupa.”

“Yeah. Don’t forget, Sid, I want you to do the same for me in one of my pictures,” answers Krupa.

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