CQ interrupts ugly politics to bring you an abridged history of American beauty and freedom.
When even the casual jazz fan hears the first few notes of say, A Love Supreme, they recognize the voice of sax player John Coltrane. Singular tones, rhythms and breath speak through his horn. Though seldom as recognized as horn players, drummers speak just as individually. Take as an example the great American Elvin Jones, famed as John Coltrane's drummer. Elvin, who died last May may have been most important drummer of his generation, but was certainly the most recognizable. Listen with an ear to Elvin's triplets and you will never again mistake him for another drummer.
Yet of jazz drummers there have been no dearth. Taking his cues from Big Band drummers Papa Jo Jones of the Count Basie Band and Big Sid Catlett, whose early years were spent with Louis Armstrong, Kenny Clarke ushered in the modern era's more open and free approach to jazz drums. Before Klook, as Clarke was known, the right hand (for right-handed drummers) kept time (ching-ching-a-ching) on the high hat, crossing over the left hand, which played the snare drum. Klook liberated drummers by moving that right hand beat to the ride cymbal, uncrossing the hands. (Hi-hats, the double cymbals with a foot pedal to open and close them, stand to the left of the snare. Ride cymbals, single, usually larger and more sonorous, stand to the right of the bass drum or floor tom.)
At the same time, Klook started adding accents, or 'bombs' as they are known, in among the traditional four beats to a rhythm on the base drum (1-2-3-4) which was the power behind Big Band era dance music. These two innovations begat coordinated independence, so that drummers could now used each limb to create different or poly-rhythms. When drummers began to keep time on the ride cymbal, the bass player couldnt just continue to play the root and the fifth; the piano couldnt just play stride. They too had to use space and open chords and BeBop was born.
Taking his cue from Kenny Clarke, Max Roach became the dean of the modern school of drumming and the first to approach drums as a solo instrument. He played solos as if they were compositions, as statements. Max brought the drums right up there with the horn players.
Art Blakey was the first to reinvestigate African rhythms. Soon Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo started Afro-Cuban Jazz and Latin Jazz. Then came Roy Haynes and Philly Joe Jones, but the King of the Pride lineage more or less travels directly from Jo Jones to Max Roach to Elvin Jones, because Elvin was the first to open up jazz drumming and push polyrhythms.
In the sixties drummers such as Pete La Roca, Tony Williams, Joe Chambers, Jack de Johnette, Billy Hart, Ed Blackwell, Billy Higgins, Barry Altshul, Dannie Richmond, Freddy Waits and Charli Persip came into their own; but these drummers played extensions of the modern style that came from Max, Elvin and Roy. And yet...we still can't decide who instill us with more joy: Elvin or Papa Jo.
Pictures cribbed from drummerworld.com and rhythmweb.com