Joe Morello: Drum virtuoso exits the stage

Joe Morello, the drummer behind the early Dave Brubeck quartets, passed on this weekend. Morello's legacy was to inspire a generation of drummers.

Joe Morello, the masterful drummer of the classic Dave Brubeck quartets of the '60s passed away this past weekend in New Jersey. No drummer, other than Ringo Starr, has inspired more Baby Boomers to take up the sticks and brushes than Joe.

His effortless touch, swinging sense of time, and light-as-a-souffle drum solos raised the art of drumming to precisely that – art.

Joe played on more than 120 albums and CDs – 60 with The Dave Brubeck Quartet. He won the Down Beat magazine award for best drummer for five years in a row, the Playboy award seven years in a row, and is the only drummer to win every music poll for five years in a row, including Japan, England, Europe, Australia, and South America.

Springfield, Mass., was Morello’s birthplace, 82 years ago. His first instrument of choice was the violin, and the precocious young man showed enough ability to be invited to play Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at age 9. When he was 15, he met the legendary violinist Jascha Heifitz. But upon meeting and hearing his idol, Joe felt he could never achieve “that sound.” He promptly switched to drums.

Morello first came to the general public’s attention as featured soloist on Brubeck’s world-wide smash “Take Five,” named for the unusual 5/4 time signature that became a hallmark of Brubeck and his smooth sax man Paul Desmond’s subsequent compositions like “Blue Rondo a la Turk” and “Unsquare Dance.” His supple “Take Five” drum solo was voted “Most Melodic” of all time in a recent Drum! magazine poll.

For the past four decades, Morello bequeathed his vast knowledge of time, taste, and technique to scores of students. But his unique gift remains wholly his, and thanks to a prolific recording career with Brubeck – and many video clips on YouTube – it will keep on giving.

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