Jim Chapin

Father of Independence

by Rick Mattingly

Jim ChapinThe Chapin Book. Sooner or later every serious drummer has to master it. Although the book was once considered impossible to play, it is now accepted as the basic text for independent coordination. Many books have appeared since which have attempted to cover the same material in greater depth, but the Chapin Book remains the standard by which the others are judged.

Not everyone can write a great drum book. The author has to have a solid background in drumming. He must not only have learned from others, but must also have been able to create his own solutions to musical problems. Anticipating the future by observing what is being done and then taking those things a step or two further is another necessity. The exercises themselves must he musical rather than merely mechanical, Finally, the author must be able to commumnicate his ideas clearly and concisely.

Jim Chapin has more than met the above requirements. After studying with Ben Silver and Sanford Moeller, Chapin began writing his own exercises. He observed what the top drummers of the day were doing and combined their musical phrases with the mechanics of independence. As a player, he has worked with a variety of dance bands, jazz, musicians, and even composer Edgard Varese, who used to bring his percussion instruments to Chapin’s living room so they could practice together. Jim recently took time to talk about his life for MD, beginning with his background and the circumstances that led to Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer, Vol. I.”I was a late-comer to the drums, starting in the spring of ’37, two months before I was eighteen. I really came at it hard, playing drums all day and then at night going out to hear bands. Originally I practiced at home, but then my mother rented an empty apartment for me. Apartments were cheap in the fall of ’37. In the summer of ’38 I went away with a band. I was terrible. I had only been playing a little over a year.

“Billy Eckstine, Frank Ippolito, and Gene Krupa had all suggested that I study with Moeller. I had been playing a year and a half before I went to him. Moeller made you play things with a continuous motion. The motion was the message. You made the motion and the stick played it. After a while, it almost played itself. It was like a dance in midair. I also saw the way he analyzed everything and stressed taking everything apart. If you played a triplet, he showed what you did with one hand, and then he would add the other hand. The same with the paradiddle; you would learn what each hand did by itself. It was very analytical. So from the time Moeller showed me that. I was able to think in terms of doing one thing with one hand, and one thing with the other. That was the reason I got into the things that later developed into Book I.

“What happened was, I saw that there were certain things being done by people like O’Neill Spencer, Arthur Herbert and Cozy Cole. It was a shuffle rhythm and it was an independent thing. But that was as far as it went. They never broke it down from that. So I started with the shuffle rhythm. My right hand had begun to have a life of its own. From the techniques I learned from Moeller, I was able to play the ride cymbal pattern as a continuous motion, so I just left it there and concentrated on the left hand. It was very simple for me to get the shuffle rhythm. Then I started to leave notes out. I would play left hand solos against the ride cymbal. When I was working at the Hickory House with Flip Phillips, I got into doing things with him where he would play a short, rhythmic phrase, and I would play it back at him with my left hand. I never heard anybody else do that before me. People used to laugh at me and say, ‘What’s that?’

“Shelly Manne was around New York at that time and he credits me with not only being the academic father of independence, but also with being the playing father. In those early be-bop days, there was no independence. Max Roach, Art Blakey, and Kenny Clarke always played figures, but they couldn’t do them independently at that time. In fact, Max told me recently, ‘You know, you kind of intimated in that book that we played this way. Well none of us played this way. We didn’t do any independence. All of us had to study that book and learn it.’ So the only thing I invented were the mechanics. The guys from the be-bop era invented the artistic part. They were playing the actual lines, but they weren’t playing them independently. The only thing I did was to show them the mechanics of maintaining the right hand. I played that way, so they could hear it. Kenny Clarke used to come in to the Hickory House when he was working across the street.

“The book was a mechanical study I did during the war. I was drafted at the end of ’43, and got out at the end of ’45. I practiced all those things and wrote them out. I had the book written by the summer of ’45. I didn’t do anything with it until ’48 when I was in Atlanta. A friend of mine named Lew Swain had some printing equipment, and we made 50 copies of it. That was the original Vol. I. It seems so simple now, but at the time it was very strange. There weren’t any books even vaguely like it on the market. People challenged me a lot, saying, ‘Nobody can play that stuff.’ It is a process, that’s all. You do this and then you do that. Luckily, I did a few very good things in it. I wrote it as a separate line and I also wrote it as a combined line. I also solved the dilema of eighth-notes in jazz. If you play section 1, part B with the suggestions in the front of the book, you will find that there are three ways to play it, depending on the tempo. So the introduction explains a lot to anyone who reads it.

