A Symposium - Cymbalism: The Drums in Jazz

Daniel Kassell BY

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Start out swingin', play your drum solo, end up swingin'
—Monk told Leroy Williams
A Jazz at Lincoln Center program at Columbia University consisted of two learned moderators interviewing two panels of well recognized working drummers on May 3, 2003 in Held Auditorium on the Barnard College campus.

Robin D. G. Kelley, Chair of History and Professor of Africana Studies at NYU, posed leading questions to each morning session panelist.
Left to right under the Blackboard: Eddie Locke, who first gained attention as “Bop & Lock” for his high-energy and humorous timing; Roy Haynes, a self-taught Boston drummer who first worked with Charlie Christian; Leroy Williams, Known as Barry Harris’ drummer, and Baakari Wilder, Dance Captain for DC’s Tappers With Attitude.

These memorable moments just cover what I could catch as these fellows each used their own vernacular to relate their personal stories:
Eddie Locke telling stories of Joe Jones. The fact that Joe did not play a sock cymbal but was able to drive the Count Basie.
When Robin Kelley asked about drummers who played in Swing Bands, Roy Haynes, who dressed up in a white suit and vest, spoke of playing with tap dancers like Baby Lawrence and watching show drummers read the charts so he could do that show.
“I loved Louis Jordon and learned Chris Colombo’s shuffle rhythm. Later on Roy Eldgridge liked me because I could play that way”, Locke said.
An audience member asked Leroy Williams, “What did Monk tell him to do?” Leroy was quick to answer, “Start out swingin’, play your drum solo, end up swingin’!”
Another audience question, “If theirs was a personal experience of the African influence?
The panelists looked at each other before Leroy responded, “You absorb everything”. Baakari Wilder then told of going to Africa and “Feeling the rhythms particularly when he saw stomping on bare ground!”

After a lunch break, Dr. Anthony Brown introduced his thesis: “African Rhythm in Jazz Drumming”. “In the New World African Diaspora music is the shaping influence even though there was pre-Revolutionary legislation against drums”. He also explained a difference using the example of “the European blend of the string quartet versus the individual distinctive role in a jazz ensemble”.

Joe Chambers, the post-bop drummer, opened this panel and set the bar with a demo on the trap drum set and vibraphone. “All drummers have ‘quips’ or ‘licks’ that turned and turned itself over”. Joe demonstrated his nine beats in 4/4 on the snare drum, then the whole set, then on vibes they became nine notes with his rhythm pattern. We listened to his tune Hop Scotch recorded with his group on CD to hear the complete composition.

Andrew Cyrille, noted for his rhythm with Cecil Taylor, “began in Drum & Bugle Corp in Brooklyn, tympani in High school, Juilliard, with Nellie Lutcher, whose bassist Morris Edwards intro’d him to Illinois Jacquet at age 18. When bassist Alex Layne brought this Juilliard trained drummer to Mary Lou Williams Harlem residence, she told Andrew, “Don’t bring that shit up here!” Moving to the drums he put a Manuscript Writing Book on the music stand and explained, “As a dancer and choreographer’s drummer I internalized my background, a synthesis - this piece is titled “Number 11", for my birth month November”.

Billy Hart, the prolific hard bop, fusion and free jazz drummer, reacted to the discussion with, “There are stuff out of Native Americans itself that are not in books”. For his performance he first played that flat thud sound then broke into a long fluid melody.
On the phone a few days later, “recollection I have is a grandmother who was Cherokee, others tell me I have cheekbones”.

Herlin Riley, Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra’s drummer, spoke with pride of his church deacon grandfather teaching him the nuances of playing rhythms by using butter knives at the dinner table. Moving to the drums he showed us how his grandfather taught him to hold both drumsticks for faster drum rolls, imitated his thigh slamming, performed a recognizable rhythmic pattern and concluded, “It’s only a matter of holding the groove into that particular style”.

Matt Wilson, joked about being born in Illinois, admitted that he had listened to each panel member’s LP’s, met Billy Hart in Kansas! and took a lesson from Andrew Cyrille in Boston. Using brushes, Matt played through “Body and Soul” astounding the audience as the words spoke from the drums.

Summing up the afternoon panel Anthony Brown explained Joe Chambers’ issue of the drum out of favor by reporting specifically how the Christian traditions removed drums because it “moved the body in a physical way” and suggested reading “Music Making and Body Motion” (Steppin’ on the Blues: The Visible Rhythms of African American Dance).

The lagniappe (New Orleans lingo for a little extra something)titled: Philosophical Implications of the Drum allowed Stanley Crouch, the current Louis Armstrong Visiting Professor of Jazz Studies at Columbia, to describe the plight of the drum with the enallage:
“The Action versus what something that was said about it. So little is understood about drummers because they use all their limbs and critics can’t relate, that they’ve been generally overlooked”. Stanley used to be a drummer but declined to play.

Wynton Marsalis, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Leader, trumpet in hand gave his explanation, >BR>“The bass and drums are the foundation: If they change, we change. His example, “Joe Jones, the sound of the drummer is the sound of the (Count Basie) band”. To demonstrate he called a New Orleans rhythm that sounds like something he learned as a youth from Danny Barker. Herlin provided that rolling rhythm as Wynton provoked Baakari to work his tap-shoes into a totally improvised ending to an entertaining and educational day.

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