Remembering Jim Chapin

Jim Chapin

Photo by Rick Mattingly

The venerable drum teacher passed away this July 4, leaving behind thousands of acolytes–and a million great stories. In this companion to the In Memoriam in the October issue of MD, we hear from some of Chapin’s many friends and drumming disciples.

The drumming world has lost one of its truly special treasures. Jim Chapin was an inspiration to drummers around the globe. One of my earliest memories as a drum student was being introduced to Jim’s classic books by my first private drum instructor, Howie Mann. His obvious love of the instrument was profound–I don’t think I can ever remember Jim without his trusty drum pad tucked under his arm, ready to give a spur-of-the-moment drum lesson to any interested party. A one-of-a-kind human being, Jim Chapin exemplifies passion and commitment to following our dreams.
Rod Morgenstein

I was extremely saddened to hear of the loss of Jim Chapin. Jim’s tutor books have helped so many drummers over the years and will continue to do so. We were very fortunate to have Jim visit us in the U.K. for a master class a few years ago. The energy and enthusiasm of the man, even at that age, were amazing, and he was very inspiring. Gone midnight, he was still in full flow, talking drums and carrying his ever-faithful practice pad. He was a lovely man and a great drummer and will be missed by many, but his legacy will live on in his books.
Paul Francis
Orchard Percussion Studio
Colchester, Essex, England

Jim will be missed. He was not only a great teacher and dedicated drummer but an incredibly sharing individual. We had the pleasure of having Jim at the KoSA International Percussion Workshop And Festival as a regular faculty member for many years. In fact, he appears on the KoSA/Hudson instructional DVD KoSA Live. Advertisement

Jim’s contribution to the drum world is colossal, and his continued passion to share his knowledge, even from a hospital bed, is unparalleled. Jim loved life as he loved music making and drumming. He became a family member to us all. We have enough stories to fill a book. One that comes immediately to mind was the year KoSA had both Jim and the great “Changuito” (Jose Luis Quintana, Giovanni Hidalgo’s teacher and the inventor of songo), directly from Cuba. Both men dedicated their lives to teaching independence on drums. Changuito and Jim had never met, and so both were anxious to compare notes at KoSA. We believe they both did not sleep all week, going well into the night and connecting through the only language they could share, drumming. We are blessed to have known such a man. Thank you, Jim, from all of us at KoSA who were in your path over those years.
Aldo Mazza
KoSA artistic director

I was very saddened to hear of the passing of Jim Chapin. I had the unique honor of being one of his students for a five-year period in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Anyone who knew Jim was surely taken aback by his absolute passion and focus on drumming–particularly his famous pad workouts. I was inspired by his dedication, impressed by his work and willingness to share it, and honored to have known and spent time with him. Not seeing Jim in the corner, with a group of wide-eyed drummers surrounding him, will be an image sadly missed at future industry gatherings. Thank you, Jim, for helping form my drumming and sharing your talent with all of us.
Russ Miller

I first met Jim Chapin in 1978. At first Jim was my teacher, but then we became dear friends. Living on Long Island afforded me the pleasure of attending Jim’s gigs, and he was able to attend mine.

I would sub for Jim when he was unable to play certain gigs. I met many great jazz musicians through Jim, some of whom I still perform with. Jim would always attend my clinics, and I would bring him up to sing and scat while I played brushes and took it all in. Then he would count off a tempo where a half note equaled 240 bpm, and he’d be spitting all over the place as he was scatting! I’d be falling off the throne with laughter and pain in my hands trying to keep up. Advertisement

The most intense memory I have of Jim is from when he received the call that his son Harry was killed in a car accident on his way to a concert in the park. The date was July 16, 1981, and I had just finished my lesson with Jim when the call came in. We were in stunned silence. Jim gave each of us a kiss and walked out to deal with the situation.

If I must pick some joyful memories out of the hundreds I have, one would be of Jim sitting in the passenger seat of my car, playing on the dashboard, Vinnie Colaiuta sitting in the back, playing on my headrest, and me driving with one hand while playing on my steering wheel with the other. Of course, Jim kicked both of our asses!

A few years back Jim and I were teaching at KoSA up in Vermont. I had the pleasure of driving Jim up along with my wife and, at the time, two very young kids. Jim sat in the front with me and never stopped playing during the seven-hour trip. We ate peanut butter sandwiches, and he would turn around to tell my kids stories and sing to them. As I write this I start to cry just thinking about it. Advertisement

As some of us know, Jim would often attend PASIC and NAMM without booking a hotel room, with nothing more than a toothbrush and practice pad in tow. He always found a place to stay, and if you were one of the lucky ones to be in the same room as him, you knew you weren’t going to sleep before sunrise!

I could go on and on because I knew Jim better than most people. I studied Moeller with him extensively and went through his book both lefty and righty. I’m honored and privileged to have received Jim’s blessing to help carry the torch and keep his legacy alive. Hopefully all of us will. God bless our friend Jim Chapin. We love him and miss him.
Frank, Kim, Kelly Rose, and Daniel Bellucci

Drummers Are People First

Remembering “The Chapin Magic”
Jim Chapin, who died on July 4, 2009, just a few weeks shy of his ninetieth birthday, is known among drummers as “the father of independence” and an expert on the Moeller method. His legendary drumset book, Advanced Techniques For The Modern Drummer (first published in 1948 and still in print today) is a bible for our art and was study material for virtually every great (and not so great) drummer for the past sixty years. Advertisement

Jim was considered one of the most knowledgeable people in the world on drumming and drummers. A conversation with him could cover the teaching techniques of Sanford Moeller, Billy Gladstone, and George Lawrence Stone, while weaving its way through the artistry of Baby Dodds, Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Papa Jo Jones, Max Roach, Joe Morello, Billy Cobham, Steve Gadd, Vinnie Colaiuta, Terry Bozzio, Dennis Chambers, and Jojo Mayer, just to name a few. And if you hung in there, it all made sense! But these words are not about Jim’s technical prowess, his vast knowledge, or his contributions to the art of drumming; they’re about his basic humanness, which I was fortunate to observe and experience many times during our nearly twenty-five-year friendship.

