Sunday, March 21, 2010

Dave Tough

Alcoholic ... intellectual ... one of the greatest drummers ever born. Those words sum up Dave Tough, and only scratch the surface when describing this complex man with God-given talent and a life cut short by his own vices.

I was planning to add to World's Greatest Drummers: My Short List by giving Dave Tough the number four slot. In researching material I immediately turned to my favorite resource, Drummin' Men: The Heartbeat of Jazz The Swing Years. This great book devotes 39 pages to Dave, which provided me with ample background. When I went looking for secondary material I stumbled across what I consider to be the definitive source of material about Dave, and there is little I can add to it: Steve Cerra's excellent article titled, Davy Tough: 1908 -1948.

Mr. Cerra's blog, Jazz Profiles, is one which I either frequently visit on purpose to catch up on what he's writing about, or is at the top of the list when I am researching some of my favorite drummers. His articles are well researched, and always provide his personal perspective. He truly gets inside the drummers or music about which he writes, and I have always come away with insights and facts that I would not have otherwise known.

Although I have little to add to Cerra's article or the excellent background material and personal anecdotes of some famous drummers and musicians contained in Drummin' Men: The Heartbeat of Jazz The Swing Years, I do have some personal perspectives to add regarding why Tough should be on the short list of the world's greatest drummers. First, the man could drive a band. Not just drive it, but swing it. His playing inspired his fellow musicians to perform at their best. In the video, Legends of Jazz Drumming, Louie Bellson related that one night while playing Apple Honey the saxophone player was so driven by Tough's groove that he played thirty choruses before he finally stopped, put his instrument down, and proclaimed he was in heaven. Few drummers can pull that off.

Another thing that draws me to Tough is he never took solos - he was focused on the groove and supporting the band. Woody Herman said it best:

A giant rhythm player! With the least amount of ‘chops,’ Dave inspired a whole big screamin’ band with his subtleties and strong feeling for time. And he was probably the most gentle, the kindest, one of the grooviest cats you’d ever want to know.
Thus Tough's approach to drumming has so influenced me that I consciously avoid fills unless they truly fit what the musicians are doing, and I eschew solos for the same reason. Not that I don't practice those things. I feel that I need to be prepared when they are called for, but I have learned to listen to what the musicians are doing and support them, in large part thanks to Dave Tough's playing as my imspiration.

The best way to understand what Tough did behind a band is to listen to him. I selected this performance because it is musically beautiful, and also because it will give you insights into Tough's playing. Notice that he in under the music and supporting each musician as they solo. His drumming stands out by not standing out. He was there to make those musicians play their best and to provide the pulse and groove to make the song sound the best:

Here is a rare clip as well:

Eccentric Rag-Condon
by boberwig

Loren Schoenberg's interview of Mel from 1989 is also invaluable to understanding Dave Tough as a musician:

Before closing this piece on who I consider to be the fourth greatest drummer ever born, I have a few recommendations for anyone who wants to learn more about the man or hear the music he played. First, do visit Steve Cerra's excellent article, Davy Tough: 1908 -1948. Second, if you want to study Tough's style listen carefully to Woody Herman's The V-Disc Years 1944-46, Vol. 1 & 2. You can also hear Dave Tough (and many more drummers) on the 4-CD set titled, Engine Room: History of Jazz Drumming.

1 comment:

Mike said...

I was looking into Dave's life and came across this material.
This is great, thanks!