Saturday, February 27, 2010

Buddy Rich

Although I view myself as a jazz drummer, Buddy Rich is not a drummer who inspires or moves me. Chalk it up to personal taste. However, his influence on generations of drummers is undeniable, so I am including a brief piece on him, mainly because while searching other topics I came across some excellent material that should be shared.

Buddy Rich was a complex individual to say the least. He could be overbearing, scathing and profane He could also be generous and loyal to friends to a fault. Regardless of the person, his drum kit skills from a purely technical perspective are amazing.

His temper is well documented in the infamous bus tapes that - thanks to the web - have skewed how many view him as a person. A great article that balances this impression is Bill Milkowski's article, The Buddy Rich Tapes. On the other hand, Marc Myers's excellent interview of Bobby Shew shows Buddy in a different light - this excellent, three-part interview is at Bobby Shew on Buddy Rich (Part 1), Part 2, and Part 3.

A few other gems I have unearthed that will be of interest to Buddy fans are: Les Tompkins' 1980 interview and Buddy and Gene interview Metronome Magazine, March/April 1956. Interviewed by Willis Conover for Voice of America Radio. In all of the interviews, Buddy comes across as ... well, Buddy, making the bus tapes unsurprising. However, his generous side is amply shown by Don Sweeney's account of how he came to own one of Buddy's kits via Johnny Carson.

For those who are truly interested in Buddy, Mel Torme's Traps - The Drum Wonder: The Life of Buddy Rich gives a good, if not fawning, account. Mel, a pretty darn good drummer himself, was close to Buddy, so take that into account while reading the book. A more balanced view of Buddy is John Minahan's The Torment of Buddy Rich: A Biography. This book is, in my opinion, more objective than Mel's book, but both are valuable for the diehard Buddy Rich fan, as is a DVD documentary titled Buddy Rich Jazz Legend.

For performances I own (although don't often watch) Buddy Rich - At the Top is my favorite. This DVD has a great performance of West Side Story Suite, which is why I own it. It also has typical Buddy who plays way over the bar on many of the selections, which is why I am not a Buddy Rich fan. Still, the majority of drummers I have met love that kind of playing, so I have to strongly recommend the DVD. Another highly regarded video performance is Jazz Icons: Buddy Rich Live in '78, which contains a few solos that will leave you breathless. Two other DVDs that are worth a look - and both from the same concert series - are The Lost Tapes and Buddy Rich and His Band - Channel One Suite. Of the two I recommend Channel One Suite, but if you are a big fan, get both.

For audio CDs I think Very Alive at Ronnie Scott's is one of the better and representative choices to hear Buddy at his best. Of course, the seminal Rich Versus Roach is must have in my opinion (while I am not a Buddy fan, I definitely love Max Roach!) Better yet, spend a few hours browsing the catalog, Buddy Rich Albums on Amazon.

Here are a few of my favorite solos:

Friday, February 26, 2010

Papa Jo Jones

Papa Jo Jones is among my top three favorite drummers as well as [in my opinion] one of the top three greatest drummers ever born. Just to clarify, Buddy Rich is not in that short list.

First, since I first wrote this page a new book about Papa Jo Jones has been published and I highly recommend it: Rifftide: The Life and Opinions of Papa Jo Jones. In addition to the book, there are plenty of pages dedicated to this extraordinary man, but I have culled a few that I find particularly interesting.

