Friday, February 19, 2010

Going Back in Time: Videos of the Greats

One can grab a metronome, practice pad and head to the woodshed, as well as load up an iPod with the downloads I recommended in the three previous posts (hopefully both). However, reading a transcription from a book, while a precise way of communicating 'how to', is brought to life by actual video footage of some of the drummers who got us to where we are today. This post is going to focus on some videos I recommend. Each is a compilation of the work of many different drummers. At some later time I'll post on individuals, and the aggregate of the recommended videos is a panoramic view of the history of US drum kit playing.

To start off, there are three videos from Hudson Music that I have spent hours watching (many hours in fact.) In them are well known drummers who we remember today, as well as drummers who were well known in their era, but today are sadly forgotten. The videos are:

  1. Classic Jazz Drummers: Swing and Beyond-DVD - Highlights include films of the legendary Sid Catlett with Louis Armstrong, Ray Bauduc with Jack Teagarden, Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich with their own orchestras, Gus Johnson with the rarely-heard Count Basie small group, Joe Harris with the pioneering Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra, Panama Francis with Cab Calloway, Lionel Hampton, never-before-seen solo footage of Philly Joe Jones, Stan Levey with a small group, the groundbreaking bop of Kenny Clarke and many others.
  2. Classic Drum Solos and Drum Battles DVD - Sonny Payne, Rufus Jones, Buddy Rich, Sam Woodyard and Louie Bellson; and small group giants Art Blakey and Joe Morello. Drum battles include meetings between Gene Krupa and Cozy Cole, Buddy Rich and Ed Shaughnessy, Chico Hamilton, Gene Krupa and Lionel Hampton; Elvin Jones, Sunny Murray and Art Blakey; and a once-in-a-lifetime battle between Buddy Rich and Jerry Lewis.
  3. Classic Drum Solos & Drum Battles Volume 2 DVD - drum solos from legends like Buddy Rich, Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa, 'Papa” Jo Jones, Art Blakey, Shelly Manne, Sonny Payne, Sam Woodyard, Rufus 'Speedy” Jones, and others, spanning the years 1947 to 1989.

The format is both sparse and simple: a name and date are flashed onscreen, followed by a clip of the drummer, mainly in a musical context. The good news is you get to see these masters in action in typical musical settings and contexts; the bad news is you will not get much history or biographical information beyond the performance itself. Fortunately we have google and Drummerworld's page of drummers to use to drill down into the true history of these pioneers.

My personal favorite DVD set is Legends of Jazz Drumming, which is a two DVD set that is narrated by the late Louis Bellson, with additional commentary by Roy Haynes and Jack DeJohnette. Tiger Bill's excellent review covers this DVD so thoroughly and accurately that there is little more I can add without being redundant.

I liked New Orleans Drumming for a number of reasons, foremost among them is Earl Palmer is featured. Also, Herlin Riley's drumming and his explanation is like traveling back in time despite the fact that Herlin is relatively young. Moreover, the additional demonstrations and discussions by Johnny Vidacovich and Herman Ernest clearly show a direct link that can be traced back from modern New Orleans drummers to Louis Cottrell, Baby Dodds and the other jazz pioneers who literally started it all. Cottrell is credited with using the press roll as a time keeping element of early jazz grooves, and Baby Dodds is probably the most influential drum kit player in history (by no means the best, but he influenced just about everyone who probably carried that influence on to other generations of drummers.)

Last on my list is Steve Smith-Drumset Technique/History of the U.S. Beat DVD. Steve is not only an amazing drummer, but a respected historian of drum kit playing. This DVD set is in two parts, with the first DVD purely instructional (and darn good too!) The second DVD is the history lesson in which Steve imparts his vast and impressive knowledge of the pioneer drummers and the music they played. He demonstrates the evolution of American popular music from early ragtime to jazz to swing and beyond. He used period correct configurations used in each era, and adeptly and accurately demonstrated each style. I strongly recommend this DVD for both the history lessons (and demonstrations), as well as the instructional segments. My copy is a treasured part of my DVD library.

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