Some interesting comments, opinions and dialogue here - especially about the role of the bass drum and it's time keeping role.
The drummers interviewed include:
Downbeat: Today there may be an overdependence on the bassist for keeping time. Has the switch from bass drum to the hi hat for timekeeping deprived young drummers of essential training? Dizzy Gillespie has been quoted as saying that most drummers-not just young ones – don’t know how to play the bass drum.
Donald Dean: I think what is missing in a lot of potentially good drummers today is the bass drum. I know myself that I really want to know more about it. You get more bottom and you get more balance to the drums themselves. The bass drum should be played more. More in time keeping. It's the touch. It's the way that the bass drum can be felt and not really heard.
Ceroli: Has everybody heard Jake Hanna play with Woody Herman? Now he played the bass drum beautifully, I thought. He played throughout the whole thing, and he just walked the bass drum the same way a bass player walks. But at the same time you had to actually listen for it wasn't really dominating. Once it dominates, you're back in 1938. But the way he played it is the way I'd like to play it.
Morello: I have played it both ways, I have played in bands where I've used the bass drum on all four and I've played it in bands where I just used it for accents and so on. But I am apt to go along with Diz, in that a lot of kids don't put much importance on the bass drum and they should. Take the old Basie band with Jo Jones. The blend of the piano, the bass , guitar and drums was right there. It was never overbearing.
Manne: I don't think the time keeping element has turned to the hi hat. I think it is the right hand. The hi hat just adds an added impulse to the time, to the beat. I think the main time keeping element now is the right hand, not the hi hat. That's why time is important….Because if you have the time feeling, the swinging feeling, you can become as free as you want as long as that basic element is there. If you have that strong a time feeling, you can generate that time feeling without actually pointing the time out….But I agree that when you are playing time, the bass drum should be played. I don't believe it should be boomed out. The cymbal is the main coloration. But the bass drum-away from accents-if it is not there, there is something missing. There is a piece of the bottom missing.
Morello: A lot of young drummers have nothing but top-top sound. You don't hear any bottom to it. The bass drum gives the band a lot of bottom. For instance our bass player, Gene Wright, if I don't play the bass drum in four, he'll look over and sort of nudge me. There've always been arguments between bass players and drummers, like who's gonna lay down the time. But Gene wants to hear that bass drum. It should just blend together perfectly. He feels the bass drum is the basic pulse, and he can put the harmonic structure on it. Kid should learn ---
Jones: Learn how to play the bass drum! Everything that is included in the drumset is there for a purpose and should be learned. Whether you use it consistently or not, you should know how to use it.
Blakey: It isn't a question that they don't know it; it is a question of they don't do it. If they'd do it, they would know. Playing every night is the only way to develop …Not a socko style. I don't think the bass drum should be up above the bass fiddle.
Morello: I think Diz was referring to was that a lot of kids got hooked on this top cymbal- hi hat left hand when that was the thing, like the hi hat was the anchor on 2 and 4. The pulse, of course on 2 and 4, but we don't have to play the hi hat on just 2 and 4; we can play it on 1 and 3 if we want.
Manne: To accentuate the hi hat too much on 2 and 4 takes away a certain quality in your playing. Because 1 and 3 are still the most strongly felt beats whether played or not.
Cole: I think the bass drum is the main instrument in the drums. Why should a drummer be there if he can't keep time? Like Art said, it should not be socko, but it should be two beats when you feel it, four beats when you feel it.
Williams: What if you don't feel it at all?
Cole: Now here is a thing. There are so many leaders that are going along with somebody else, his idea, and they'll get a drummer in there, maybe, that can play a bass drum. And he may say to the drummer, “man, that's old school” and not want him to play the bass drum at all. But believe me, anytime you play the bass drum tastefully without overriding the band, and with a nice sound and have a beat down there, it is one of the greatest assets to a drummer.
Williams: Well what I am trying to say ---well, the way I have been playing is that the beat is there, but I have been playing it with the cymbal, because it still swings.
Lewis: [To Williams] Are you playing your bass drum though?
Williams: No. Not at all.
Lewis: That's unusual because I thought Miles always likes to have a little bass drum.
Blakey: What he is doing is in the group where he's working at. Now, what ever group you're in, you have to let the punishment fit the crime.