“I didn’t think about having it published. I just wanted it to be out. While I was on the road, my mother saw it. She sent it to a music publisher who knew something about drums, and said, ‘What should I do with this? Do you think it will sell?’ He told her, ‘This book is sensational. You ought to keep it for yourself.’ Lew Swain sent the plates up to my mother, and she had about three or four thousand copies printed. She took out advertisements, and pretty soon it was selling two thousand a year, eventually going to ten thousand a year. It is now in the 32nd printing. The book holds up well because I thought about it a lot and didn’t go off half-cocked. By about ’43 I had a lot of these things figured out, but the book wasn’t published until five years later.

“I was brought up to be sort of analyti cal. My father was a painter and my mother was a teacher. I was taught to look at things analytically. I was a student of the drums, but not the kind that plays this book, then this book, then this book, and gets locked into what somebody else thought. A lot of times, I made up my own exercises. Certain people are students, and certain people are followers. I don’t want people saying, ‘Wow, you sound just like Jim Chapin.’ I want students to use me, the way I used Moeller. He did a lot for my hands, and made me able to play hard and loud for long periods of time without raising a sweat. If I can help someone learn independence, fine. But I don’t want him using the things in the book when he plays a gig. The things in the book are like finger exercises. You’re not supposed to sound like Czerny when you play piano.”

From the very beginning, Chapin’s book was subtitled Vol. I, and everyone looked forward to Vol. II. It took a long time, but the sequel finally appeared in the early ’70s. Expectations had been high, but no one was really prepared for Independence—The Open End. The book was truly unlike anything that had ever come before. It featured removable pages that could be superimposed over each other, creating everything from simple coordination exercises to the most advanced polyrhythms. The book sold for $35 when first published. (It now sells for $50.) But those who had used it said it was a bargain.

“I had Volume II in mind ever since 1950. It took me 20 years to develop it and put it out. It’s an interesting book, but very expensive to produce. I thought I was going to let it die, but I had so many back orders that I had to have more of them printed. This is a book that you could take and never get bored with, if you know how to use it. For certain things, you would never need anything else.

“I’ve got Book III going now. I don’t know about immediate impact, but I think it will have a long-range impact. It’s not that hard to do, but I think the idea behind it is revolutionary. It took me a long time to develop it. I’m a very slow study, like a set of damp fireworks. My ideas do not suddenly burst on the scene, they come in little flashes.”

In addition to his books, Jim has participated in the Music Minus One series. The first album, Modern Jazz Drumming, consisted of Jim playing Book I. This was especially helpful for those who were not able to study the book under the guidance of a teacher. (It was also helpful in proving that the hook could actually be played.) The other albums in the series, For Drummers Only, Wipe Out, and Sit-in, made use of a band (minus a drummer of course) playing big-bund, jazz, rock and combo arrangements. Although nothing can substitute for actually playing with a live band, these recordings come very close.

Jim also has two albums out on the Classic Jazz label, which is a division of MMO. The one entitled Skin Tight consists of the charts from For Drummers Only, with Jim playing the drum parts himself. The other album, the Jim Chapin Sextet, features the group that Jim used on Monday nights at Birdland in the mid-fifties.

“The Music Minus One albums are kind of interesting. For Drummers Only was the first of the albums to deal with big-band fills. That’s the most difficult one. I still play some of those arrangements with my group, the Jazz Tree. I wrote the lines for the two blues charts, as well as for ‘ I ‘ l l Take Romance’ and ‘The Lady is a Tramp.’ I like those albums, although they weren’t always recorded well. MMO tries to get things done as quickly and cheaply as possible. For instance, I’ve got an album called Skin Tight that was not even supposed to be an album. It was just the run downs, with drums, for the For Drummers Only album. On the Wipe Out album, ‘Lil’ Darlin’ ‘ is bad; the reason being that the trumpet player had to leave and they went ahead and recorded it without him. But some of the other things on that album are very good. ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’ is pretty good. It’s a Bob Wilber arrangement. ‘Cute,’ ‘Wipe Out,’ and ‘Girl Watchers’ Theme’ are not bad. I also like The Jim Chapin Sextet album. Not much drums, but it is good, mid-period be-bop.”