I first met Jim in November of 1985, when Dom Famularo, Jim’s longtime student, friend, and confidant, urged me to bring Jim to St. Louis for a weekend to teach privately and present two master-class clinics at Drum Headquarters. When I spoke to Jim on the phone for the first time, we talked about the history of drumming and everything except what he would do when he was in town, which made me unsure as to whether he would be able to handle all we had planned for him. After I got off the phone with Jim, I called Dom and expressed my concerns. I could see the twinkle in Dom’s eyes through the phone line when he said, “You are just beginning to experience the Chapin magic.” Truer words were never spoken.

A few days before Jim’s arrival, I received a phone call from Phill Rock, a customer and local drummer. He told me about another drummer, Clint Rayford, a friend of his and an acquaintance and customer of mine, who was bravely battling the final stages of cancer and was confined to the hospital. Clint, in his late forties at the time, had been one of the top jazz drummers in St. Louis for more than twenty years. He consistently played three to four nights a week during his adult life while holding down a full-time job at an international chemical company. He continued to play as much as possible well after his treatment began, and his commitment to drumming at this rough period in his life was inspirational to musicians of all ages and styles. Advertisement

Phill related to me that even though Clint’s condition was deteriorating, he perked up as soon as he heard that Jim was coming to town, and he talked about it often. Phill’s request was small: He wanted me to get an autographed picture of Jim for Clint. I called Jim and explained the situation, and he suggested that instead of a picture he would give Clint an autographed copy of his second book, Advanced Techniques For The Modern Drummer, Volume II, which, at the time, had a retail value of $50. This was the first indication of the kind of person Jim Chapin really was.

The next time I spoke to Phill was the day Jim was arriving in St. Louis. I told him that Jim would be bringing an autographed copy of the book. Phill was grateful, but I could tell that there was something else on his mind. He finally said to me, “I know this is asking a lot, but do you think there is any way you could bring Jim to the hospital? I know it would mean a great deal to Clint, because all he has talked about for the past week is Chapin.” I didn’t know how to respond. All I could say was that I would ask Jim when I picked him up that night.

As I drove to the airport, I ran through in my mind several different ways to present Jim with this unusual request, considering that, at the time, he didn’t know me, Clint, or Phill. I finally decided on the simplest, most straightforward approach. Jim stepped into the terminal, shook my hand, and immediately told me that he’d brought the autographed book. I started to make Phill’s request, and before I could finish, Jim said, “Great, do you want to go to the hospital now”? I explained that it was too late and I would have to arrange it with Phill. Jim said, “You just tell me when, and we’ll do it.” This was the second indication of the kind of person Jim Chapin really was. Advertisement

We had a grueling schedule planned for Jim: He arrived Friday night, he would teach all day Saturday, present two clinics on Sunday, and fly back home Sunday night. So the only time for the hospital visit was Saturday night. The arrangements were made, and on Saturday night at 7:30 P.M. (after Jim had taught nine one-hour lessons in a row without a break), we left on our mission.

We arrived at the hospital about 8 P.M. and were met in the lobby by Phill. He looked shaken and told us that Clint had had a bad day, was a bit out of touch, and had been dozing on and off. Phill suggested that we not go in, but Jim would have nothing of it. He firmly stated, “I’m here. I want to do this. Let’s go in.”

We walked into the hospital room. Phill roused Clint, and after the obligatory greeting, Phill and I retreated to two chairs in the back of the room. Jim sat down on Clint’s bed and took over, displaying a bedside manner that would humble the most skilled doctor, nurse, or social worker. He presented Clint with the autographed book, a pair of sticks, and a practice pad. Jim and Clint talked about drums, drummers, drumming, and nothing else. Though he was confined to the bed, Clint held the sticks and played the pad. Jim even gave him a few pointers on technique and showed him some exercises he could work on. Advertisement

When some earlier-administered medication began to take effect and Clint felt the first signs of drowsiness, he said it was time for us to leave. Jim leaned down, embraced Clint, and said, “I love you, man,” and I know he truly meant it. And I also know that for the twenty minutes Jim was in that room, Clint forgot he had cancer.

This was one of the most moving and powerful experiences in my life–and I was just an observer! My entire weekend with Jim was memorable, and I had the great fortune of many other special times with him over the subsequent years. But nothing could equal that extraordinary twenty minutes.

Too often, we as musicians are only concerned with a player’s technical ability, and as a result we miss what is most important: the person. Look deeper and you could be pleasantly surprised and richly rewarded. For those of you who had the opportunity to know Jim during his long life, I hope you were as lucky as me and that you, too, experienced “the Chapin magic.”
Rob Birenbaum

Rob Birenbaum is the founder and former owner of the Drum Headquarters shop in St. Louis, Missouri, and of HQ Percussion Products, manufacturer of RealFeel practice pads and SoundOff drum mutes. He is currently the manager of the Five-Star Drum Shops group (an organization he cofounded in 2000) and a consultant to Brady Drums.