First is an article by Chip Stern titled, Wilson Driver: Reflections Of An Urban Griot. Mr. Driver was Jo Jones' early mentor, but has [unfortunately] faded into obscurity. Steve Cerra has an excellent page devoted to Papa Jo on his blog Indeed, Steve's blog, Jazz Profiles, is one of the best jazz drummer blogs on the web! Another excellent jazz-oriented blog with a well written personal account of Jo Jones is a the brainchild of Michael Steinman whose Smiling Jo Jones fills in more anecdotal information. However, Jo Jones is best told by Jo Jones. Danny Britt's brief article on THE DRUMS by Jo Jones, an old LP recording that is out of print, is a great synopsis. Another excellent review of this album is in the October 1976 issue of Gramophone (page 148). Here is the album in its entirety. Note that the sound quality is poor and horribly so if you are listening through high-end speakers or headphones. It will give you an idea about what is on the album, which can be purchased in much higher quality from Amazon. Think of the files here as a preview under the aegis of Fair Use. To truly enjoy this work purchase the copy I referenced, which will provide superior sound quality.

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Taking it ever further, there is a long interview circa 1973 in which the late, great bassist Milt Hinton interviews Papa Jo. This interview wanders and is obviously rough around the edges, but is priceless as an oral history. You will hear Manzie Campbell mentioned on both pieces - an unknown who Papa Jo considered to be the world's greatest drummer. The scant information on Mr. Campbell is focused on Silas Green's shows, and all of the information points to Manzie as a comic and stage actor in the shows. One must ponder the injustice of history when one of the greatest drummers cites someone even greater and the man is forgotten. Here is the oral history conducted by Milt Hinton who keeps Papa Jo moving forward in his recollections:
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A few albums that I recommend are:
Some clips:

More videos of Papa Jo are on Jon McCaslin's Four On The Floor blog entry titled, Jo Jones: Born to Swing.

UPDATE (27 Feb 2010) Thank you Michael Steinman for a flattering article about this post!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Earl Palmer

In my 19 February post, Recommended for your iPod/MP3 player - Part 3 I devoted a paragraph to the late and very influential Earl Palmer. This video encapsulates who Earl was and recounts his many accomplishments and contributions to music and drumming.

Earl Palmer Bio - the most recorded drummer in history, with Mitch Woods. from Jeff Roth on Vimeo.

Jazz : A Film By Ken Burns

I have Jazz : A Film By Ken Burns and have watched the entire set over five times. Can't get enough of it. If ever you wanted to understand jazz, or perhaps gain an appreciation for artists you may have not particularly cared for in the past, I cannot recommend this set highly enough. Case in point - I was never a particularly big fan of Billie Holiday and rarely paid attention to Lester Young. However, after watching and listening to the synergy between the two I have become a big fan of any recording where the two are on the same song. I also have a deeper understanding and appreciation of Louis Armstrong's genius. There is the controversial Disc 10 that has earned the set scathing comments and reviews, but that - in my opinion - does not diminish the value of this treasure. The many hours of performance clips, narration and the social and historical context in which this music was born and grew up will give anyone a different perspective and appreciation of the music and those who created it.

A good critical review by Steven F. Pond will show the degree of controversy I discussed above. Another critique by Chris Kelsey and a truly tongue-in-cheek piece by Gerry Hemingway titled, Skunkbucket LeFunke.

If you are loath to spend the money on Jazz, but want to take a trip down memory lane, then these clips documenting Chicago Jazz (circa 1958) will provide a taste of history of a specific period and the musicians who made that period golden.

(this one says part 3, when it's really part 2)

(the real part 3)

Buy This DVD and Watch it Instantly

Watch the Video On Demand version on your PC, Mac, compatible TV or compatible device at no charge when you buy this DVD season from

Some of my drum idols - Part 3

Jeff Hamilton (a modern brushmaster). He is Diana Krall's first call drummer, and a drummer for whom I have the utmost admiration:

Gus Johnson (with Basie - also, smokin', is Freddie Greene and Walter Page locked in towards the end)

The focus in this clip is Basie's great rhythm guitarist Freddie Green. However, the musical and performance value are the beautiful interplay among Green, Sonny Payne on drums, Basie and bass player Norman Keenan. Payne's brushwork (and theatrics)are amazing. Performed in 1968; title: "I Don't Know".

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Some of my drum idols - Part 2

Here is Part 2, with more of my influences and idols.

