Gravatt – If I Could Describe How I Played Drums

Eric Gravatt with Weather Report circa 1972.

“Describing music is very difficult. Eric Gravatt used to say that if he could describe how he played drums, he wouldn’t need to play them.”

Source: The Wayne Shorter Interview, by Scott Yanow, Down Beat, April 1988

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Great Jazz Drummers of 1980s – Would I Change My Mind?

Photo courtesy

SKF NOTE: Somewhere 1980-1983, when I was on staff at Modern Drummer, I received a call from author Burt Korall. Mr. Korall was among the writers I absorbed in Down Beat magazine and jazz album liner notes.

Getting phone calls at MD from “my teachers,” which happened only now and then, was always an exciting surprise.

Mr. Korall was calling, he said, to gather my opinion for a jazz drumming history book he was writing. Who did I think history would consider the great jazz drummers of the 1980s? That was the gist of Korall’s question.

There was no easy definition for jazz drumming in the early 1980s. Was it the jazz fusion of Weather Report and Return to Forever? Was it Creed Taylor’s successful CTI label music? Or was it the more all-inclusive-but-always-looking-ahead music of, say, Jack DeJohnette’s bands on ECM records?

Finally, I told Burt Korall I thought history would consider Jack DeJohnette a great jazz drummer of the 1980s. Other great jazz drummers of the 1980s were still unknown, I said. Had Korall asked me his question a year or so earlier, I would have still included DeJohnette, and there would have been obvious other drummers to include. Like Steve Gadd.

But when Burt Korall asked me his question, most of Steve Gadd’s playing had shifted to CTI and pop records like Rickie Lee Jones’s “Chuck E’s in Love.” Gadd’s drumming was phenomenal – but would history think of it as jazz drumming? I didn’t think so.

Of course, DeJohnette had been playing great jazz drums since the 1960s. But at the time, it was my impression that Jack’s playing on his “Directions” and “Gateway” ECM band recordings would stand the test of time and be viewed by historians as among the great jazz drumming of the 1980s – even though the albums were released in the mid- to late-1970s.

If I could turn back time would I change my answer to Burt Korall’s question? No.

Korall’s history books, thankfully, were published. But years after our phone conversation. “Drummin’ Men: The Heartbeat of Jazz, The Swing Years,” was published 1990, and “Drummin’ Men–The Heartbeat of Jazz: The Bebop Years” came out in 2004.

Both excellent books that sit proudly on my bookshelf.

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Tony Williams – M-O-P

SKF NOTE: Here’s a Tony Williams story told by bassist Ron Carter in the liner notes to the newly released album, Roy Hargrove-Mulgrew Miller: In Harmony, by Resonance Records. It’s a splendid album of high level trumpet and piano music by two exceptional players. Straight, no chaser.

“Mulgrew (Miller) was with Tony Williams’s band for a while. I knew that band very well and I made records with them. Mulgrew and I would exchange Tony Williams stories.

“One of his great stories about Tony Williams was that every now and then when Tony would get to the microphone and announce, he would look over the band and say, ‘mop’ (M-O-P).

“When Tony said that, the band knew that Tony knew he had played some exceptional music that night.”

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Rich, Krupa -‘Evolution’ – Essential Listening (1962)

SKF NOTE: Thank you to Verve records for making available Burnin’ Beat, a 1962 studio date wih Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa. After finding this album as a vinyl cut-out in the 1970s – it had a significant impact on my drumming.

Listening again in 2021, some of my initial awe seems misplaced. Some of my initial awe. Not, by any means, all of it. This track, Evolution, remains a true gem. I would go so far as to call essential listening for drummers.

For my money, although Krupa and Rich have their drums, especially their snare drums, tuned very different — I love the sound of both drum sets. Beautiful open sounding. Are we hearing calf heads? Plastic heads? A combination of both? I don’t know.

Buddy’s snare is so crisp and tight. Sounds like he borrowed Roy Haynes’s snare!

Lots of swinging, great drumming here. Still a keeper.

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Bass Drums – Gary Chester Asks, Neil Peart Answers

SKF NOTE: For years now I’ve had on a hard drive a digitized version of one of my Neil Peart interviews. The sound volume of the initial tape transfer was very low. Consequently I’ve never been able to use it.

On a related topic: I sent Gary’s daughter, Kat, an email on June 29 of this year. I remembered my last meeting with her dad, Gary Chester, and I wrote her about it. “The last time I saw Gary we were in Suffern, NY. He asked me to ask Neil Peart if Neil played heels down or toes down,” I said.

Kat replied the next day. “That’s funny. And did you? A student posted on FB he was in his lesson once and neil called and this student said he heard dad and neil talking. I wasn’t aware they knew each other. We’re you?”

“Yes, I did ask Neil,” I wrote back to Kat, same day. “He [Neil] said he plays toes down, to which your dad said, ‘I knew it.’ No, I didn’t know if Gary and Neil knew each other. It’s possible, at Gary’s request, I gave Neil Gary’s phone number. Or Neil may have gotten the number elsewhere. But that’s just my educated guess.”

Back to my low volume digitized Neil interview. I came across it yesterday while transferring photos to an external hard drive from my laptop. On a whim I opened the Side B wav file using WavePad Masters Edition audio app. Low and behold! I was able to amplify the sound and remove some its background noise.

I placed my cursor on a section of the interview and, no kidding, it was Neil answering what sounded like Gary Chester’s bass drum questions. I scrolled back a bit and found me actually asking Gary’s question. Enjoy!

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