it does seem sometimes as though individual musicians in a big band get diminished by the overall picture. IF you look at typical big band, the drummer is not the focal point. But without the drummer, the band would have no beat - little pizzaz - not much oomph.
In a marching band the drums set the pace and become "showcase" elements. Those Scotch drummers and base drummers who do fancy things with their sticks - you've seen them. But the swing bands and today's stage bands, whatever the type of music, don't always give the drummer a "break" to show what they can do. And to many people, those "drum breaks" (where only the drummer is performing on his whole kit) sound like a lot of noise. The next time you have a chance to hear and observe a drummer taking his 8 bars, listen carefully. There are tones and sounds of as many as four side drums of various sizes, and cymbals and wood blocks, and that base giving it all depth. Then if there is time, or if you can multi-task, watch the hands and feet, the body and the face. It takes a lot of stamina and strength; and real talent; not to mention emotion. Then if you are listening to a symphony orchestra, pay attention to the big copper timpani in the back. IF you concentrate your listening, it is possible to hear them very clearly. They are tuned for different pitches - yes they are tuned and the tuning is very important to get the varied sounds to match the rest of the orchestra.
SO - today I am thinking about drummers. The ones who came to my mind immediately were Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. Drummers I admired. I wanted to find out who the drummers of note are today and only found one reference that impressed me. Now don't go all nuts over that - you may know a wonderful drummer in a great band, but I only found one that struck me as outstanding.
Gene Krupa: Born in Chicago in 1909, Gene was the youngest of nine children. His father died when Gene was very young; his mother worked as a milliner to support the family. He brother Pete got a job at Brown Music Company and Gene, age 11, was hired as a chore boy. He had started playing sax in grade school, but took up drums also at age 11.
Big changes for him at that point. He said he used to look through instrument catalogs, he didn't care what the instrument was, he wanted to own one. Drums were the cheapest - a Japanese kit for "sixteen beans." A big bass, a snare, wood block and brass cymbal.
HIs religious parents had been grooming Gene for the priesthood, enrolling him in parochial schools. When he entered high school he connected with other musicians, and began formal drum studies. He was advised to join the musicians' union. The union official said, "Make roll." Gene did, and the man said, " That's it. Give us $50. O.K. You're in."
Big influences in Gene's development as a first class drummer were: Zutty Singleton, a New Orleans who, after serving in the US Navy in WWI, played with such well known bands as Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, Fats Waller and Jelly Roll Morton. He had a stroke and died in 1970 in New York City. <<<>>> Tubby Hall, also from Louisiana, played in many marching bands but moved to Chicago at the age of 22. He joined the US Army for two years, and then returned to pursue his music career. He was famous for being able to work with all parts of the bands to get the best effects, and for his expertise in using sticks and brushes, woodblocks, cymbals and rims. Hall played with Armstrong, and worked with Armstrong in the Betty Boop movies. Both Hall and Armstrong got their faces transposed with those of racially stereotyped "jungle natives in the cartoon. :::
NOW, back to Krupa. Gene was behind the development of the modern drum kit. He convinced the Slingerland company to make tunable tom-toms. And he was consulted by Zildjian to help develop the modern cymbal kit. Krupa always backed both products.
He was the first drummer to record using a bass drum and tom-toms. It was for Okeh records in Chicago. Rockwell, of Okeh Records said he was afraid those drums "would knock the needle off the wax and into the street." Glen Miller, Benny Goodman and Krupa were part of the pit band for Gershwin's "Strike Up The Band." He played with Russ Columbo, then Benny Goodman. Goodman put together a group with Krupa on drums with the promise that he would give Krupa a chance to showcase his talent at a performance at Carnegie Hall. Gene's performance on "SingSingSing" has been acclaimed as the first extended drum solo in Jazz. After that, audiences were demanding to hear more of Krupa; Goodman didn't want to lose his spotlight to a sideman, and Gene left in 1938. He formed his own orchestra, and was an instant hit. He hired on black musicians determined to bring them into the jazz scene and worked to see that they were treated fairly. He challenged a restaurant owner who refused to serve trumpeter Roy Eldridge with the rest of the band. He was at an engagement in San Francisco when the local police decided they needed a high profile name for publicity in their "clean city" drive against marijuana. Gene was accused of possession,tried and jailed. In actuality, the marijuana belonged to a band boy with a long history of delinquency, but he wasn't a celebrity. Gene did the time, 84 days of a 90 day sentence, which put him out of business at the peak of his career. Roy Eldridge tried to keep the band together but had to let it go. Gene returned to the music scene with Goodman and Tommy Dorsey, eventually forming his own band once more. He was among the first acts to be booked by Norman Granz for the "Jazz At The Philharmonic" concerts from which came the "Drum Battles" with Buddy Rich. Recordings of the "All Star" jams at the Philharmonic were made, another first. A film of Gene Krupa's life, factually very loose, was made in 1959 with Sal Mineo as Krupa. He formed a drum school, took tympani lesson, coached a baseball team. He was married twice. In 1973 Gene Krupa died of a heart attack, although he had been suffering from leukemia and emphysema for some time. He is a legend in the annals of drumming.
