Last October we presented fifty albums that show how incredibly far jazz drumming has come since it first appeared on record a century ago. This month we bring you twenty-five more titles as we work toward a clean hundred.
The first installment of this series included a healthy dose of classic acoustic recordings from the ’50s and ’60s. This time we lean a little harder into iconic ’70s fusion releases. We also shine the spotlight on lesser-known but still significant players from before that tumultuous era, as well as on a selection of modern movers and shakers.
As in our initial feature, here we tap the vast knowledge of the drummer/historians Kenny Washington and Paul Wells, as well as veteran Modern Drummer writers. We also include contributions from some of our knowledgeable readers, who left comments about their favorite jazz drumming recordings on our social media pages.
1. Original Dixieland Jazz Band 1917-36 (Tony Sbarbaro)
The New Orleans ensemble the Original Dixieland Jazz Band was the first group of its kind to be documented on record, making study of the drumming on tracks like “Livery Stable Blues” and “Original Dixieland One-Step” very interesting indeed. “People like me spend lots of money to find records where you can hear [early drummers] like Zutty Singleton and Baby Dodds,” Kenny Washington says. “You couldn’t play drums loudly in the studio, because the technology at the time wasn’t what it is today. Drummers had to mind their Ps and Qs, because if you hit too hard that needle would go through the glass.” “The drums are actually pretty clear on ‘Original Dixieland One-Step,’” Paul Wells adds. “It’s basically parade drumming. Tony Sbarbaro switches between snare and woodblocks. What you hear drummers doing later in the ’20s became the press-roll style. But before that drummers like Tony Sbarbaro are doing almost continuous 8th notes.”
2. Duke Ellington At Newport (Sam Woodyard, 1956)
“Early into his long tenure with the Duke Ellington Orchestra,” longtime Modern Drummer contributor Jeff Potter says, “Sam Woodyard mega-swung the band throughout a legendary 1956 Newport Jazz Festival performance that yielded their biggest-selling LP and rejuvenated Duke’s career. On the legendary track ‘Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue,’ Woodyard kicks the band for fourteen minutes, including Paul Gonsalves’ famed twenty-seven-chorus tenor solo, whipping the audience into an audible frenzy. Eschewing complexity, Woodyard fat-swung his ride, leaned into a cross-stick backbeat, and dropped accents from his double bass drums, creating a throbbing swing with a blues heart. Later expanded editions of the disc include his solo feature, ‘Skin Deep,’ during which his thundering toms/double bass combinations forecast rock arena power solos of the future. But solos aside, the drummer’s unflashy swinging time feel is where he truly lived. For that, Duke loved him madly.”
3. Osie Johnson Osie’s Oasis (Osie Johnson, 1957)
“Osie’s one of the most recorded drummers in the history of jazz,” Kenny Washington says. “And he did things other than straight jazz. He’s in between swing and bebop, but he could do it all. And he was a great reader. Osie, Hank Jones, Milt Hinton, and Barry Galbraith were known as the rhythm section. They’d do three or four sessions a day. Most drummers don’t know about him, but he’s got a very distinctive sound. He used the same cymbals on everything. He was a composer and did some dates as a vocalist as well. When he died, Ed Shaughnessy and Grady Tate took a lot of his dates.”
4. Charles Mingus Mingus Ah Um (Dannie Richmond, 1959)
The liner notes to this classic album quote the leader as saying that if drummer Dannie Richmond weren’t available for a recording, he’d rather have no drummer at all. Such was the level of musical intimacy between the famed bassist and his drummer, who came into the Mingus group not long after beginning to play the instrument in earnest. (He’d begun his musical career on tenor sax.) The leadoff track of Ah Um, “Better Git It in Your Soul,” is a perfect example of Richmond’s many talents; the famous 6/8 raver, inspired by gospel music, features a trio of sophisticated and joyous twelve-bar drum features.
5. Max Roach Percussion Bitter Sweet (Max Roach, 1961)
“From the get-go,” Jeff Potter once wrote in Modern Drummer, “the message is clear: Hang on, there’s no looking back—the ’60s have arrived. This 1961 Impulse Records session is explosive, iconoclastic, and seminally political, radiating both rage and transcendent elation. Those who still thought of Max as a bopper awoke to find the master penning and playing tunes on the cutting edge.”
