Tuesday, March 2, 2010

In Search of Manzie Campbell

Probably the most under recognized drummer is Manzie Campbell. You're probably asking yourself, "Who?" Papa Jo Jones claimed that Manzie was the greatest drummer who ever lived - a pretty strong endorsement considering the drummers Papa Jo knew and saw. Papa Jo mentions Manzie not only in The Drums and in his oral history with Milt Hinton (see my entry on Jo Jones), but also in Burt Korall's Drummin' Men: The Heartbeat of Jazz: The Swing Years.

Sadly, aside from Papa Jo Jones' praise, Manzie is mainly known as both a stage actor and a comedian for the Silas Green Show. I thought I struck paydirt when I came across a Paul Motian interview in which he remembered Manzie Campbell as one of Fletcher Henderson's drummers, but further research revealed that Paul confused Manzie Campbell with Manzie Johnson.

Thus far I have been able to discover the following scant information. First, in Ragged but Right: Black Traveling Shows, “Coon Songs,” and the Dark Pathway to Blues and Jazz by Lynn Abbott and Doug Seroff, Manzie is mentioned on the following pages:

page 272:
Manzie Campbell had been the drummers' drummer of African American minstrelsy for more than a decade. With Rusco and Holland's Minstrels in 1903, he drew this endorsement: 'In street parades when Manzie Campbell...starts one of those long rolls on the snare drum and ends in rag-time to start a march, he never fails to have a crowd around him. Before the end of 1913, Joe White was pronounced "the king of the Southland since Manzie Campbell has stayed so long in Chicago..."

page 338:
...legendary drummer Manzie Campbell, who now seemed to be attracting more attention as a comedian...

Another mention of Manzie is in William Howland Kenney's book, Chicago Jazz: A Cultural History, 1904-1930 that indicates that Manzie played drums in a few Chicago venues between 1912 and 1914. Here is the quote from the book that pegs that period:
. . . Thomas McCain’s Pompeii buffet and cafe at 20-22 East 31st Street, at the 31st Street elevated station, and Dago and Russell’s Elmwood Cafe presented such leading musical entertainers as Tony Jackson, Ferd “Jelly Roll” Morton, drummer Manzie Campbell, and the highly regarded tenor vocalist and drummer Ollie Powers.

Other sources that mention Manzie Campbell are: Oscar Joseph Henry's oral history, which places him in the Al G. Fields show as both a drummer and a stage comedian, and as a comedian in an article by Frank Dumont, New York Clipper, March 27, 1915 titled, The Younger Generation in Minstrelsy and Reminiscences of the Past.

Sadly, one of the world's greatest drummers - Papa Jo Jones - cites Manzie Campbell as the greatest drummer, and this obscure man is better known as a comedian in minstrel shows. However, it is important to remember the obscure and forgotten giants such as Manzie because their influence on drummers, like Papa Jo Jones, was passed down to a later generation, and continues to be passed on. An example is Louis Bellson's statement while narrating Legends of Jazz Drumming that Jo Jones was one of three drummers who inspired him to take up drums. Of course Louis went on to inspire generations of drummers himself, but at least some of his amazing playing probably has a touch of Manzie Campbell via Papa Jo. As an aside, the other two drummers who were Bellson's influences and inspiration were Chick Webb and Big Sid Catlett. At some later date I will write about both of those greats.

For now, I would appreciate it if anyone has more information about Manzie Campbell, including photos, recordings (if any exist) and even anecdotes.

1 comment:

Jono said...

Nice blog! Will be checking out some other posts...