When Jim was first learning to play drums, he approached Gene Krupa for lessons. Krupa said that he did not teach, and suggested that Chapin study with Stanford Moeller, who had taught Krupa. He took the advice and although Jim was not able to study with Krupa, the two of them became friends. Eventually, it was Krupa who started asking Chapin for lessons.

“Gene was the first one who had mentioned Moeller to me, because he had studied with Moeller. So I saw Gene through the years, but the first time he really got to know what I could do was in the summer of 1940. I was at the World’s Fair playing in a band with Mike Riley. We played before Krupa’s band. Mike was a clown, and one night he looked at his watch and said, ‘Krupa will be on in about 7 minutes. Play a drum solo until he gets here.’ It was ridiculous. Krupa was at the height of his game, and I had only been playing for three years. But I had been to Moeller by that time and my hands were very good. Gene came backstage and looked at me and said, ‘It looks like I should have stayed with the old man a while longer.’

“He called me up in the fall of ’68 and said, ‘Jim, I’ve got emphysema and I’m going crazy up here. Come on up and teach me. Ever since you came over and showed Cozy and me the book in ’52, and played it for us, I’ve wanted to study with you. Not only independence, but I’ve wanted to find out how your hands work, because obviously you know something that I don’t know.’ And I said, ‘Well, it’s just Moeller.’ Gene said, ‘Then he knew more when he taught you than he did when he taught me.’ So all that winter I’d go up to Yonkers every Tuesday. Then he felt better and started to play again. He had a couple of years where he was playing very well. Then leukemia started.

“He was always a very nice man. All the stories about him being a big drug taker were false. He was a delightful man.”

Chapin is primarily known as a jazz musician but, like many jazz players, he has often had to play non-jazz gigs in order to make a living and provide for his family. He has, however, approached these jobs with the same positive attitude and high standards that he applies to anything he does. Developing this attitude is one of the things Jim feels strongly about, and this was made evident as he discussed his career.

“A lot of my career has been very strange because I’ve been away from the jazz scene a lot. I have a lot of children and I had to make a living so my family wouldn’t starve. The job at the Hickory House with Flip was sort of a jazz job. It was really a commercial job, but we had a couple of good jazz players. Then I was drafted. When I got out. I worked in the Village, and with big-bands at Roseland and at the Arcadia ballroom. In late ’46 I went out on the road with the Casa Loma Orchestra, which was still relatively prestigious at the time. Then I came back to New York for awhile. In ’48, I went to Atlanta. That was when I probably did the best jazz playing in my life. I felt I was on the crest of the wave at that time because I could do all of these things that nobody else could do. The rhythm section was very good. The bass player was Red Wooten, and he was as good as anybody I’ve ever played with.

“I’ve always done a lot of dance jobs, often with fairly good players. I don’t mind playing those. If you play it well, and lay it down with a purpose, and you know what you’re doing, any kind of music can come out well. If you are a jazz player, and you are playing a commercial job with ‘long teeth’ [a sneer] don’t play! Don’t take a job that you don’t want to do and then look sour. Stay away from it. I found that out myself. Around ’41, I was bugged with the rhythm section I was working with at the time, so I was not giving it my best shot. The leader said. ‘What are you doing, Jim?’ I thought about it. What was I doing? I was playing as though I was disassociating myself from the band. Was I a critic up there or a participant? If I’m a participant, then let’s try to make it as good as possible. I’ve felt that way ever since and it’s helped me with situations that I probably shouldn’t have gotten into. But I had to make money and stay in one place because of my family. I’ve played with some people that were incredibly bad, just as I’ve played with some that are incredibly good.

