Here’s a fantastic piece of history that I wish more drummers or any musician from bygone eras would have thought to do. In 1973, Papa Jo Jones released a record simply titled “The Drums” in which he talks about the history of the instrument with demonstrations and solo pieces.
After an intro discussing the elements of the drum kit and the basic rudiments he gets to the material that I found the most fascinating in which he discusses various drummers and their contribution to the music, and demonstrates their playing style of the kit. Some of these you’ve probably heard of like Baby Dodds, Gene Krupa, and Chick Webb; others potentially not, as he mentions some obscure names, like Manzie Campbell who, according to Jones “was without a doubt THE world’s greatest drummer”.
What really stood out to me was that he referred to certain drummers by the way in which they preferred to play time. Apparently “Josh”, to whom Jones never gives a last name “never played nothing but just a snare drum”. Jones thought Alvin Burroughs was a “tom tom man” like Gene Krupa, but it turned out he was a “cymbal man”. Walter Johnson, on the other hand, played with one stick and one brush. Jones refers to the hihat or “sock cymbal” as his signature sound. Interestingly, as ubiquitous as it is nowadays Jones says that at one point he “was the only bum out here with a sock cymbal”. From today’s perspective where, despite the fact that different drummers have their own style of swing, the time comes primarily from the ride cymbal, it is fascinating to hear how different drums played time in so many different ways.
Coming as he did from an era where he would’ve spent a great deal of time performing with and for dancers, Jones proceeds to talk about some of the great dancers of the era and their style, and goes on to demonstrate their sound on the kit. This section reminded me of this performance from right around the same time of Jones with George Benson, and tap dancer Jimmy Slyde:
Throughout “The Drums”, Jones drops nuggets of simple, but incredibly true wisdom such as:
“The most difficult thing after you learn how to play is not to play for people, [but] to play with people”
“Always start basic and you’ll never go wrong”
The record is chock full of great information and enjoyable performances and is definitely worth repeated listens.
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