SKF NOTE: The late drummer Freddie Gruber is known by many drummers, including me, as an exemplary teacher. Other drummers, however, say Freddie is full of hot air, a charlatan, who has somehow put a spell on Neil Peart, Buddy Rich, Jim Keltner, Steve Smith, Mel Lewis, and other drumming legends.
Skeptics point out the absence of Freddie recordings. If Freddie Gruber was such a great player, they say, how come he never made any records? Of course, that’s asking to prove a negative.
What we’ve always had is the testimony of respected drummers who did hear Freddie Gruber drumming in his prime, and the praise of first-class contemporary players such as those named above.
Then last week I received an interesting email from Neal Sausen who provides new insight into Freddie Gruber. Here, in part, is what Neal wrote:
…I’ve been a Freddie Gruber drum student for over well 50 years. I started with him when I was 18 on April 2, 1969, and stayed with him continuously until around 1990-92. Then studied off and on with him, formally or informally, until shortly before his death in 2011. I was at his house almost every night the last year or so of his life, hanging out with him, and keeping him company.
The man was nothing short of a genius.., ahead of his time! Do you know the “push-pull” technique everybody’s so on about Lately? Freddy was teaching that in the 1960s. Hell he taught it to me in 1981! He was way ahead of his time with the “FLUIDITY OF MOTION” Concept. Not only with hands on the snare drum, but on the entire drum set including the feet! You should see my old beat-up copy of Colin Bailey’s “Bass Drum Control” book.
Freddie wrote his own notes as he went along. He wrote a “book within a book.” Yes, we used all the classic books: “Buddy Rich’s Modern Interpretation of Snare Drum Rudiments,”Roy Burns & Lew Malin Practical Method of Developing Finger Control,” The aforementioned Colin Bailey bass drum control book, “Rhythmic Patterns,” by Joe Cusatis, Ted Reed’s “Syncopation for the Modern Drummer,” Jim Chapin’s “Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer.,” and many others. I went through something like 30-35 books with Freddie including all four of the Gary Chaffee books.
Freddie was good enough to play with Bud Powell, Charlie Parker, and Buddy De Franco. I have photographs of him sitting in with the Buddy Rich band in the late 40s.
Neal’s email also mentioned that there is, in fact, one album available with Freddie Gruber in the drum chair. On the Spotlite label, the album by the Gene Roland Big Band featuring Charlie Parker is called “The Band That Never Was.” The back on the album jacket features band photos, one of which clearly shows a young Freddie Gruber on the drums.
Some sources incorrectly cite Tiny Kahn as the date drummer. Kahn did play with the Gene Roland Big Band, but other sources list Freddie Gruber among the musicians on this date.
Also, of interest, Neal Sausen said in his email, “Freddie showed and played for me independently released CDs of Freddie playing with Charlie Parker and others. Maybe these were not commercially released, but they were recorded and put on CDs. They sounded freaking amazing!”
I’m not sure who’s in possession of those CDs, but I know lots of drummers – maybe even some skeptics – would love to hear them.
Finally, Neal sent me photos of a 1952 Newsletter by the New York Chapter of the International Association of Modern Drummers. This group is new to me, but the members at this meeting – including Max Roach and Louie Bellson – were quite impressive. The meeting included solos by several members, including Freddie Gruber. Ray Starr’s report on Freddie’s solo echoes what Jim Chapin and Barry Ulanov said about Freddie’s drumming.
IAMD Newsletter Number 10, February 1952, Brooklyn, NY
MEETING IN MANHATTAN, by Ray Starr.
On December 3rd, the New York (Manhattan) Chapter held a meeting that was called together on rather short notice. The suddenness was due largely to the fact that Louie Bellson was in town at the time with the Duke Ellington band. The chairman for the evening was Charlie Perry, and others of the executive board who were present were: Max Roach, Sam Ulano, Phil Grant, Louie Bellson and myself. Three outstanding members present were Maurice Mark, Freddie Gruber and Danny of Manny’s Music Store.
Charlie called upon me to give the members present an idea of the difference between the American and the Swiss and French styles and techniques of drumming.
…Max Roach took over. Sitting behind a conventional drum setup, Max explained how he would play a solo divided into three distinct parts and then combine them and co-relate them.
Following this, Freddie Gruber was called upon to play, and did he play! He took easily a fifteen minute solo that had everything in it but the kitchen sink! He used crush rolls, various accentuations of press rolls, hand and foot co-ordination, two and four bar phrases, foot answering hand figures, machine gun-like single stroke rolls and right and left hand single stick rolls. Freddie’s phenomenal speed and accuracy with his right foot on the bass drum pedal brought forth some hearty applause and friendly comments.
Thank you, Neal Sausen for contacting me. And thank you for providing some great material to help set the record straight about Freddie Gruber as a drummer.