Jazz drummers

23 June 2009

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There’s a showbiz joke, probably put about by guitarists, about the groupie who was so dim she went home with the drummer. But the joke is about rock drummers, and as we know, jazz drummers are a different creature entirely. They can do in their sleep things which rock drummers can only dream of. This, at least, was my train of thought while I watched Dave King, the drummer with the trio The Bad Plus, as they opened for the Charlie Haden Liberation Music Orchestra at the South Bank on Saturday.

King was an astonishing presence on stage, completely at the heart of the band’s sound, sometimes driving it along with a complex mix of rhythms and sounds, sometimes amplifying the mood by adding particular percussive effects, sometimes doing all of this at once. The musicians’ position on stage underlined the importance of all three members of the trio, all at the front, rather than the rhythm section supporting the pianist from the back.

In jazz, unlike rock, drummers are honoured – as in the affectionate (and tongue in cheek) tribute by Pete Atkin and Clive James, recently reissued, “Wristwatch for a drummer“:

The Omega Incabloc Oyster Accutron 72
Without this timepiece there’d have been
No modern jazz to begin with
Bird and Diz were tricky men for a drummer to sit in with

Max Roach still wears the watch he wore when bop was new
Elvin Jones has two and Buddy Rich wears three
One on the right wrist, one on the left
And the third one around his knee.

Jazz drummers have led bands and recordings – and still do (one thinks of Seb Roachford and Polar Bear). Not surprising that drummers such as Bill Bruford and Charlie Watts returned to jazz after doing time in rock bands.

The clip below shows Dave King doing a breathtaking solo introduction to The Bad Plus’ version of Smells Like Teen Spirit, where he manages, deliberately, to be out of time with himself.

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