“Playing dance jobs are good in a way, it is a kind of discipline, but you can’t play jazz unless you play jazz. Thankfully, I’ve been playing a little jazz for the last four years, and I’m getting a little better again. Actually, my playing is better now than it’s ever been. It’s a little freer. I organized a little jazz band to do college dates and things like that. We’re called the Jazz Tree, and we play everything from New Orleans street marches to avant-grade. We also do a lot of things in the schools. We’ll do a 45-50 minute show where we explain and play various types of jazz. I often use the audience as a brass section, having them sing riffs over our rhythm section. It sounds ridiculous but it really works. They really get into it. We don’t play very much rock because you can make an easy score with that. ‘Oh yeah, those old guys are playing rock. Oh boy!’ I tell them, ‘You hear rock everyday. We’re playing something you don’t hear that much.’ I’m also involved with a big-band. A guy named Pat DeRosa has a book for twelve or thirteen men, and on Wednesday nights we go down to the American Legion and rehearse. There are some local music teachers there who are very good, and a couple of full-time professional musicians.”

Chapin spends most of his time playing, yet it is as a teacher, author and clinician that he ix best known. His many years in the business have given him the opportunity to observe and analyze the various styles of playing that have been in vogue from time to time. Always a student of drums himself. Jim has kept abreast of current trends, and is able to help students gain an overall view of how drumming has developed historically. As an example. Jim spoke about the use of the bass drum during the big-band era.

“In the old days, there were a lot of drummers who didn’t have any feet. They didn’t have the power or the subtlety to do many things that guys do today. In fact, Buddy and Louie were two of the few who had good feet. There was a guy called Struttin’ Sam who used to do ridiculously fast tempos with his foot. Lionel always had a good foot when he was a drummer. Jo Jones had great feet, too. So there were a few.

“Generally, you weren’t supposed to play much on the bass drum, so now it’s hard for most of us to get the foot developed. Almost all of the guys that I know who have really fantastic feet were dancers. You can do it without dancing, but it’s a help. I never did it. I knew about it early, too, but I never did it, and I was never happy with my feet.

“Buddy always danced on the pedal. He used to drive bass players crazy because at that time, electric bass wasn’t used much. Laying on the bass drum would thrill Tommy Dorsey and Harry James because brass players like to hear a loud bass drum. So every drummer who pleased Tommy or Harry had to play heavy, like Buddy. I played with Tommy Dorsey briefly. He hated me. I couldn’t play loud bass drum. I had been conditioned to play so you could hear the bass player. I learned to play loud later because the music changed and the bass players got louder, so it didn’t bother me anymore.

“In those days, rhythm sections stomped more than swung. The first one to swing was the Count Basie section with Jo Jones and Walter Page, because Jones and Page played together. It was the first rhythm section with an idea. It wasn’t just drums with everybody else tagging along. I wanted to play that way, but that wasn’t compatible with a lot of big-bands in the ’40s.”

Chapin concluded our talk with some comments about his current activities.

“I teach one day a week, that’s all. I have some good students and I’m happy that I have something of value to show them. I want to do more clinics than I’ve been doing. I’ve done a few big ones and some seminars, and I like doing clinics with a lot of people. I enjoy that. The problem is, I’m nut sponsored by a drum company at the moment.

“The reason that I haven’t written a lot more books is that I’m lazy. I waste far too much time and I can’t do it anymore. For every waste of time now I feel guilty. Basically, I’d like to practice four hours a day and I would like to play four hours. I could if I had my life scheduled correctly.

“Physically, I sometimes think I haven’t lost anything at all. Now I’ve finally begun to study things I don’t know, instead of just practicing the things I can already do. For instance, I’ve got a very stiff back and it’s hard for me to do things with my left foot, like doubletime rock or a samba thing where the left foot is carrying it. That was hard for me to get. It’s still difficult, but I’m getting better at it.

“I practice control patterns but I don’t do enough of them. Once you understand drums there are so many things to do that you never, in a dozen lifetimes, get through them. The more you know, the more you want to know. It can be frustrating or rewarding, whichever way you want to think about it.”