Peart’s ‘Big Lesson’ About Understanding Jazz Drumming


Photo courtesy

SKF NOTE: Neil Peart‘s travelogues — books written about his travels touring with and without Rush — are always good reading. Neil writes well, and his travel books’ format are such that each chapter holds up on its own. When I have a finite amount of time to read, I often grab one of Neil’s books.

I’ve been reading Neil’s Far and Away: A Prize Every Time that way for awhile. I recommend the chapter, Drums of October, from that book as must reading for every drummer; certainly for every drummer feeling stuck in  rut, or feeling too old to try playing some new music.

In brief, in 2008 Neil decides to perform in concert with the Buddy Rich Big Band. He rehearses the chart he’s asked to play, Mexicali Nose. Neil’s onstage, the song gets underway, when, writes Neil:

…I discovered two things: I was too far away from the horns to hear them.., and, second and far worse, the band was playing a different arrangement from the one I had learned!

In the aftermath of that “nightmare,” Neil decides to play again with the Buddy Rich Big Band. But this time Neil turns first to Peter Erskine for drum lessons.

I’ll let you read the book chapter, but near the end, Neil says:

I already had the notion that I would want to continue studying with Peter, for I had learned one very big lesson: understanding more about jazz drumming is simply understanding more about drumming. That’s got to be good — even in the ‘October’ of my own years.

Yes, indeed.

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Shelly Manne: I’m Not Thinking Rhythms, I’m Thinking Melodies


SKF NOTE: Growing up, Down Beat magazine’s writers, editors, and reviewers were inspiration to this aspiring music journalist. They set the bar high in their knowledge of music, particularly jazz, in the maturity with which they interviewed musicians, in their choice of topics. Those DB writers and editors seemed never to shy away from the tough topics.

My appreciation for DB is ongoing as I read anew articles I missed the first time around, and re-read with deeper understanding, and better appreciation, articles and interviews I valued the first time I read them.

Shelly Manne’s excerpted comments here come from a 1968 drummers’ roundtable discussion, where DB asked drummers in New York City (Art Blakey, Tony Williams, Mel Lewis, Cozy Cole), and Hollywood (Shelly Manne, Nick Ceroli, Donald Dean, Mel Lee), and in Chicago (Elvin Jones, Joe Morello), the same basic questions. The final piece was edited so that readers had the impression all 10 drummers were in the same place at the same time.

Shelly’s comments started with his answer to this question: “How much do you practice and how; do you practice on the pad or the set? If you practice on both, how much do you practice on each?


Shelly Manne: I don’t think I’ve practiced two hours in 20 years. But it’s different with me than it is with a lot of younger guys because I’ve been playing practically every night for 20 years. If everybody had a chance to play constantly, I don’t think they would spend that much time practicing.

I believe a guy should practice enough to control his hands and be able to do certain things he wants to do with his hands, but I don’t believe he should practice to the point where the hands control his mind.That’s what happens with a lot of guys. Their hands start doing the thinking for them.

[A drummer’s] thinking should be a year ahead of the technique. That way you are controlling the hands from your head and your heart, and you’re making more music, I feel. It’s more spontaneous. It’s nothing that’s figured out in your living room.

Time can be learned, but swinging can’t be. It’s an emotion.

I’m not thiinking of rhythms anymore. I’m thinking in terms of certain melodies I hear. I’m trying to play a way now — I’m scuffling a little bit — but I can make plenty of complex rhythms come out by just thinking the way I’m thinking. I’m trying to will my hands to do what I hear in my head at that time.

I don’t know what’s going to come out rhythmically in the end, because I’m thinking about something else completely.

When I hear it back, if it’s being recorded, I don’t know what I play; I can’t even repeat it — ever. Thatto me is where I want to go, and I think it’s important.

Source: Down Beat, Drum Talk: Coast to Coast, March 26, 1968

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Drum Photos as Drum Lessons


SKF NOTE: A great 1968 photo of Buddy Rich. I’ve said it before, but photos like this one were drum lessons in themselves. Especially pre-internet and when opportunities to see Buddy and other great drummers live or on tv were rare.

How is Buddy holding the sticks in his hands? How has he positioned his drums and cymbals? Where is Buddy sitting in relation to his snare drum?

A photo like this would answer — and raise — many questions. And I remember positioning myself and my drums and cymbals like Buddy’s to see how I liked it. The horitzontal crash cymbals, the low ride cymbal, and the hi-hat cymbals the same height as the snare drum? None of that worked for me. So what? That’s how we learned.

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Jim Chapin on Freddie Gruber’s Drumming 1949-50 (Audio)

SKF NOTE: This recording, which I wasn’t sure I still had, is one of my favorite moments from preparing to write a profile of Freddie Guber. I came across an unmarked cassette this morning, inserted it into my tape player, and there was Jim Chapin describing Freddie Gruber’s drumming circa 1949.

I remember this conversation well, and Jim’s singing how 19-year old Freddie Gruber played drum solos in 1949-50 is amazing. Jim Chapin, one of the great drum authors/teachers was one of the few people alive who was familiar with Freddie some 40 years earlier.

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Living with Great Sounds of Unknown Drummers


Photo courtesy WNDU

SKF NOTE: There was a moment, after deciding in 1982, to write a History of Rock Drumming, I realized how huge a task was ahead of me. Much later, there was a moment I knew there probably would always be missing pieces of rock drumming history, blanks never filled in.

I remembered those moments this week listening back to, while digitizing, a few of my 1982 recorded backgrounder interviews with music industry people and musicians — like Henry Glover. And also, I remembered while reading this news story about drummer Billy “Stix” Nicks who, said tv station WNDU, “played the drums for Junior Walker and the All-Stars….”

Great, I thought. Billy “Sticks” Nicks’s name is new to me. One more piece of the Motown drummers’ puzzle?

I learned that Mr. Nicks and Jr. Walker played together in a local band. Jr. Walker went on to form his classic Jr. Walker and the All Stars with James Graves on drums.

According to Billy Nicks’s web site, “Nicks also played and recorded for the prestigious Motown/Soul record label with “Jr. Walker and The All Stars” for the 1965 LP release, “Roadrunner”, on songs: “How Sweet Is To Be Loved By You”, “Pucker Up Buttercup” and title track “Roadrunner”. Unfortunately, due to record company and production issues Nicks never received documented credits or royalties for the Motown “Roadrunner” release.

Searching a bit more, two web sources cite James Graves, now deceased, as the drummer on all the songs Mr. Nicks’s web site credits to him.

And so it goes, just as I remembered researching in 1982 and beyond. I still think it would be valuable to know the drummers on all recordings, but especially the classic recordings.

Yet as recently as this week I am reminded that with many recordings we may have to live with the great sounds of unknown drummers.

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Tony Williams Smiles (1983)


SKF NOTE: A favorite shot of Tony Williams.

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Shelly Manne: Musicians Have a Great Life


SKF NOTE: I came across Shelly Manne’s obituary a few days ago. His playing had a major impact on me — and I still get excited discovering Manne albums I missed, and Manne albums newly reissued, or available for the first time.

As with Shelly’s drumming — which I detailed on this blog in 2015 — even this obituary caused me to smile when I noticed the end photo of Shelly drumming behind a very young Michael Jackson with the Jackson 5.


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