Back in the ’50s, Jazz At The Philharmonic presented a “drum battle” featuring Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. To my knowledge, it was the first time they had appeared together. It was an exciting event, and it generated great interest in the drumming community. The format was one of challenges. One drummer would play time, while the other played a short solo. The other drummer would then answer with his own solo. Each solo escalated the tension with a “take that” sort of attitude. At the end they played together, building to a big climax.

Both Gene and Buddy acquitted themselves well, and the audience loved it. The performances were recorded and have recently been rereleased on Verve records. They are interesting historically, as well as musically.

In the ’60s, Buddy Rich and Max Roach recorded an album called Rich Vs. Roach. Each drummer was featured with his own small group, and the charts were written in such a way as to employ both bands (and drummers) on each tune. Once again, the basic format was one of challenges. This album has been rereleased on Mercury records as part of a two-record set entitled, Both Sides Of Buddy Rich. It also features Buddy with small groups and big bands of different eras.

Louie Bellson and Buddy have done joint concerts with their big bands. The finale in each case was the drum battle format. While these battles have always been exciting and interesting, to my knowledge, Buddy and Louie have never recorded an album together.

Last month I was in Dallas, Texas, to present a clinic. Rod Morgenstein, the fine young drummer with the Steve Morse Band, was also on the program. My clinic was in the afternoon and Rod’s was to be later that evening.

While we were setting up the drums that we would be using, I suggested to Rod, “Why don’t we play something together?” He thought it would be fun. We played a bit (for rehearsal purposes), and worked out a cue so that we could end together.

We played a spontaneous duet at the beginning and again at the end of my clinic. Afterward, Rod said, “Every drummer should do this. When you play with another drummer, you really have to lay back and listen.” I agree with Rod’s comments. You really do have to listen to keep the time together.

A number of years ago, when I lived in New York, a friend of mine, by the name of Lew Malin, and I used to get together and practice. We shared ideas, practiced exercises, listened to records, and played endless drumset duets. We eventually wrote a drum book together entitled Practical Method Of Developing Finger Control. I firmly believe that practicing on the two drumsets helped us to develop. The exchange of ideas was beneficial to both of us, and it was also a lot of fun.

In the last few years, I’ve performed drumset duets on clinics with Jack DeJohnette, Dave Garibaldi, Harvey Mason, Rick Latham, Joey Farris, Rod Morgenstein, and Louie Bellson. Not once has there been an ego problem or personality hang-up. In every instance, it has been a lot of fun, as well as a learning experience.

Dom Famularo, an excellent drummer, teacher, and clinician has written a book of drumset duets. A teacher can play one part, while the student plays the other. The parts can also be played by two students or two friends who just want to have some fun. In addition, Dom has just finished a video featuring the drumset duel concept. The book is entitled Drum Set Duels, and is available from Long Island Drum Center.The video is called It’s Your Move and is available from Axis Video Inc., Baltimore, Maryland.

From a learning standpoint, the drumset duet is helpful in a number of ways. For instance, it helps young players learn to read and play their parts, while someone next to them is playing something else. Students who become good readers by practicing alone are often thrown off when they play in a band. The same thing is true for the percussion ensemble. You have to listen to what is going on around you and still be able to play your own part.

The improvised drumset duet also helps the drummer learn to listen. If you don’t listen intently, the tempo gets messed up. Playing with Dave Garibaldi makes you aware of the rhythmic complexity of some of his patterns. Dave uses some phrases involving five-and seven-note groupings. You really have to listen to be able to play something that complements what he is doing. Listening also helps the drummer to develop a better sense of dynamics. If you both play as loud as possible all the time, it begins to sound like a war or a train wreck. Jack DeJohnette and I really got into some great improvised sections where we played very softly. When we did bring the volume back up, it was just that much more effective. Jack’s sense of dynamics is truly artistic.

I have heard the expression, “You never really know how people play until you play with them.” What this means, in terms of drumset duets, is that when two drummers play together, you get some ideas of the feeling the other drummer generates. Harvey Mason, for example, generates a very warm, secure feeling—even though he doesn’t play all that loudly. He also has a keen sense of dynamics and a great sense of humor. Joey Farris has a great feel for “grooves.” His New Orleans background really comes out when he solos. It is a very unique style. Rick Latham generates a really solid time feel. He also has a great sense of humor, which comes out when we play duets. Rod Morgenstein plays some really great rhythms with his hands and feet. He incorporates the two bass drums in his phrasing in such a way that it is like two extra hands. He also has a great groove.

Louie Bellson is perhaps the man who helped many of us get past the drum battle stage to the “let’s play together” approach. Even if you are playing four measures back and forth, Louie always keeps it musical. He is never competitive, and in my opinion, this is the secret to successful drumset duets.

Dave Garibaldi and I used to refer to our duets as “The Band.” We did a number of clinics together, and we would both look forward to the duet with the feeling, “I wonder what we will get into tonight.” Playing together, sharing and exchanging ideas, having fun and learning are what music is all about. That is also what drumming is all about. So, get together with a friend, set up the drums, and play some duets. It’s great fun.