A Salute to Jazz's Swing-Era Drummers
DRUMMIN' MEN: THE HEARTBEAT OF JAZZ, THE SWING YEARS. By Burt Korall, Schirmer Books, 381 pp., $24.95
`YOU never had the idea you were playing with a rhythm section, or a set of drums. When he drummed and you played, it was like sitting on someone's hands that were carrying you right along. Trumpeter Pee-Wee Erwin on playing with Dave Tough
Burt Korall, jazz writer, music business veteran, and a drummer himself, has written a series of affectionate portraits of several drummers from one of the most important eras of jazz - the swing years. Korall writes in detail about Gene Krupa, Dave Tough, Ray McKinley, Jo Jones, Buddy Rich, Chick Webb, and Sid Catlett, and has included shorter tributes to several other drummers (Cozy Cole, Sonny Greer, George Wettling, and others) at the end of the book.
Korall has gathered copious quotes from other musicians and associates of the drummers to round out their stories, interspersing them with his own comments and analyses of their playing. We find out, among other things, that Gene Krupa's showmanship was second to his real talent as a drummer; that Dave Tough was the master of subtlety; that Chick Webb was a powerhouse of talent and creativity who sometimes threatened to fly out of control; and that Buddy Rich was never satisfied with his playing. Best of all are Korall's own recollections of his early encounters with many of these drummers, playing with the big bands in the dance halls of the late '30s and '40s.
Although some of the accounts are a little long and a bit repetitive, the spirit of these men and the music they played comes to life in Korall's prose and the lively quotes he has chosen to include. Even the nonmusician will come away with a strong grasp of the art of drumming, why the drum is so important in jazz, and exactly how and why these men played the way they did.
Korall places his subjects in context - we not only get to know them as individuals, but the era in which their particular brand of music emerged. He has also included a discography and short bios of each interviewee at the end of the book. One hopes that Korall's next effort will be a book about the drummers of the be-bop era.