Jazz Drummer’s Workshop

What Does An Arranger, Composer Look For In A Drummer?

A Discussion With Jay Corre


Jay Corre is an internationally known composer, arranger, and performer. He has performed with Buddy Rich, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Frank Sinatra to name a few. Mr. Corre is currently director of jazz studies at Barry College in Miami. He performs with his own group, THE WORLD CITIZENS, and was recently commissioned by The National Endowment for The Arts to do an original jazz work.
Gabe: Jay, some of the best drummers I know AREN’T drummers! I’ve seen many a horn man pick up a pair of sticks and bring a session to life. They know what a soloist wants from a drummer. What can you say to drummers about drummers. 

Jay: In my classes, I teach that all musicians are drummers – even horn players. We’re drummers that play different notes.

The bass is most important, he plays time and pitch, but drums are very important!

Gabe: What do you expect from a drummer?

Jay: I’ll answer that question with a question. What does a drummer expect from me? I do what Bird used to do, I’ll send feelers to the drummer to see if he is listening to me. The word “Comping” means complimenting. If the drummer is listening – he Comps! Lester Young and Jo Jones started the whole thing. If the drummer isn’t on your side, you’re dead. I expect him to be on my side.

Gabe: Do you expect a drummer to keep PERFECT time?

Jay: There is no such thing as perfect time. I like a drummer to voice the fact that we are starting a journey together. I like for him to feel it down the middle, but I don’t believe there is such a thing called “PERFECT” time. The idea is to establish a groove with each other.

The composition has a lot to do with the time feeling. Benny Goodman used to say, “When you’re playing up tunes, don’t fall in love with any notes”. In other words, keep it moving. If I can’t feel the drummer, I play straight ahead, and hope for the best. Bird used to sound different with different rhythm sections, there is no ONE way.

Gabe: What drummers stand out in your mind?

Jay: A lot of guys, Charlie Persip, he stands out in my mind. Oh, also Roy Haynes, Denzil Best, Frankie Capp, these guys are musicians. Most drummers today are musicians. In 1963, I actually left the West Coast because I couldn’t find a good drummer to play with. I had to go to New York to find a drummer that could lay it down and listen. But that’s changed.

Technical drummers don’t impress me, it’s the feeling that really counts.

Gabe: Are you saying that emotion is most important?


Jay: Yes, emotion with intelligence. If I can excite the drummer, he may do the same thing to help me out. A soloist does need help?

Gabe: When you play drums, what do you try to achieve?

Jay: Well, I listen and I like to drop little goodies on every one. That’s the kick of playing drums. I try to nudge in and get a good feeling with everybody. I try to fit in. Not being a drummer, I can’t be forceful enough to say, I’m the king of the rhythm section.

Gabe: Could it be that horn players play good drums because they don’t try to be king of the rhythm section?

Jay: Yes, that must be it, they listen. If the drummer isn’t listening to a soloist, what’s the sense of playing?

Gabe: If a drummer came to you for a lesson, what would you teach him?

Jay: First, I’d make him play fours with me. Then, I’d force him to play melodically. I’d do this by playing Charlie Parker solos, then I’d ask the drummer to play the same solos on the drums. It makes him get the feeling of what a horn player does and it also makes him listen. That’s what I teach drummers in my classes, I teach them to be horn players.

Gabe: You wouldn’t try to improve their technical sound?

Jay: You mean like, “more hi-hat”?

Gabe: Yes.

Jay: No, I don’t care what they sound like technically. I only care about concept and emotion.

Gabe: Do you like drum solos?

Jay: I dig drum solos, not extended ones like, “turn the drummer loose.” I don’t believe in that. I dig drum solos that are part of the band, fours, eights, a chorus or two.

Gabe: What do you look for when you hire a drummer?

Jay: I want everything, good time, good technique, one who shows off a little. As a leader of a small group, you need every member to carry the ball a little.

Gabe: Jay, to sum up, what advice would you offer to a young drummer?

Jay: Buddy Rich and I used to talk about establishing a certain standard in your own playing. Establish a standard for yourself and even if your arm is falling off, don’t fall below it. You should revere the fact that you can play an instrument, and never let anyone make you think differently. I’m a member of the Bahai Faith, we believe that work is a form of worship. We also believe that all people should live in harmony. This really describes my feelings about music.

You never know how much potential you have. The Bahais believe that you may only have a quart of potential – but, if you use it fully – you’re better off than the man who has a gallon of potential but only uses a spoonful.