6. Thelonious Monk It’s Monk’s Time (Ben Riley, 1964)
Beginning in the mid-’50s, Ben Riley appeared on recordings with many jazz greats, including Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins, Ahmad Jamal, Eric Dolphy, Woody Herman, and Nina Simone. But the drummer, who died last year, will always be remembered first for his 1964–67 stint with jazz iconoclast Thelonious Monk. Of the handful of Monk albums released by Columbia records in 1964, It’s Monk’s Time is among the best.
7. Yusef Lateef Live at Pep’s (James Black, 1964)
MD contributor Martin Patmos calls James Black “an overlooked player who brings a unique energy to this date.” In a December 1982 feature, the famed New Orleans drummer was asked whether he felt that having knowledge of melody and harmony helped his drumming. “It helps you out a great deal,” he said. “It gives you [ideas for] different colorations that the drums can play. We all know that music is three things: rhythm, harmony, and melody. Just to know the rhythm would mean you’d be an incomplete musician.”
8. Miles Davis Quintet Miles Smiles (Tony Williams, 1967)
“On Miles Smiles,” MD reader Max Fruchtman says, “Tony Williams takes all of the bebop vocabulary and transforms it into very powerful expression that fuels the band’s improvisations. This is also when he started perfecting his idea of playing quarter notes on the hi-hat and beautifully bashing the hell out of the drums, which taught listeners that there are no limits to what can be done with a small drumset.” Reader Chris Davidson adds that he appreciates “the way Tony and [bassist] Ron Carter were intertwining and shape shifting like weirdos—glorious weirdos.”
9. The Don Ellis Orchestra Live in 3-2/3 / 4 Time (Steve Bohannon, 1967)
Martin Patmos is enamored by the way Steve Bohannon drives Don Ellis’s unique big band through absolutely bizarre time signatures that remain completely swinging and listenable. “Power, finesse, and a stunning rhythmic ability are all at this guy’s fingertips,” Patmos says. This album was recorded at the Pacific Jazz Festival and Shelly’s Manne Hole, and it gives a clear indication of just how complex and border-pushing the music was for its era. The title, incidentally, refers to the time signature of the track “Upstart,” which would be more commonly referred to as 11/8.
10. Count Basie and His Orchestra Basie Straight Ahead (Harold Jones, 1968)
“The Basie association was very important to my career,” Harold Jones told Modern Drummer in April of 1994. “The band was my university. The musicians were great. Alumni like Jo Jones frequently came around and gave advice. You discovered new things almost every night. And Basie quietly passed on important information with just a few words. He taught me about time, economy, how to react to music. He showed me how to really play well in a big band.” Basie Straight Ahead is the first Basie album to feature compositions and arrangements by Sam Nestico, who would remain a central figure in the famed pianist’s career until his passing in 1984. “Nestico was a big asset,” Jones said. “His melodic, rhythmic charts had the simplicity that Basie liked. Anything he wrote allowed the band to breathe and swing. I loved to play Sammy’s things because they’re natural, easy to feel, and don’t lock you in.”
11. Idris Muhammad Black Rhythm Revolution! (Idris Muhammad, 1970)
Muhammad, aka Leo Morris, supplied the airy soul to many renowned ’60s and ’70s albums from the likes of Hank Crawford, Grant Green, and Gene Ammons. “The drummer’s churning mojo groove,” MD scribe Ken Micallef says, “is superbly present on this, his debut album. You also might want to check out his playing on Lou Donaldson’s Alligator Boogaloo from 1967 and John Scofield’s 1995 release, Groove Elation.”
12. Chick Corea and Return to Forever Light as a Feather (Airto Moreira, 1973)
“Jazz fans initially knew Airto Moreira as the flamboyant percussionist with the original Weather Report and Miles Davis’s band,” Jeff Potter says, “but pianist Chick Corea’s quintet Return to Forever showcased his drumkit playing with stunning and highly influential results. Airto’s nimble, independent-limbed drumming combined jazz interplay with influences from his native Brazil, creating an urgent slipstream with Stanley Clarke’s percussive upright bass lines.” The landmark Light as a Feather, Return to Forever’s second album, yielded the standards “Spain” and “Captain Marvel.”
