Archive for drums

The Versatile Four

Posted in History, Jazz with tags , , , , , on July 14, 2017 by telescoper

I’ve posted a few examples of Jazz drummers recently, so I thought you might be interested in this, a rare recording of performance from the (pre-Jazz) Ragtime era that provides a good example of where  Jazz drumming came from. This track was recorded in London way back in 1916 and it’s remarkable for the clarity with which you can hear the drums, which in those days usually proved very difficult to capture.  The tune, Down Home Rag (written by Wilbur C. Sweatman) was a big hit at the time and remains in the traditional jazz repertoire to this day. It’s played by The Versatile Four an almost legendary ragtime band that I know very little about other than the personnel: Tony Tuck (banjo; born 1879 Virginia); Charles W. Mills (piano; born 1883 Illinois); Gus Haston (banjo, vocals; born 1880 Missouri); and  Charlie Johnson (drums; born 1885 Kentucky). I’m not sure who it is who blows the whistle, but it may well be the drummer.

Charlie Johnson’s playing of the drums may sound very old-fashioned and a bit staff to ears accustomed to the swinging style of the jazz era, and he no doubt used a very crude kit, but this recording shows what an absolutely superb musician he was. You can also clearly hear the influence of the sort of drum patterns used by military marching bands. As well being an interesting piece from the point of view of music history, the drummer suffuses this high-energy performance with a sense of knockabout fun that is guaranteed to bring a smile to even the most crabbed face!

 

 

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Gene Krupa and Benny Goodman in Chicago

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , on May 10, 2017 by telescoper

Following up the post I did last week about Joe Morello which proved very popular, here is another about a drummer whose name came up in the discussion following that item, Gene Krupa.

Gene Krupa didn’t exactly invent the image of the drummer as a madman who sat at the back of the band, but he certainly cultivated it. He may sometimes have lacked subtlety in his playing, but he always injected a huge amount of energy into a performance whether in a small group (as here) or behind a big band.

His extrovert personality proved an excellent complement to the rather introverted bandleader Benny Goodman which, together with his undoubted technical ability, led to them having a very long working relationship. That said, Gene Krupa did leave the Goodman Orchestra in 1938 reportedly because Benny Goodman didn’t his drummer’s tendency to hog the limelight, insisting on taking a drum solo in just about every number. They did continue to work together for many years afterwards, however, as this clip demonstrates.

Many people credit Gene Krupa for basically inventing the modern drum kit and was certainly one of the first drummers in Jazz to be well known as a soloist and, indeed, the first to become a nationwide celebrity. He also inspired subsequent generations of drummers: Keith Moon of The Who was an admirer of Gene Krupa and I was told some years ago that Krupa also provided the inspiration for `Animal’, the drummer in the Muppet Show band.

People don’t generally realize what a smash hit Benny Goodman’s band was in the pre-War years – their fame was exactly on the scale of the `Beatlemania’ of a few decades later.

My Dad taught himself to play the drums using a book called The Gene Krupa Drum Method. I found his (very old and battered) copy of it among his personal effects after he died almost a decade ago and gave it – along with his drums, sticks, brushes, etc – to a local school. One thing that came from learning from a book was that he learnt to read drum music very well, which helped him get jobs with various dance bands. Few Jazz drummers of his generation could read music.

This performance, dating from the 1960s, represents a kind of reunion the three members of Benny Goodman’s famous trio of the 1930s (Goodman, Krupa and Teddy Wilson), along with bassist George Duvivier. I never really understood how that original trio managed to get away without having a bass player, but it was hugely popular and made a number of terrific records.

There’s a (somewhat rambling) verbal introduction by Benny Goodman, so I’ll restrict myself to a couple of observations. One is that Gene Krupa (who is clearly enjoying himself in this clip – watch him at about 3:07!) shows off the `trad’ grip very effectively. The other is that if you look closely at Teddy Wilson’s right hand you can see that he doesn’t have the use of his index finger, which he was unable to unbend. I believe that came about as the aftermath of a stroke and it caused him a lot of problems in later life although he carried on playing well into the 1980s. Anyway, he still plays very nicely, as do they all. Enjoy!

A Joe Morello Drum Master Class

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on April 28, 2017 by telescoper

After a busy morning, I reckon it’s time for a pause and a quick blog post. I stumbled across this clip of a great drum solo a while ago and immediately bookmarked it for future posting. As happens most times I do that I then forgot about it, only finding it again right now so I thought I’d post it before I forget again.

This is the great Joe Morello at the very peak of his prowess in 1964, with the Dave Brubeck Quartet with whom he recorded over 60 albums. That band pioneered the use of unusual time signatures in jazz, such as 3/4, 7/4, 13/4, 9/8 and most famously in their big hit Take Five which is in 5/4 time throughout; they recorded a number of other tracks in which the time signature shifts backwards and forwards between, e.g., 7/4 and the standard 4/4.

