The bop era of the ’40s saw the arrival of several somewhat lesser-known drummers. One of the most important was Tiny Kahn. “Tiny and I were both advocates of the small group approach to big band playing,” said Mel Lewis. “He played basically the same with Stan Getz’s small group as he did with Chubby Jackson’s big band. Tiny had the flexibility to complement whoever he was playing with. He had a light bass drum attack, used the whole spectrum of the drumset, and played with simplicity amidst this constant subtle motion.”
Tiny Kahn was born in New York in 1924 and began playing at age fifteen. Possessing a highly stylized approach—which he’d subtly adjust for different bands—Kahn played with Georgie Auld, Boyd Raeburn, and Henry Jerome, and was a key figure in the 1949 Chubby Jackson band. He later worked with Charlie Barnet and Stan Getz and did a CBS radio show with Elliot Lawrence. Kahn was also a proficient vibist, arranger, and composer who contributed arrangements to the music libraries of the Chubby Jackson, Charlie Barnet, and Woody Herman bands.
Though somewhat underrated throughout his brief career, Kahn was among the most capable of jazz drummers, with a knack for making his bandmates totally comfortable. Though he had little technical flair and rarely engaged in displays of showmanship, Kahn was renowned for his superb timekeeping and melodic playing, the latter an obvious result of his arranging and composing background. Like Jo Jones, Kahn displayed an extraordinary sense of shading and dynamics. Never one to overplay, his soft pulse and loose feel—combined with perfectly placed fills—were tailored to the music, making him one of the most distinctive players of his time.
“Tiny brought the improvisational feeling of small band drumming to the big band,” said Mel Lewis. “He played great fills and lead-ins that kicked the band along. He knew how to use space and never played too loud. Tiny was a straightforward player with a certain looseness, and his own kind of chops. His style was truly a combination of Davey Tough and a more simplified Max Roach. The man was an extremely musical player—a real listening drummer. His way of playing just worked.” Tiny Kahn died in 1953 at the age of twenty-nine.