13. Billy Cobham Spectrum (Billy Cobham, 1973)
“The Mahavishnu Orchestra put Billy Cobham on the map,” regular MD scribe Ilya Stemkovsky says, “but his solo debut is the fusion bomb, featuring excellent guitar from Tommy Bolin and virtuoso kit work from the leader. Technical wizardry that still made your head bob put Cobham at the top of the heap of ’70s masters.” To hear more Cobham, you’d do well to check out Miles Davis’s Jack Johnson (1971), the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Birds of Fire (1973), and McCoy Tyner’s Fly With the Wind (1976).
14. Herbie Hancock Head Hunters (Harvey Mason, 1973)
“Herbie Hancock’s post–Miles Davis adventures grew more electric and funky with time,” Ilya Stemkovsky says, “culminating in this monumental groove summit, which showcases Harvey Mason’s super-deep pocket, killer fills, and extra-saucy rhythmic mind meld with bassist Paul Jackson.” Mason played on countless other releases straddling jazz, funk, and R&B, such as Grover Washington Jr.’s Mister Magic (1974) and George Benson’s Weekend in L.A. (1978).
15. Hubert Laws In the Beginning (Steve Gadd, 1974)
“Steve Gadd ushered in a new era of jazz drumming in the early ’70s,” MD contributor Mike Haid says, “with his thick, close-miked drum sound, dense double-stroke technique, and Latin-based grooves, which he seamlessly incorporated into every musical genre. This milestone CTI release covers all the bases, with straight-ahead jazz, Latin, blues, and a five-plus-minute flute/drum duet between Gadd and Laws on ‘Airegin,’ showcasing Steve’s relentless signature samba. His musicality, innovation, and precision shine brightly on this gem.”
16. Weather Report Heavy Weather (Alex Acuña, 1977)
“Every Weather Report release was a drumming event,” Jeff Potter says. “But the band hit a new stride with its catalog’s best-seller, Heavy Weather. Along with the ascendancy of bassist Jaco Pastorius, the group’s arrangements were tighter and more polished than ever. Acuña was the ideal man for the moment. Drawing on his vast knowledge of world grooves and a feel for jazz and funk, he framed the tunes with just the right balance of tight, hard-hitting energy, and breathing, open interplay. Along with percussionist Manolo Badrena, Acuña drove tunes such as ‘Havona’ and the hit ‘Birdland’ to ecstatic heights.”
17. Chick Corea Elektric Band The Chick Corea Elektric Band (Dave Weckl, 1986)
“This is the record that brought Dave Weckl international acclaim,” Paul Wells says. “He was twenty-five or twenty-six at the time, and it’s unbelievable how good he is at that young an age. Weckl figured out how to have a completely new voice in fusion drumming, which was pretty established at that point.” Related studies: Chick Corea’s Akoustic Band (1989).
18. Chick Corea Akoustic Band Live From the Blue Note Tokyo (Vinnie Colaiuta, 1996)
Speaking of Akoustic Corea… “Vinnie Colaiuta plays with such a beautiful swing on this album,” reader Will Beavis says. “High energy, great flow, momentum, touch, plus great interactions with the rest of the band. Whenever I think I’m getting somewhere with my own playing, listening to this album is always a rude awakening in terms of how far off I am.” To hear more primo Colaiuta, check out Allan Holdsworth’s Secrets (1989).
19. Chick Corea New Trio Past, Present & Futures (Jeff Ballard, 2001)
As we come to our fourth Chick Corea album in this month’s list, it’s worth recalling that the pioneering keyboardist and composer is a pretty heavy drummer himself. (Check out the Wayne Shorter albums Super Nova and Moto Grosso Feio, or the track “Confirmation” from his own Three Quartets album.) So maybe it’s no surprise that he’d continue to be working with a growing list of top-notch drummers in the new millennium. Paul Wells points to this release featuring drummer Jeff Ballard. “Alongside a young virtuoso bassist Avishai Cohen, Ballard floats like a butterfly throughout this lovely trio date, commanding the proceedings with subtle brushes and melodic interplay. But he also throws counterpunches with thunderous rolls and cymbal drive when the music needs it. Top-shelf listening from each player here.