A few points struck me watching this clip. The first is that it’s a great example of the use of the ‘trad’ grip which is with the left hand under the stick, passing between the thumb and index finger and between the second and third fingers, thusly:

The right stick is usually held with an overhand grip. Most jazz drummers (whether they play ‘trad’ jazz or not) use this grip. Most rock drummers on the other hand use a ‘balanced’ grip in which both sticks are held with an overhand grip. You might think holding the left-hand and right-hand sticks the same way is the obvious thing to do, but do bear in mind that people aren’t left-right symmetric and neither are drum kits so it’s really not obvious at all!

The trad grip looks a bit unnatural when you first see it, but it does have an advantage for many of the patterns often used  in jazz. Once you’ve mastered the skill, a slight rotation of the wrist and subtle use of the fingers makes some difficult techniques (e.g. rolls) much easier to do rapidly with this grip than with the balanced grip. I’m not claiming to be a drummer when I say all this, but my Dad was and he did teach me the rudiments. In fact, he thought that drummers who used the balanced grip weren’t proper drummers at all!

(I’ll no doubt get a bunch of angry comments from rock drummers now, but what the hell…)

Anyway you can see Joe Morello using the trad grip to great effect in this clip, in which he displays astonishing speed, accuracy and control. The way he builds that single-stroke roll from about 2:28 is absolutely astonishing. In fact he’s so much in command throughout his solo, that he even has time to adjust his spectacles and move his bass drum a bit closer! Jazz musicians used to joke that atomic clocks could be set to Joe Morello, as he kept time so accurately, but as you can see in this clip he did so much more than beat out a rhythm. It’s only about 3 minutes long but this solo really is a master class.

Joe Morello was never a ‘showy’ musician. He never adopted the popular image of the drummer as the madman who sat at the back of the band that was cultivated by the likes of Gene Krupa in the jazz world and later spread into rock’n’roll. Bespectacled and wearing a suit and tie he looks a bit like a bank clerk, but boy could he play! The expression on Dave Brubeck’s face tells you that he knew he was very lucky to have Joe Morello in his band.

 

 

Ba-dum Ching!

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on May 15, 2011 by telescoper

One of the good things about having a blog is the chance to bore the entire internet with your own peculiar obsessions. As regular readers of In the Dark will be aware, one of my fascinations is the origin and evolution of words and phrases. This morning I had an interesting exchange on Twitter with neuroscientist and comedian extraordinaire Dean Burnett, which revolved around the word “rimshot”…and a similar word with quite different meaning which I won’t repeat in polite company.

Ever wondered what the name is for  the (often ironic) drum effect often used in cabaret or night club acts to puncuate a joke, like this?

Well, the answer is “rimshot”.

Or at least that’s the word that’s pretty universally used by comedians.

Curiously, though, if you are a percussionist rather than a comedian then a rimshot is something quite different. My father was a drummer so I had a lot of relevant terminology (flams, paradiddles, chokes, you name it) drummed into me when I was a kid. Technically, in fact, a rimshot is a single sound created by hitting the head of the drum and the rim at the same time with a drumstick. It’s an effect probably used more frequently in jazz than in other forms of music, and a good example can be heard on Miles Davis classic Summertime on which the excellent Philly Joe Jones applies a rimshot to every 4th beat of the bar. The clicking sound is something similar to that produced by claves. Nothing much to do with the word as used by comedians, then…

The word used by drummers for what comedians call a rimshot  is actually a sting. That’s certainly what my Dad always called it anyway. He often had to play in Working Mens’ Clubs and didn’t really like being on with comedians, most of whom were terrible and also told extremely blue jokes. In fact, I’m pretty sure he only ever used a sting in the ironic sense, when the gag was exceptionally poor.

There are many possible variants of the sting but the basic “ba-doom ching” is this:

which involves a tom-tom, closely followed by a kick on the bass drum, then a short pause followed by the bass drum and snare played together at the same time as a choked cymbal crash. Some stings are more elaborate than this, and a sting can indeed involve a rimshot, but most I’ve heard don’t.

Of course it’s not at all unusual for one word to have different meanings in different fields, so I’m not arguing that “rimshot” is wrong, but it’s interesting (at least to me) to wonder how when and why this divergence of meaning happened..

Incidentally, at the risk of boring you all even further, I’d add that the comedian’s rimshot has also evolved via a metonymic shift to refer not only to the sound the drummer makes but also to the joke that provoked it. In other words, an exceptionally good (or, more likely, bad)  gag is often itself referred to as a rimshot.

And with that, my time’s up. You’ve been a lovely audience. Thank you, and goodnight.

Ba-Dum Ching!

P.S. If you’re ever in need of a rimjob rimshot, you can get one here.

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