Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Slingerland Gene Krupa Sound King Snare Drum

Gene Krupa was Slingerland's top endorser. He was on the cover of every Slingerland catalog from 1936 to 1967. As mentioned in earlier blogs ( See Dec. 20th, March 21st, and Apr. 12th), Slingerland wasted no opportunities when it came to Mr. Krupa. It's no exaggeration to say that Gene Krupa was the best drum salesman Slingerland ever had----which brings us to the beautiful drum you see pictured above.

This ten lug cupcake was known as the Gene Krupa Sound King Snare Drum. It came in two sizes, 5 x 14 and 6 1/2 x 14. It was in production from 1963 to 1977. There was an eight lug model that was an option and, although not plentiful, is not too difficult to find in the vintage market. The ten lug is more difficult to find, especially one like this. But more on that later. The shell is made of brass and the hoops are also brass. The drum is outfitted with the Zoomatic snare strainer, the standard Slingerland Strainer for the time. This snare drum was the last Slingerland snare drum to bear the Gene Krupa name. Indeed in 1976, " Gene Krupa" was dropped from the listing and the drum was simply known as the Sound King.

This particular drum has a special uniqueness. She is brand new. I bought this drum yesterday. The drum has never been tuned, much less played. The small bag hanging from the lug contains the drum key and the warranty paperwork. It goes without saying that everything on her is totally original. This drum had been sitting in a music shop for 35-40 years until I happened to see it 2 weeks ago.

Obviously, I can't comment about its playability. But I hope to rectify that situation shortly

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The 1968 Downbeat Magazine Annual Drummers Poll

In addition to having an Annual Percussion Issue (See blog dated June 8th), Downbeat also published an issue with ratings for various musicians and their recordings. These popularity contests were somewhat skewed because the only votes that counted were those that were mailed in by readers who took the time to do so. Nowadays, a few clicks can get you almost anywhere in cyberspace, but back then, snail mail was the way to go.

Anyway, these polls covered all jazz musicians who played an appropriate instrument. Guitarists,pianists, horn players, drummers---you name it and there was a poll for it. The poll only applied to jazz and, in a few cases, pop musicians. There were no classical, country, or world musicians. There was even a category for Record of the Year. These polls were only for the readers of Downbeat. No critics or commentators were allowed to vote. There was a separate issue for a critics poll.

In any case, the poll you see pictured here is the drummers poll from 1968. It's self explanatory, but the number in parenthesis indicates the standings from the previous year's poll. No numbers in parenthesis indicates a new entry for the year.

The poll gives a snapshot, albeit a small one, of the popularity of jazz drummers in 1968. All the drummers on the list were active at the time, some more than others. The first 3 names were, as can be seen, interchangeable from the previous year. Elvin Jones had left John Coltrane and had his own trio. Buddy Rich had his big band. And Tony Williams had left Miles Davis and was in the process of creating his ground breaking group, the Tony Williams Lifetime. All had a unique style. All equally valid.

The rest of the top 10 is interesting. Roy Haynes is still playing brilliantly. A few weeks ago he appeared on the David Letterman show. Joe Morello recently passed on, but his legacy as a player and a teacher is secure. Grady Tate is still playing and, at the time, played with the some of biggest names in Jazz. Max Roach and Art Blakey are household names within the drumming community. If you're a drummer, and you're not familiar with them, you haven't been paying attention. And Ed Thigpen was a great brush player who also played with some of the biggest names in jazz.

The rest of the list is equally interesting. Perhaps it's here that many drummers would begin to quibble with the ratings. There were, and are, a number of Shelly Manne fans. They would insist the he belongs in the top 10. The same would hold true for Mel Lewis fans. For me, Louis Bellson and Papa Jo Jones should be rated higher. And Gene Krupa? His career was winding down at the time, but 15th? Jack DeJohnette was playing with Miles Davis, so perhaps he should have ended up higher in the ratings. Joe Cusatis was very underrated, but not so in this poll. He's gone on to write some fine drum books. And Chico Hamilton, I believe, continues to play.

Only 2 drummers with a legacy in rock drumming made the list, Ginger Baker with Cream and Mitch Mitchell with Jimi Hendrix. Both had backgrounds in jazz and r & b, so to refer to them as simply "rock " drummers, as some critics did at the time, is a disservice. They were the only two drummers from the pop music world to make the list. Neither Hal Blaine or Earl Palmer made it, although it's understandable since both toiled in relative obscurity cranking out hit record after hit record.

Both Milford Graves and Ed Blackwell were active in the Avant Garde jazz scene. Here, too, some of the more opinionated critics at the time, questioned their style and talent.

The last 3 drummers were all active in big bands. Rufus "Speedy" Jones, Sonny Payne, and Sam Woodyard all played either with Count Basie or Duke Ellington.

It's important to remember this was a popularity poll. It's clearly a moment frozen in time. I'm sure anyone could find something to question. For example, where is Philly Joe Jones on this list? Also no Keith Moon? What about Dino Danelli? Bernard Purdie? Charlie Watts? Ziggy Modeliste? John Bonham? The list could go on and on. It should be pointed out that Downbeat was a jazz magazine. So perhaps that explains some of this. Drummers such as Billy Cobham, Steve Gadd, Neil Peart, Carl Palmer, Bill Bruford, and Simon Phillips were just starting to make their mark.

