The Chicago Drum Show, which was founded by historian Rob Cook and is now in its twenty-ninth year, is one of the largest and longest-running drum exhibitions in the world. At the show’s latest edition, held this past May 18 and 19 at the Odeum Expo Center in Villa Park, Illinois, attendees feasted on two days of phenomenal clinics, master classes, and more than 200 booths that featured rare vintage, custom, and modern drums, cymbals, and accessories. There was ample opportunity to meet top talents, collectors, authors, educators, historians, and fellow drummers alike.
Fourteen-year-old up-and-comer Jake D opened the clinics. The drummer started playing at age three, began formal lessons at seven, and is now training with seasoned pro Hannah Welton. Jake impressed the audience with his talent and a few life lessons. “Be able to play everything,” he shared during his performance. “And be humble.”
Next Welton took the stage on her signature Gretsch 3rdeyegirl drumkit that she used with Prince. The drummer played through some classic Prince tracks and spoke about first meeting the pop icon. “That one big gig was all that I needed,” she said. “It was his dream to have an all-girl rock band. It was an honor to be part of that. Prince took me in and wanted to work with me, helping my evolution as a pocket player. He was monumental in my development and taught me to live my life in the moment. He said, ‘You should be your favorite drummer and love yourself.’”
Next Paul Wertico, a former teacher of Welton, took the stage. Wertico has won seven Grammy awards with the Pat Metheny Group and has played on recordings with Larry Coryell, Randy Brecker, and Ramsey Lewis, among many others. The drummer is also an author and highly regarded educator. In his clinic, Wertico talked about his unique perspective on drumming. “When you play, you channel something bigger,” he said. “With music, enjoy the ride. When I was in high school, my band director let me do what I wanted to do, not just what was written or expected. Education should be about students finding themselves.” Wertico also discussed some lessons from his book Turn the Beat Around. “Be aware of beats 1 and 3—the front and back beats,” he explained. “It kind of drives the music. I’m not listening to the click but to the band. As long as I know where the center is, I can play ahead or behind the time.” Wertico then demonstrated various ways of playing ahead or behind the click while maintaining a sense of consistent time.
Perry Wilson, renowned for his drumming with the Temptations and legendary jazz saxophonist and bandleader Sonny Rollins, followed Wertico’s performance. Wilson was joined by his group, the Life-Size Trio, which included Dwayne Armstrong on sax and Vashon Johnson on bass. The drummer recalled some humorous and insightful stories about Rollins. “I was playing with Cassandra Wilson when I got a call to play with Sonny,” he said. “I thought it was a joke and hung up! But Sonny called back and asked me to audition. I met him and the late bassist Bob Cranshaw at a big room in SIR Studios in New York. We played ‘Falling in Love with Love.’ After that, we played ‘Oleo.’ Sonny and I traded fours, and it was a spiritual experience. He then asked me for my social security number to give to his wife, the tour manager. I had the gig. It was the most culturally enriching experience of my life. There was no set list, and he was notorious for changing the keys on us.”
Glenn Kotche, a versatile composer, percussionist, and two-decades-long drummer for the band Wilco, led the last clinic of the day. Kotche said he was very much into “non-traditional work” and liked to vary his drum setups often. “It’s not unlike the early drummers, like Chick Webb,” he said. “He had a lot of traps and sounds, providing sound environments and moods.” Kotche’s Sonor kit was complemented by a variety of auxiliary percussion and triggers. The drummer also expressed his desire to explore abstract sounds, saying, “I like to use anything that elicits a sound and adds a splash of color.” In his exploration of sound, Glenn has created unique percussive instruments like threaded rods with springs at the end. His playing was a lesson in musicality, dynamics, textures, and technique, and he impressed with a few flashy one-handed rolls.
On the second day of the show, Carl Allen took the stage. The drummer, composer, educator, and bandleader has more than 200 recordings to his credit with such artists as Freddie Hubbard, Branford Marsalis, Phil Woods, and Lena Horne. Allen opened by asking the audience, “How do you hear music? How do you know what to play so that it’s going to be happening?” For the drummer, it was about not being afraid to make mistakes. “If your goal is to be perfect, then you can’t be in the moment,” he explained. “I encourage you to take chances. Art Blakey once said, ‘Do you play the drums, or do the drums play you?’”
Allen went on to say that everyone in a band needs to embrace the time. “It needs to be felt rather than heard,” he explained. “We let measures limit us. Think of a perforated bar line. It allows you to hear larger phrases. I play to let others feel the groove and allow them to lay their parts on top. Sometimes it’s best to keep it simple and meet the music where it is.”
Last up to the clinic stage was Denny Seiwell, who’s well recognized for his drumming with Paul McCartney and Wings, TV and film music, and the Denny Seiwell Trio. He’s played on numerous records and toured with the likes of Joe Cocker, Donovan, and the Who with the London Symphony Orchestra. Seiwell reflected on his days in the studio with Wings, saying that McCartney generally let him craft the drum parts but stepped in on “Uncle Albert” because he “wanted a different part; more orchestral sounding to go along with the vocals.” Seiwell played some memorable Wings tunes, like “Live and Let Die,” “The Back Seat of My Car,” and “Another Day,” as well as a song from the movie Waterworld. “I’m seventy-six and still working,” he said. “If you don’t challenge yourself, what’s the point?”
The show also featured various educational and historical clinics. Gary Astridge, the curator of Ringo Starr’s Beatles kits, shared his extensive knowledge and passion about the drummer’s gear. Donn Bennett, who founded the Donn Bennett Drum Studio in Bellevue, Washington, spoke about documenting the Elvin Jones collection.
David Frangioni, newly appointed publisher of Modern Drummer, also shared his vision for the magazine at the event. “Modern Drummer is a place for drummers of all styles, ages, and interests that is digitally savvy with an analog soul,” he explained. Frangioni displayed pictures of some amazing kits that are part of his Florida-based drum museum. These kits and more are featured in his book Crash: The World’s Greatest Drum Kits.
The showroom floor this year featured plenty of amazing drum and percussion gear. The vintage side featured some rare gems, including a 1928 Slingerland “Black Beauty” snare, a 1932–34 rose pearl Slingerland DuAll snare, a 1940s Ludwig “Top Hat” kit, transition badge and pre-serial brass Super-Ludwig/Supraphonics, several Gretsch-Gladstone snares, and jazz/orchestral drummer Viola Smith’s original Billy Gladstone snare.
There was no shortage of superb modern drums from A&F, Acoutin, Billy Baker, Black Swamp, Chicago Drum, Doc Sweeney, Dunnett/George Way, DW, Ellis, Fugate, Gretsch, Independent Drum Lab, Infinity Drumworks, Holloman Custom, Jenkins-Martin, Ludwig, Mattoon, Noble & Cooley, Rogers, Sonor, Stone Custom, Trick, WFLIII, and Yamaha. Cymbals were on display from Amedia, Byrne, Centent, Dream, Legado, Paiste, Sabian, and Zildjian, and accessory manufacturers included Cymbolt, Evans, Gibraltar, Humes & Berg, Kelly SHU, Low Boy, Latin Percussion, Promark, Remo, and Tackle.
The Chicago Drum Show plans to return to the Odeum in 2020 for the event’s thirtieth anniversary.