The subtle, tasteful playing of Max Roach

Frankie Dunlop with Monk

Philly Joe

Ray Bauduc

Ed Thigpen (one of the world's greatest brushmasters)

Some of my drum idols - Part 1

The playing starts around 1:06. Jo Jones' brushwork here is simply amazing. He practically invented brush playing, and is also known as Mr. Hi-Hat (he took that to an art form in the 1930s.)

One more, showing his absolute skill with both hands and sticks. His timing and musicality - not to mention relaxed playing - are reasons why he is one of my favorites:

Joe Morello is no slouch either :)

More to come ...

Baby Dodds - the root of our drumming

Dodds was probably the most influential drummer in history. He certainly wasn't the best; in fact, his playing is considered rough by today's standards. However, he had a profound influence on drummers who saw him, and, who in turn, had a profound influence on drummers to this day. To name a few: Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich and Louis Bellson have all cited Baby Dodds as a major influence. It goes without saying that Krupa and Rich in particular remain both well known to this day, and very influential as well.

While his name is recognizable by many today, and he is in the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame, few people are familiar with his biography or the extensive discography that define his career. I have attempted to put together some background material on Baby Dodds to keep his name alive. Among the list of resources, there is a lot of redundancy, but each resource contains strands of information that are unique and can be woven into a whole picture.

The entry in is a brief sketch that does cite some of Dodd's influences and contemporaries. John Petters' page on Dodds is rich with links to recordings and other information. More about Petters later; however, suffice to say that Petters is someone who I consider to be an expert on Dodds, and his admiration for him shows. Bob Koester's essay on meeting Dodds adds anecdotal information to the picture. Beyond that, the essay does not contain information otherwise known. Bill Russel and Chip Stern have a wonderful transcription of an interview titled, Baby Talk: Playing for the Benefit of the Band that is revealing. Baby's's bio isn't particularly rich in detail, but does contain a comprehensive discography that is worth checking out. A review of Dodds' Talking and Drum Solos on All About Jazz is an excellent discussion of a recording Baby made titled, Talking and Drum Solos. I also highly recommend the book, The Baby Dodds Story Edition: As Told to Larry Gara , which is a rewrite of the 1992 edition. William Howland Kenney's Jazz On The River covers the riverboat era that launched Louis Armstrong's, Baby's and countless other early careers. There is an excellent interview with the author that discusses the book and the era in depth. Finally, I have highlighted Louis Cottrell, Sr. in a subsequent post that is interesting because Louis was one of Baby's teachers.

Other material that delves into Dodds' background (or puts it into context), as well as allows you to hear the man himself, includes:
Back to John Petters, mentioned above. Here are a few videos he has put together that demonstrate Baby's playing style:

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

In Memory of Bruce Felter Feb. 23, 1947 - Dec. 20, 2007

I want to take a moment to remember someone very special. The memory is of Bruce Felter, Feb. 23, 1947 - Dec. 20, 2007.

Bruce was many things: a Rogers collector of some renown (Rob Cook devoted a few pages to his collection in The Rogers Book, and an incredible drummer who can be heard on Cathy Sings (his wife is the vocalist on this album.) Bruce's brush playing on the album, in particular, is inspiring to me.

However, Bruce was much more than a drum collector or even a drummer: he was one of those rare spirits who went out of his way to provide advice and guidance to anyone, and who was, well, nice. His [too short] life touched a lot of people, especially those who got to know him on Drum Forum Dot Org, a.k.a. DFO, where Bruce went under the username of Longroll. Do a search of DFO and you will see more than one thread that was a tribute to Bruce's memory, but more importantly, the posts by Bruce himself where his eagerness to impart knowledge and help is manifestly evident.

Here are a few pictures of Bruce and a link to a site in his memory. I, for one, was deeply touched by his approach to life and want to do my part in keeping his memory alive.

In Memoriam: Bruce Wayne Felter.