Saturday, March 6, 2010

Louis Cottrell, Sr. and Early Jazz

One of my fascinations is with the early jazz pioneers, especially the drummers whose influence lives in some form to this day. One such drummer is Louis Cottrell, Sr. who is credited with being the first to use the press roll to keep time.

Louis Cottrell, Senior with the Piron's New Orleans Orchestra circa 1923

Baby Dodds is among those who Cottrell influenced (and taught), and Dodds is considered by many to be the root of US drum kit playing. Interestingly, Cottrell was taught by a man named John Kornfeld (see page 2 of Jazz Archivist, May 1997), which probably took place around 1890. Given Cottrell's influence it is possible that he and not Dodds is the true root of US drum kit playing, although it was Dodds who directly influenced the likes of Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, etc.

Certainly the use of press rolls for time keeping was an innovation, and that technique deserves qualification. Undoubtedly, press rolls were used before Cottrell employed them, but prior to his influencing style, music that was to become jazz was rudimental and precise. Cottrell's press rolls incorporated ragging (syncopation), and was an innovation in the same way as the "push" beat on the bass drum beat, which also originated in early New Orleans music that would become jazz. The push was an extra note on the and of four. One needs to remember that the early New Orleans dance band musicians were also parade musicians and the early parade music was straight, military style. Also, during the formation of what was to become jazz there was a heavy influence of the most popular music of the period, ragtime, which was characterized by syncopated rhythms, as well as the influence of blues. This confluence is covered in Episode One, Gumbo, in Ken Burns' Jazz series.

Examples of Cottrell's playing can be heard on Piron's New Orleans Orchestra . Today the music and drumming sound outdated and corny. However, as subdued as Cottrell's drumming is on that album, you can hear his playing in drummers who he directly influenced, and especially in Happy Goldston's remarkable press rolls. Goldston, born in 1894 was a generation behind Cottrell, but still a part of very early jazz. Here are two brief sound clips of Goldston's press rolls: Li'l Liza Jane and When the Saints Go Marching In.

Putting Cottrell and his contributions and influence into proper context, though, requires an understanding of early jazz itself. A great starting point (if somewhat academic in tone) is How the Creole Band Came to Be By Lawrence Gushee and Harry Carr. This paper provides details on the social fabric in which early Jazz was born, and cites important musicians. Another paper by Lawrence Gushee that attempts to pinpoint the origins is 19th Century Origins of Jazz. Both papers are important to understanding Cottrell's influences. While Cottrell was taught by John Kornfeld, those lessons were probably limited to rudiments that Cottrell later adapted to developing a press roll that had the syncopation and groove necessary to be used for time keeping in the early music.

Additional material for those who are interested in the early forms of jazz, and New Orleans jazz in particular include: Notes from the recording New Orleans Jazz: The Flowering, which is a fascinating history in itself and can be used as a guide to searching for early recordings. An even better resource for seeking the early recordings, though, are A History of New Orleans Music in 100 Tracks - Part 1 and Part 2. This two-part article focuses on the recommended songs to seek out from the New Orleans musicians from 1848 on to fully understand the New Orleans contribution to jazz and the enduring influence of New Orleans musicians who added to it elsewhere.

Additional resources I recommend to anyone interested in the early days of jazz include Hear Me Talkin' to Ya: The Story of Jazz As Told by the Men Who Made It (you can read the first five chapters in An Online Story of Jazz in New Orleans, and two excellent books by Daniel Hardie: The Birth of Jazz: Reviving the Music of the Bolden Era, and the companion, Exploring Early Jazz: The Origins and Evolution of the New Orleans Style. I also recommend Jazz Greats of Old New Orleans, which is a 47 minute video of a television broadcast in 1958 that featured some of the early pioneers who were still alive. Finally, Engine Room: History of Jazz Drumming from Storyville to 52nd Street contains not only excellent examples of early jazz drumming on the first CD of the set, but the remaining three CDs show how jazz and jazz drumming continued to evolve from the influence of the early pioneers to the innovations of those who followed. This is definitely a must have collection for any drummer interested in jazz.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Jimmy Cobb

Thankfully not forgotten and still playing, Jimmy Cobb will forever be remembered from his amazing drum (and exquisite cymbal) work on Kind of Blue. However he has amassed a large discography since that seminal recording: Jimmy Cobb albums.

Insights into Jimmy surface during Marc Myers' four part interview with Jimmy (see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4). Also, more information is on Jimmy's web page that includes an extensive discography, his touring schedule (he may be 81, but he is an active 81),and other interesting information.

Back to Kind of Blue. Here is an excellent video on the making of the recording that anyone who loves the album, Jimmy, Miles or all of the above will appreciate:

Since Jimmy is inextricably tied to that one album, despite his many accomplishments in the half century after it was recorded, the following articles will probably be of interest: Ashley Kahn's interview in which he discusses his book, Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece . During the interview Kahn reveals many wonderful tidbits of information about the session, the musicians and himself that are fascinating. Kahn did a great article titled, Jimmy Cobb: The Reluctant Don that adds further insights.

Back to Jimmy - this brief interview conducted by WBGO's afternoon Jazz host Michael Bourne in March of 2005 is worth reading because it gives a glimpse into that Jimmy is doing today. Of course, his touring schedule is the most definitive way of keeping tabs.

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.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Remembering the Forgotten

This blog started life as a place to sell off gear, served its purpose, and only recently I decided to use it as a platform to share my passion for music from a drummer's perspective.

After reading the incredible blogs such as Michael Steinman's Jazz Lives, Steve Cerra's Jazz Profiles, Marc Myers' JazzWax, and Jon McCaslin's Four On The Floor it became apparent that there is not much I can add because those gentlemen provide some of the richest, in-depth content on the subject. My niche going forward is to ensure that some of the forgotten drummers are remembered, and there are many who were big names back in their day, but have been swept aside into obscurity.

In coming posts I am going to focus on Manzie Campbell, cited by Papa Jo Jones as the world's greatest drummer, and Louis Cottrell, sr. who not only influenced Baby Dodds, but all of Baby's influences as well. Louis may well be one of the most indirectly influential drummers in the history of US drum kit playing. And one of the most unknown.