When we recently asked our social media followers for their favorite jazz drumming record, enthusiastic responses quickly flooded in. We tallied up the drummers that appeared on each pick and made a top-five list. The late pioneer Elvin Jones played on the most albums, followed by Art Blakey, Tony Williams, Max Roach, and Buddy Rich, in that order. Around half of the picks were recorded in the 1960s, a little over 20 percent were recorded in the ’50s, and the rest encompassed an even spread among the decades since the ’70s. Here are some of the comments.
I don’t recall ever feeling as deeply moved by the drums on a jazz album as I did when I listened to Elvin Jones work his wonders on John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. Elvin’s drumming here is nothing short of sublime. He seamlessly blended motivic development, complex polyrhythmic coordination, and highly musical comping into one.
Miles Smiles by Miles Davis. Tony Williams transforms the bebop vocabulary into a very powerful expression that fuels the band’s improvisations. This is also when he started playing constant quarter notes on the hi-hat while beautifully bashing the hell out of his drums, which taught listeners that there are no limits to what can be done with a small drumset.
Bill Stewart on Peter Bernstein’s album Stranger in Paradise has been killing me lately. His power is complemented by his accuracy. And his musicality is enhanced by the amazing sounds he draws from his kit.
The first Miles Davis record that I got with Tony Williams was The Complete Concert: 1964 (My Funny Valentine + “Four” & More). I’d never heard the drums played so powerfully and with the undeniable swing he encompassed. Tony could go from a whisper to a roar—all within the same tune.
A Love Supreme by John Coltrane. Elvin is one of my favorite drummers. His comping is so spontaneous and crisp, and it’s a fun challenge to learn. Listening to his stuff has definitely boosted my triplet chops. Plus Coltrane’s vocabulary is so haunting and catchy. It gives me chills to hear him rip.
Chick Corea’s Now He Sings, Now He Sobs. It’s a trio with Miroslav Vitouš on bass and Roy Haynes on drums. You can’t listen to an individual song from the album—each track flows into the next. And the way Haynes plays the drums makes the kit sound more like a melodic voice than anything else. His style of playing can be heard in Tony Williams’ output, but Roy Haynes just has an ebb and flow that appeals more to me.
Dave Brubeck, Time Out. Joe Morello’s laid-back, less-is-more approach made me realize that jazz doesn’t have to be busy and abstract to still be good groove-oriented music.
Wayne Shorter, Speak No Evil. Elvin Jones’ left-hand complexity doesn’t sacrifice any pocket. He reinforces the band without taking center stage. So hip.
Third Round by Manu Katché. It’s very melodic, warm, and touching music. 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 a big contrast to older bebop masters. Katché always has this special groove deep down in his heart.
Chick Corea’s Akoustic Band, Live From the Blue Note Tokyo. Vinnie Colaiuta plays with such a beautiful swing on this album. There’s high energy, great flow, momentum, and touch, and he has 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 as to how far off I am.
Tony Williams on Miles Davis’ The Complete Concert: 1964 (My Funny Valentine + “Four” & More). His interaction with [pianist] Herbie Hancock and the rest of the band is unreal. His drums and cymbals sounds great, and Williams was only nineteen at the time.
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