Zutty Singleton – We Just Kept the Rhythm Going

SKF NOTE: Growing up, I was aware of Zutty Singleton among the drum pioneers, but records on which he played were either not on my music priority list, or they weren’t available. The New Orleans-Chicago early jazz drumming was a style I set out to study in the early to mid-1970s when I was living and playing drums in Davenport, IA. Prior to Davenport I spent most of my time and money listening to big band and modern jazz drumming, rock, and blues drumming.

Zutty is still great listening. And with the advent of YouTube and other internet platforms, there are many more opportunities to study Singleton than there were in the 1970s and earlier. This recording of Drum Face is a case in point.

Finally, here are my Zutty Single notes, slightly updated, for a history of jazz drummers I wrote for publication.


Zutty Singleton was among the first to streamline the drumset. He used a bass drum, snare drum, two old-style shallow tom-toms, and usually three cymbals. Sometimes two. Music writer Martin Williams credits Singleton with developing the modern drum solo structure. In the mid-1900s drummers rarely took solos.

“Previously drum solos had been either brief breaks — usually a couple of beats, or a couple of bars — or they were random things, in which the player would strut out his tricks until he ran out of them, whereupon the horn men would resume,” said Williams.

“We just kept the rhythm going,” said Singleton. “But when we did [solo], the drummers had all kinds of different sound effects: a bucket gimmick that sounded like a lion’s roar, skillets, ratchets, bells, everything.”

A decade later, Zutty Singleton was leading a trio in Chicago. Clarinetist Jimmy Noone and pianist Jerome Carrington would solo all night. One night Jimmy Noone suggested Zutty take some solos. “Take a chorus,” he’d say.

“Zutty would do exactly that;” said Martin Williams, “he played a chorus to the piece they were doing, humming it over to himself, and not only finishing at the end of 12 or 16 or 32 bars, but also marking off the four- and eight-bars internal phrases of the piece as they came along.”

Source: Zutty, by Martin Williams, Down Beat 11/21/1963

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