Williams: When I hear the hi hat being played on 2 and 4, through every solo, through every chorus, through the whole tune, this seems to me to be ---I can't play it like that. Chit, chit, chit chit -all the way through the tune. My time is on the cymbal and in my head, because when I play the bass drum, I play it where it means something. I just put it in. When a person plays this way, they don't play the bass drum, they don't play the hi hat-well, they say they're playing something free-that word is a drag too. What makes it different is that they don't have any bottom.
Lewis: That is what your bass drum is for.
Blakey: One point of clarity. You cannot depend on the bass fiddle and you can't say the beat is there-maybe the bass fiddle player is not too mature himself-so you do certain things. See everything you got is there-the sock cymbal is one instrument, the ride cymbal is another instrument, your bass drum is another instrument, your snare's another instrument, the tom toms ---all complete, different instruments. You simply cannot leave everything to him [the bassist]. Sometimes you have to come in and say [Blakey states a strong, regular, rapid beat verbally], and after the band gets going, you go “Blam” and go into your other bit. And if they get out of line, you bring them back in, because that's what you are there for. You are the master of this whole thing.
Lewis: The drummer is the leader.
Williams: When I say the bottom is missing, when I speak of the bottom, I don't speak of the bottom being the bass drum. I speak of the bottom as being a certain feeling we get--- a sound. You get it right off of the cymbal.
Cole: Off of the cymbal. Off of the snare drum.
Blakey: You can get it off of a magazine and a pair of brushes. You can get it if you have a beat. Like Denzil Best, the greatest I know for that. Take that cymbal and run you crazy.
Cole: George Shearing had a very nice band, and you would call that a modern band.
Denzil held that band together because he had that feeling---he had a good beat.
Lewis: Here is an important thing about bass drums, about using it. I've heard a lot of groups where the drummer isn't playing the bass drum; he's just depending on cymbals, and not playing too much hi hat and you've got a bass player---he's gonna start moving. He's gonna start driving. So he starts on top, and the tempo starts to skate a little bit. And I hear the drummer go right along with him. All of a sudden the tempo leaps ahead. There's the time to start playing the bass drum a little bit. Hold it back, hold it where it was. Especially if that tempo is grooving-why change it? That's where I think I need all of your facilities. That's what Art was talking about before. Showing them where it is.
Blakey: Whatever groove is stomped off, I think it should end it --- you're not a metronome - but you should end it as close to the original temp as possible, and you should be swinging.
Williams: Since I've been playing, a lot of musicians have told me things like 'Play your hi hat on 2 and 4, and lay time.” But what they don't seem to realize is that I am playing the time, because as soon as the leader says “one -two - three- four.” That's it. There's the time right there. So for as me playing this [ Williams bangs floor to simulate a steady bass drum rhythm], I can't paly it because the time is there. Everyone knows where the time is --- the meter is there.
Blakey: Not everyone is a drummer.
Lewis: And they all don't know where it is.
Blakey: Wait a minute. Saxophone players, trumpet players are virtuosos. They're supposed to be soloist. But do you realize how many musicians don't know anything about rhythm? If they did, they'd be playing like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. All of them. They would be at least a reasonable facsimile. But look at them.
Williams: Well those people shouldn't be playing.
Blakey: No, you can't say that. Okay we have 3,000 musicians down in the union. We could say, okay, 2,500 of them should be in the bank or another kind of job, because they know nothing about rhythms. They know nothing about the feel of time, unless you get up underneath them, all night long. Poom. Get up out of there - let's go get up out of the hole.
Williams: Soloists feel what they're playing is always theirs, but it isn't, because when we're playing the time, that's our business. So whatever I'm playing, the soloist will turn around to me and say “Where's the time?” I'm playing the time ---it's just that he doesn't have any knowledge of it. He doesn't know what he's doing.
Blakey: You can take a drum and you can take what we call separation and play one rhythm with this hand on the cymbals - ching chca ching chic aching---play another rhythm with the other hand, play another rhythm on the sock cymbal, play another on the bass drum and say, “Okay, I'm gonna take 16 bars now, I'll even take eight bars. Now you all come in after eight.
Lewis: And they don't know where it is.
Cole: Take a big band's reed section or a brass section-a lot of times they say, “let the drums play with me, then we'll be able to swing.” Those men got to swing by themselves, because you can't make them swing; you can be back there swinging to the nth degree, and if they aren't swinging, they aren't gonna swing. You ghave to be able to swing yourself.
