Sunday, September 27, 2009


People often ask me where "swing" comes from...
Well, I'm pretty sure that these guys had something to do with it !

Unfortunately, people today (jazz musicians in particular) often overlook the fact that jazz music was born out of playing for dancers and that the relationship between the music and entertainment/vaudeville was a very strong one. The beat that we call "swing" came from playing for dancers.

The vocabulary that early drummer's such as Chick Webb, Papa Jo Jones, etc. all developed and used had a direct relationship to the language and techniques used by their tap dancing counterparts. It's really no surprise that Buddy Rich, Louie Bellson and Jo Jones were also very competent tap dancers in their own right.

There is an important recording of Papa Jo Jones called "The Drums" in which he discusses AND demonstrates the great tap dancers that influenced his playing.

I also once attended a clinic with jazz drummer Clayton Cameron (who's performed with Tony Bennett) and he demonstrated, in detail, the different styles of tap dancing and how he could imitate that with the brushes.

Some pretty slick moves in that first clip with Sammy Davis Jr. and the other "Legends of Tap" (from the movie "Tap" - not a very good movie, but this scene imo makes it worth it!). I could only imagine what it would be like to have their jazz drumming counterparts all the same room at that age, dueling it out and trading licks like that !

I also like it how they put Gregory Hines in his place : )
Hines was basically the "Tony Williams" of tap dancing !

Challenge !


  1. buddy rich tap danced?

  2. He sure did.

    Check out Mel Torme's book "Traps: The Drum Wonder" about the life of Buddy Rich.

    Buddy was not only a child protege on the drums but also a product of vaudeville.

    He not only played the drums but danced AND sang.

    In fact, he even contemplated giving up his drumming career at one point to focus on his singing !

    But, to answer your question, yes - Buddy did tap dance, at least to some basic level when he was a kid.

  3. Jon, great blog. I don't know if Andre White ever mentioned Billy Barwick to you but he was a prominent jazz drummer here in the 50's and upward. His nickname in the 50's and 60's was "Billy Joe" Barwick and he had been a child tap dancer. Had perfect posture on the drum kit and played from a very relaxed "center". Sadly smack derailed him and although he came back in the 70's and 80's [when I knew him] he never got the recognition he deserved in jazz north of the 49th para diddle.