Jazz drumming is interestingly void of an extensive composed repertoire. Set apart also from many other genres, where there are certain beats and grooves that are commonplace, the role of the drummer have evolved to not solely provide the foundation for the beat in jazz, as bass does. Instead, it is the conversational, ornamental, sometimes ephemeral element of an ensemble. It is the gut, the underbelly, and one of the deeply intuitive instruments in jazz, where it differs from percussive elements in more European rooted music. Here is a look at the many styles that drummers have employed over the years from the more traditionally percussive role of drumming during the pre-big band and swing eras, to the more interactive role of a drummer during the bop era, to the emancipation from the beat entirely during the period of free jazz era, and the merging with rock and hip-hop elements seen later. There are more than could be noted, but we are always open to a larger discussion…
Warren “Baby” Dodds (1989-1959)
(Jelly Roll Morton, John Dodds, Louis Armstrong…)
* One of the first jazz drummers of the pre-big band era that improvised during recorded performances, and was the first to record with a bass drum pedal.
Sonny Greer (1895-1982)
(Duke Ellington, Johnny Hodges…)
Gene Krupa (1909-1971)
(Benny Goodman, Louie Bellson…)
* Krupa is credited with “inventing” the rim shot, and standardizing the drum kit.
Papa Jo Jones (1911-1985)
(Count Basie, Walter Page, Freddie Green…)
* This cat singlehandedly changed the standard of timekeeping to the hi-hat, influencing swing and bop drummers to come.
Buddy Rich (1917-1987)
(Benny Carter, Ella Fitzgerald, Artie Shaw…)
*Rich standardized his unique and innovative techniques into jazz drumming, and was one of the most revered and imitated drummers of all time. His dexterity and immense speed was ahead of his time, and still seldomly matched.
Art Blakey (1919-1990)
(Miles Davis, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Horace Silver…)
* Blakey was one of the most energetic hard bop kit players, who introduced and employed African percussion in his drumming, and also had a trademark that was appropriated time and time again, the closing of the high hat on every second and fourth beat.
Max Roach (1924-2007)
(Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins)
* One of the pioneering bebop drummers who employed new time signatures, allowing more freedom for musicians to improv, which would consequently lead up to the free jazz era.
Elvin Jones (1927-2004)
(Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, John Coltrane…)
Elvin Jones really pushed the boundaries of the drum kit, and his physical prowess to bring forth four limb independence in his technique.
Elvin Jones/Max Roach/Art Blakey: Drum Battle Part I
Elvin Jones/Max Roach/Art Blakey: Drum Battle Part II
Elvin Jones.Max Roach/Art Blakey: Drum Battle Part III
Sunny Murray (1936-)
(Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp…)
* One of the pioneers of free jazz drumming, Murray successfully freed the drummer from all time restrictions, and employed unorthodox ways of playing his kit.
Milford Graves (1941-)
(New York Art Quartet, Miriam Makeba, Paul Bley…
Tony Williams (1945-1997)
(Larry Young, John McLaughlin, Miles Davis, Jackie McLean)
* Thanks to avid readers for pointing out our huge oversight. Tony Williams was the foremost influential drummer that spawned the beginning of what would be know as the fusion era. His time signature manipulation, and polyrhythmic mastery would set him as a standard to be replicated, but rarely matched by many of his predecessors.
Lenny White (1949-)
(Jackie McLean, Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard…)
* Really taking off on Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew as a percussionist, Lenny is one of the most prominent “fusion” period drummers, who effectively integrated the improvisational aspects of jazz into rock music.
Cindy Blackman (1959-)
(Wallace Roney, Lenny Kravitz…
Chris “Daddy” Dave
(Robert Glasper, Maxwell, Me’shell N’Degeocello)
* Truly a descendent of these past drumming innovations, Chris Dave brings intensely complex concepts to the table with a hip-hop element.
There are many more who deserve mention. What other drummers really revolutionized techniques that were used during their time?