Buddy Rich: Born in 1917 in Brooklyn to vaudevillian parents, he could keep a steady beat with spoons by the age of one. His parents introduced him on a set of drums in vaudeville when he was 18 months old, billed as "Traps the Drum Wonder." He was reportedly the second highest-paid child entertainer, after Jackie Coogan.
At age 11 he had his own band, (note the similarity to Krupa's childhood), he never learned to read music. He admired Krupa, Chick Webb, Dave Tough and Jo Jones as well as many others.
Rich played with his first major group in 1937. But in 1938 he joined Bunny Berigan, and in 1939 he joined Artie Shaw. While working with Artie Shaw, Buddy instructed 14 year old Mel Brooks in drumming. He made a recording with Vic Schoen Orchestra ( which backed the Andrews Sisters) and was hired by the Tommy Dorsey orchestra where he met Frank Sinatra. In 1944 Rich joined the US Marine Corps for two years. After a two year run with Dorsey again, he left and formed his own band with financial support from Sinatra. His career went up and down in spite of Sinatra's backing, During his career he worked with Benny Carter, Harry James, Les Brown, Charlie Ventura and "Jazz At the Philharmonic." As a drummer he had dexterity and speed that was acclaimed as phenomenal by those in the business. He had great showmanship doing a lot of arm cross-overs, one stick rolls (with either hand!), and fancy stick tricks that kept the audience fascinated. He used contrasting techniques, explosive busts, and quiet brush work just to keep things interesting. Buddy Rich had the reputation of an unpleasant personality. He threatened to fire members of the band, but seldom did. Surreptitiously, some recordings were made of Rich's tantrums. They have been bootlegged, but are not available commercially. Some of the quotes have been used by Seinfeld. He was allegedly slapped by Dusty Springfield after several days of "putting up with his insults."
He threatened to fire a trombonist for wearing a beard. He held a black belt in karate, reportedly disliked Country and Western music, was a fan of Donny Osmond. At the end of his life he asked Mel Torme who was writing his authorized biography, to play the tapes of his tantrums for him. He died of a heart attack following brain tumor surgery in 1987. His friend and colleague said, "Rich had a soft heart underneath it all. His favorite song was "It's Not Easy Being Green."
VIC FIRTH: Maine has it's own percussion celebrity. Vic Firth was born in Massachusetts, but was raised in Maine. His father, Everett Firth was a high school band leader, and as it happens was the leader of Kennebunk HIgh School Band, which is the band I participated in as member of the drum section. (There were about 350 kids in the high school, and over 100 participated in band, including the majorettes.) Anyway, Vic Firth started playing cornet at the age of four. He turned to drums at an older age, but meanwhile learned piano, vibraphone, trombone,clarinet, timpani. By age 18 he had formed his own 18 piece band. Firth performed with the Boston Symphony Orchestra for twelve years and became their premiere percussionist. He realized symphonic music needed a higher quality of stick than was on the market. Deciding to design his own sticks, he hand whittled the first ones himself, from the bulkier market sticks. He sent these prototypes to a wood turner in Montreal. They were the first of many drum sticks bearing the Vic Firth name.
Today Firth's company manufactures 12 million sticks a year, and has added other items to the product line including mallets, salt and pepper mills and rolling pins. The Vic Firth products are made in Maine. Vic Firth is 80 years young.
ADAM DEITCH. This is the very modern drummer I chose to "discuss" because he seems to be THE drummer today that ranks with Krupa and Rich. Adam is the son of two drummers; his father's uncle was a "famous drummer in the Big Band era" and his mother's grandfather was a also a drummer. So, if things like drumming can be transmitted genetically, Adam came quite naturally by his talent. But he has not rested on family name at all. He did not divulge in his interview with someone, his parents names or those of the other family members. I read carefully what I could find, and it is my thought that he might be the grandson of Buddy Rich, who did at one time have his own radio program.
Adam grew up in a home that had a music studio complete with drum set, key board, and ping pong table. A boy's dream. His parents made music look like fun so he was quite naturally attracted to it. Adam is going on into technology and production. He has created start-up companies and has been involved with several groups. He is too new and too young to know where his career will lead, but he is considered to be a premiere drummer. If you go to his website you can listen in on a "session." He's good, no doubt about that.
I am sure there are many many good drummers in our very vast musical field of performers today. But for smooth jazz, dance bands and easy listening Krupa and Rich are the obvious best. For symphony, Vic Firth is hard to beat (no pun intended) and probably for modern music Adam Deitch makdes the top of the list.
An African quote: 'He who cannot dance will say "The drum is bad."
"If thine enemy wrongs thee, buy each of his children a drum." (Chinese quote)
I bought a grandson a small but nice drum set once and his parents made me keep it at my house.
Keep a song in your heart and keep the music playing.
From Scarborough, Jan Major