Williams: this is one of the reasons why I enjoy listening to the avant gardehorn players. When I hear them on records, no matter what's happening, they're straight ahead. They're not turning around saying “I wonder what's happening?” they're not worried about that. They're just playing.
Cole: Duke Ellington's band-do you know that brass section can swing? Those fellows come out there and they start swinging themselves. They don't need any drums.
Downbeat: A famous story has it that Benny Goodman used to rehearse his and without the drummer to get them to swing by themselves.
Lewis: Benny always insults the rhythm section by saying, “let's run this over -just instruments.” Like the rhythm section are not instruments. But his idea is good. We got into another thing here that had nothing to do what Tony was talking about before, about the hi hat, the bass drum, and leaving them out and just doing it the way you feel because you are just implying that swing in the time anyway. But not in a big band, Tony. The brass section, the trombone section, the trumpet section, the saxophone section---man they need a drummer.
Downbeat: Well, what does big band experience do for a drummer? What does he learn?
Lewis: It'll make you or break you.
Blakey: It teaches you how to play the arrangements, teaches you to remember. A drummer must have a hell of a memory. You can't be playing i na jazz band and looking at music. You've got to cue the trumpets in, you've got to cue the rhythm section, you've got to bring them in or they'll goof. With a small group, every tub must sit on it's own bottom. It gives the drummer more freedom, it give him chance to play. It gives him a chance fit in things, to fit in patterns, where he can't do it in a big band. You try to do it in a big band and you're in trouble.
Williams: A big band makes you strong too.
Downbeat: Have you ever played in a big band, Tony?
Williams: At the Berklee school. I wasn't going to Berklee, but I'd be at the school sometimes, and they would have ensemble practice.
Lewis: I'm glad for these things they've got going at these schools, because that's the greatest training ground in the world for a young drummer, with a big band. That's when you know you're going to be a drummer or when you are going to quit.
Williams: I know some fellows who play with big bands but can't play with little bands.
Lewis: I know very few little band drummers who can't play with big bands.
Blakey: I came out of Billy Eckstine's band and went to Minton's, and Eddie Lockjaw Davis was working there with Bud Powell and Al McKibbon and Fats Navarro. They got me on the bandstand and said [Blakey uses his hand to indicate an extremely fast tempo], and I was lost. Because we didn't play that way in Eckstine's band. We were a dance band. I was lost for a long time and when I did try to play temp, in about the third chorus I felt like I was gonna drop dead. And I was just mad enough to stay in there and cuss and sweat and jive. I never forget when Cozy came to the Apollo Theater, and I was having trouble and I had a lot of sand in my eyes - I couldn't see the music too good. I was sitting there trying to count, and he called me off the stand and said, “Hey Art, when you're in trouble, roll.” So, that's what I did all that night.
Lewis: One thing I enjoy about playing with Gerry Mulligan's big band is that I can be a big band drummer and a small band drummer at the same time.
Morello: In my way of thinking, big band work is a little bit more restricted than small group work. The main job in a big band is to keep that herd together. In a small group you have to be a little more flexible; there's give and take. In a big band you can't give too much; you have to push straight ahead. I think it's important if the drummer, the amateur, can rehearse with a big band. Today the big bands are nothing like they were in my younger days and I'm not that old. There are very few good bands going now and I find it is difficult for a youngster to get a chance to play with a big band. But there are a lot of rehearsal bands and it's good experience for a kid to get up there and play. It'll help his reading. It'll help him interpret a chart. It'll develop his assurance too.
Jones: The little bit of big band experience I have had has given me a tremendous insight - which I hadn't had before --- into the harmonic and the melodic … all of the intricate lines, cross melodic lines that you wouldn't hear ordinarily. You hear a whole section playing a line and then another one playing a cross melodic line back and forth, and you're right in the middle keeping it all together. That's a tremendous experience and it gives you a much deeper understanding of what the music is all about, of what's really going on.
Ceroli: I hate to sound monotonous but big band playing is going to keep to help keep his time together
Manne: I think it teaches him discipline. That's really important for a drummer.
Ceroli: When you walk up on a big band, you've got to hold that band together. And you've got to know how to play that band. It just isn't time.
Manne: That's right. It is like the stick that bends. You've got to give and take. You can still play time, but you've got to slow down and speed up a little. I don't mean speed up and slow down so that somebody can say, “Oh my God, he's slowing down,” but it is kind of like a feeling that you give and take, like when the brass starts shouting.