Step-By-Step – Alvin Stoller’s Homework Assignment

SKF NOTE: My habit is to find an unfamiliar instrument or musical style and dig deep. Gene Krupa was the first drummer to make an impression. That led me to books. Who was Krupa? Where did he come from? How did he learn to play drums? Which drummers influenced him? Finding answers to those questions led me, step-by-step, to all the great early jazz drummers – Baby Dodds, Zutty Singleton, Dave Tough, George Wettling. And all the musicians in all the bands those drummers played with.

I used the same step-by-step process learning the history of jazz, blues, rock, country, folk — and so on. The same process studying the history of pianists, sax players, trumpeters, trombonists, bassists, songwriters, lyricists, and so on. All musicians are connected.

All that is going through my head yesterday driving home from Marco’s Restaurant, listening for the first time to Herb Ellis‘s Ellis in Wonderland. I almost said I never listened much to Herb Ellis, but that’s not true. I owned a few of his albums — mostly on the Concord Jazz label — and at one time I liked listening to the Mort Lindsey Orchestra as house band for the Merv Griffin Show. Herb Ellis was in that band with drummer Nick Ceroli, bassist Ray Brown, and a ton of great jazz brass and reed players.

Ellis in Wonderland, recorded 1955-56, swings. Strong soloists. Drummer Alvin Stoller plays “real good” (to borrow a Joe Morello descriptor) on Wonderland. Steady, swinging, nice sound on drums and cymbals, good support for the soloists. Yet, I’ve never listened much to Alvin Stoller. No special reason. Stoller’s name and reputation are familiar. In my mind I see him smiling on the pages of old Down Beat magazines in a drum ad or two. Wasn’t he in the Zildjian catalog at one time too?

But as I write I’m unable to find on the web a usable photo of Alvin Stoller.

Eyes on the road, I remind myself to study Alvin Stoller. Step-by-step. It’s a fun process. Just when I think I’ve heard all the 50s-60s jazz drummers – a drummer like Alvin Stoller shows up on a new, to me, album, playing his butt off. In so doing, Stoller presents me with a homework assignment.

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