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Drummers, beating jazz into new terrain

November 6, 2010 |  8:00 am


While rarely receiving due credit for driving jazz innovation, drummers have played an essential role in the music’s evolution ever since Warren “Baby” Dodds devised a new rhythmic vocabulary for accompanying Louis Armstrong.

From swing pioneers Big Sid Catlett and Papa Jo Jones in the 1930s and bebop trailblazers Kenny Clarke and Max Roach in the 1940s through the swirling polyrhythms of Elvin Jones and pointillistic barrages of Tony Williams in the '60s, drummers have played an essential role in every jazz era, and this one is no different.

Three ensembles performing in the area in the coming weeks capture the way that the restless musical investigations of drummers drive jazz into new territory. From the gospel and folk-tinged anthems of Brian Blade to the Indo-funk of the Raga Bop Trio and the captivating song forms of Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom, the drum chair is the center of the action. The old stereotypes that denigrate the musicianship of drummers (joke: what do you call someone who hangs out around musicians? A drummer) have mostly been laid to rest in recent decades, but these players and their trap set peers should dispel any old notions about the limited imagination of rhythmic explorers.

For the Arts & Books section article, click here.

--Andrew Gilbert

Photo: Steve Smith performs with the Raga Bop Trio at Catalina's on Dec. 1-2; credit: Naoju Nakamura.

Comments () | Archives (2)

A summary of great jazz drummers with no mention of Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa or Louie Bellson? Really?

Yeah. those three have had practically no influence, except for Bellson as an accompianist to vocalists. Krupa and Rich more big band pop than true jazz anyway.

Though LAs own Billy Higgins could have been added to the list too, except they are done in couplets. Latter day ones like Lenny White and Ndugu Chancler could be added, and Jeff Watts too, but not quite of the groundbraeaing influence, and true naturalism once the shock of the new passed by.

If you are looking for a racist edge, there is none on drums. On string instruments, and alto to some degree, there have been great white players, even Euros like Dave Holland and Niels Pederson. Time and harmony are involved more on strings, and those like Jaco Pastorius and Charlie Haden have been at least as much influence as Charles Mingus, Ray Brown, Ron Carter and Stanley Clarke. Great Guitarists like Joe Pass are up there almost as much, with the likes of Charlie Chistian and Wes Montgomery.

Just like in sports, different cultural, intellectual and physical attributes come to the fore. And as jazz is Modern music, and the ultimate balance of melody, harmony AND complex rhythm, a foreign concept in European musics as complex harmonies are to African. Heritage, and most importantly as this is true creative art, passions are communicated through devloped gifts of mind, body and soul.

Truth is truth, though i doubt any of these are on taht plane, as jazz matured long ago, its peak by Miles in a Silent Way in 68, and has become more like European classical musicas in only a isolted genius like a Jaco coming by every one in a while, and non lasting for long. Large groups of creative artists with new views come from our concept of our world changing, it hasnt much since about 1960, just the speed, clarity and energy level, but not the fundamentals.


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