Many scholars argue that jazz, which was first documented on record one hundred years ago by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, is America’s greatest musical gift to the world. I couldn’t agree more. I mean, what other art form encapsulates the messy, diverse mix of cultures that makes up our modern society better than this innovative, expressive, and ever-evolving genre? Within jazz, you’ll find European classical chord progressions and military-style instrumentation, African traditions of improvisation and polyrhythmic layering, the “Spanish tinge” (i.e., clave) of Cuban folkloric dances, and the spiritual, heartfelt inflections of call-and-response field songs created by African-Americans in the late 1800s. On paper, those elements shouldn’t gel. And yet they do—beautifully.
From a drumming perspective, there are countless benefits to studying jazz, even if you never intend to play it in its traditional form. First off, most of the rhythmic vocabulary we use on the drums has its origins in jazz. The way we apply rolls and other rudiments to the drumset can be traced back to early pioneers like Baby Dodds and Zutty Singleton. Full-kit triplet licks and tribal tom beats were used to great effect by Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, Cozy Cole, and other big band drummers during the Swing Era. And the over-the-barline phrasing found in contemporary prog and fusion was a hallmark of the bebop style invented by Kenny Clarke, Max Roach, and others in the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s.
Jazz also demands a high level of independence in order to be able to carry on a musical conversation with the snare, kick, and hi-hat while maintaining a consistent groove on the ride cymbal. And the ebb and flow of the swing feel, which is vital to a convincing Bonham-style rock groove or hip-hop breakbeat, is best internalized by listening to—and playing along with—classic jazz records. Similarly, you’ll learn how to coax the most musical sounds possible from your kit, often at low volume, when drumming in an unamplified setting with an upright bass and acoustic piano.
For this jazz-focused issue, we culled a list of some of the greatest drum performances in the genre, and we analyzed the hip phrasing of post-bop legend Tony Williams. We also caught up with contemporary-jazz trailblazer Antonio Sanchez to discuss his latest drum-centric album, Bad Hombre, and sat down with ever-evolving jazz icon Jack DeJohnette, who’s been paving new ground with the multigenerational supergroup Hudson, which includes guitarist John Scofield, keyboardist John Medeski, and bassist Larry Grenadier. We hope you enjoy this special issue!