Drums: Pass It On

SKF NOTE: During the Moses Brown School’s “Creative Conversation” with Chick Corea and Steve Gadd, an audience member asks about their early influences. Chick asks the questioner if she plays an instrument. She tells him she is primarily a drummer. Chick, in answering her question, names for the audience member, drummers who influenced him early on: Elvin Jones, Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, Max Roach, Tony Williams.

Steve Gadd starts off naming Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Louis Bellson. He then says Chick’s list of early influential drummers came later.

Chick asks the audience member if she is familiar with any of the drummers he and Steve named. Surprisingly, she answers no. One drummer she likes, she says, is Ginger Baker.

After digging deeper into Moses Brown School, I am relieved to know it is a K-12 prep school, not a college or university. I expect college music/percussion students to be familiar with at least some of the drummers Corea and Gadd mentioned. High school students? Maybe not as much.

Thinking back to 1972, I was 20 years old during my formative time as a sales clerk at Sam Goody’s music store. I learned about plenty of jazz drummers listening to cheap LP cut-outs, and through conversations with fellow employees.

But, I’m sure before day one at Goody’s I was familiar with Krupa, Rich, Bellson, and Max Roach. Maybe Elvin. My first time hearing Elvin was on a mono version of John Coltrane’s Africa Brass album, which I’m reasonably certain I bought before I worked at Goody’s. I remember being impressed with Elvin’s press rolls and the beautiful recorded sounded of his drums and cymbals on Africa Brass.

I also remember at Sam Goody’s, after reading the liner notes and questioning jazz-head coworkers, before buying the Elvin Jones Trio’s Puttin’ It Together album. Hearing that trio album, not knowing what I was hearing, I concluded Elvin was flailing around his drums making noise. And it didn’t matter what Elvin was playing as long as he ended his noise making on time.

I had a lot to learn about jazz drummers.

I’m never surprised at non-musicians unfamiliarity with specific drummers. But I am often surprised at musicians’, especially drummers, unawareness of specific drummers. Especially the historical drummers like those mentioned by Steve Gadd and Chick Corea. Recognizing all aspiring drummers are on individual paths, I would love to see as a standard part of every drum teacher’s and school percussion curriculum, an introduction to the great jazz drummers.

It could be a system as basic as handing a student at each lesson an anonymous MP3 track at the end of each lesson. For example, give a student a single MP3 of Max Roach’s “For Big Sid,” or Steve Gadd’s “St. Thomas” from the Chuck Mangione Alive! Album. There are tons of great tracks from all eras. Ask the student to listen. That’s all. Just listen.

Ideally, the listening will prompt a discussion or a hunger to hear and learn more.

But that won’t happen if those of us familiar with our great drumming heritage don’t share it.

About Scott K Fish

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