Friday, March 12, 2010

Zutty Singleton: Big Sid Catlett's Mentor

In World's Greatest Drummers: My Short List I gave my opinion that Big Sid Catlett was the world's greatest drummer, second only to Chick Webb. It stands to reason that one would want to know who influenced Big Sid. Among his influences, Zutty Singleton stands out as Catlett's favorite.

Zutty is a link in that chain that goes back to [at least] Louis Cottrell, Sr., going through Baby Dodds via his influences, such as Tubby Hall, Andrew Hilaire, and others, and extends to this day. It is no mistake that Dodds, Singleton and Catlett all played for Louis Armstrong. Pops always had great drummers. Indeed, he needed them because his own sense of rhythm demanded that he be backed by only the best.

The contribution that Zutty made was to take Dodds' often busy and complex style, simplify it and straighten out some of Dodds' rough edges. That isn't to say that Dodds was a bad drummer. On the contrary, he would not have exerted such influence on everyone who heard him if that were the case, but Zutty's approach to drums was the bridge that crossed the chasm between the older, press roll-centric style and what was to become swing music. I had been listening to Zutty on various albums for years, mentally acknowledging him as a solid drummer. It wasn't until I heard him in his later years on Songs We Taught Your Mother that I started paying close attention. Particularly on the track in which he backed Lucille Hegamin on Saint Louis Blues. I have listened to so many variations of that standard over the years, each played a different way, but the rhythm Zutty brought to it was bedeviling to figure out. From that point on I became an avid Zutty Singleton fan, and [to me] it is clear why one of our greatest drummers, Big Sid Catlett, would practically idolize Zutty. And, like Big Sid, Zutty not only had the drum chair with the likes of Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet, but also was part of Bird's and Dizzy's rhythm section on occasion. That alone shows that, while Zutty was deeply rooted in New Orleans style drumming, he could also hold his own as a bebop drummer. One interesting piece of trivia is Zutty was one of the drummers in Art Kane's iconic Great Day in Harlem photo.

And the chain continues ...

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