20. The Bad Plus These Are the Vistas (Dave King, 2003)
“The Bad Plus does nothing halfway,” Michael Parillo wrote in the October 2012 issue of Modern Drummer. “And that goes double for Dave King. In the Bad Plus and his many other projects, King displays an absolutely fierce sense of commitment—to the endless possibilities of a simple drumset, to an idea that crops up in real time, to putting the group before the individual, to the search for a distinctive voice, to creative music in general.” “These Are the Vistas,” reader Noah Wilson adds, “is a ridiculously great example of frenetic avant-jazz steeped in pop sensibility for a really listenable vibe.”
21. Dafnis Prieto Absolute Quintet (Dafnis Prieto, 2006)
“Relocating to New York from Cuba in 1999, Dafnis Prieto quickly staked ground as a hot drummer to watch,” Jeff Potter says. “On his second disc, which won a Grammy in the Latin Jazz Album category, Prieto made it clear that he intended to push Latin-infused jazz in progressive directions, both as a drummer and composer. With an unusual format of drums, keys, reeds, violin, and cello, this release vaporized borders with its mix of Afro-Cuban, jazz, classical, funk, and more. The opening track, ‘The Coolest,’ exemplifies Prieto’s ease with complex yet fluid grooves and challenging rhythmic subdivisions. And his solo interjections at the tune’s finale are a head-spinning delight.”
22. Susie Ibarra Drum Sketches (Susie Ibarra, 2007)
“A multidisciplinary percussionist, drummer, and composer,” Ken Micallef says, “Susie Ibarra often presents her performances in solo settings, within theater/sound installation pieces, and among the music of indigenous cultures. But she’s also recorded epic albums with William Parker, Denis Charles, John Zorn, David S. Ware, and Matthew Shipp, which feature her textural, colorful, and thoroughly hypnotic jazz drumming. This solo album is an ideal source to behold many of her charms.”
23. Charles Lloyd Quartet Rabo de Nube (Eric Harland, 2008)
In his Modern Drummer review of Rabo de Nube, Martin Patmos said, “This concert recording is among saxophonist Charles Lloyd’s best. The quartet here, with pianist Jason Moran, bassist Rueben Rogers, and drummer Eric Harland, plays in ways that inspire and challenge, bringing Lloyd’s music to many places. Harland’s drumming is phenomenal, as on ‘Prometheus,’ where he propels the group with skittish timekeeping, provides color, and turns in a stunning solo. Elsewhere, whether with an easy swing, brushes that shade, or a subtle world-beat pulse, Harland’s drumming consistently lifts the music.”
24. Manu Katché Third Round (Manu Katché, 2010)
“This is melodic, warm, and touching music,” reader Fabian Schindler says. “Manu Katché’s drumming is unique—the way he paints music with his cymbals and approaches his drumming from a percussionist’s perspective is refreshing, and quite a contrast to that of bebop masters like Max Roach or Art Blakey. Katché always has a special groove deep down in his heart.”
25. Antonio Sanchez Bad Hombre (Antonio Sanchez, 2017)
Bad Hombre is a drumset-meets-electronics venture that Antonio Sanchez singlehandedly created in his home studio. “One of the most fun parts for me was getting out of my comfort zone,” Sanchez told MD last year, “being this completely different kind of drummer, producer, and musician. In Birdman [the feature film for which Sanchez created a unique drum-centric score], it was great to hear the drums up front, with some pads in the background and atmospheric sounds. I wanted to try my hand at doing my version of that, but go all the way. I envisioned the drums being at the forefront, but with something that hadn’t been done before: I wanted to juxtapose really acoustic-sounding drums with an all-electronic background. I didn’t want it to be just vamps, I didn’t want it to be tunes; I wanted it to be waves of energy, soundscapes.”