Their time was coming...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Ludwig Super Sensitive 4 in 1 Snare Drum

From 1929 to 1935, the Ludwig Drum Company offered a snare drum it called the Super Sensitive. The drum had a metal shell, tube lugs, and two separate snare strainers. One stretched across the bottom head, but the other pressed up against the batter head. Ludwig called this device, " the sensitive mechanism." The drum was a success and in 1932 Ludwig even offered an engraved black shell as a buyers option. By 1935 however, the drum was dropped from production.

It wasn't until 1961 that Ludwig reintroduced the beauty you see pictured here. Ludwig called the drum the Super Sensitive 4 in 1. The 4 in 1 designation referred to the 4 sets of snare wires that were offered. These included an 18 strand wire, a 10 strand wire, all gut, and a 6 wire, 4 gut set.The drum has a heavy brass shell and has 10 self aligning Imperial lugs. The dual snare strainers can be controlled by a single lever and the individual snare wires can be adjusted from either side. But the internal "snare mechanism" from the earlier model was dropped.

Ludwig advertised this drum as "having more exclusive features than any other." Indeed, the whole idea here was to offer a drum that could be used in jazz, in classical, and even in rock situations. The drum came in two sizes, 5 x 14 and 6 1/2 x 14. The 5 x 14 listed for 120.00 dollars, the 6 1/2 for 124.00. Ludwig stated that " the drum was supplied in glistening chrome plate only."

As the decade of the 60's wore on, the drum changed somewhat. The brass shell was dropped and replaced with one made of metal. Ludwig called the metal Ludalloy. The snare strainer guards were changed and even more snare wire options were offered. The 1967 Ludwig catalog shows 6 different snare units offered. The 1973 Ludwig catalog shows 8 different snare units available. Each could be quickly changed and each snare wire strand could be adjusted individually. In addition, the drum came supplied with a specially designed "thermolene" plastic head.

To my knowledge, the Super Sensitive wasn't associated with, or endorsed by, any particular drummer. The Ludwig Supraphonic 400 was the drum of choice for most Ludwig players. Nevertheless, the Ludwig Super Sensitive is an excellent playing drum that offers a drummer a whole world of tonal possibilities.

As a brief historical footnote, William F. Ludwig II presented Ringo Starr with a gold plated Super Sensitive Snare Drum during the Beatles fall tour of the US in 1964.

I believe Ringo still has that drum.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Downbeat Magazine-the Annual Percussion Issue

For many years, Downbeat was the magazine favored by jazz connoisseurs. On the other hand, there were some folks in the early 60's who thought it was a magazine for jazz snobs. But that's a story for another time. In any case, Downbeat published an Annual Percussion Issue. They also would publish an Annual Guitar issue, a Horn issue etc. The writers would focus on a particular instrument and analyze it in depth. There would be comment, interviews, and written musical examples.

The pictured cover is from the 1958 Annual Percussion Issue. As the reader can see, it's really quite eye catching and it features the great Max Roach. The magazine cost 35 cents. I was too young in 58 to buy it. Hell, I didn't even know it existed, but by the mid 60's, I was hopelessly hooked on drums, drummers, and drumming. I then started buying current issues and back issues.

What I found particularly informative, besides the interviews, was the analysis of drumming technique that graced the pages of the Percussion issue. One such article was written by Don DeMicheal in the March 30th 1961 Percussion Issue. It was called, " The Evolution of the Drum Solo." This article was a treasure trove of information. Mr DeMicheal analyzed the styles of 12 drummers. These included Baby Dodds, Chick Webb, Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Cozy Cole, Sid Catlett, Philly Joe Jones, Kenny Clarke, Max Roach, Shelly Manne, Frank Isola, and Art Blakey. He referenced recordings of each player. For example, with Big Sid Catlett, he transcribed the complete 12 bar solo from a tune called 1-2-3 Blues which Sid recorded in 1946.

In other sections of the article, Mr. DeMicheal compared and contrasted the styles of all the drummers. For me, to read, listen to, and compare the styles of say, Buddy Rich vs Chick Webb vs Gene Krupa vs Big Sid Catlett was absolutely captivating.

Nowadays, there are numerous publications that deal with jazz drumming, rock drumming, funk drumming, etc. There's so much information and so many publications that it's quite mind boggling. But for a young drummer in the mid 1960's, that was not the case. The Downbeat Annual Percussion Issue filled a void.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

3 Amigos--Gene, Barrett, and Buddy

In the aftermath of the Chicago Drum Show, I thought I'd post this picture. Perhaps many of you readers have seen it and are familiar with it, but it's a great picture that captures three drummers who excelled in the art of big band jazz drumming.

The picture is a promotional shot that Barrett used to promote his orchestra's salute to Gene Krupa. I have no idea of the time frame here. I'm guessing middle 1950's, if slightly later. Barrett is sitting behind a Ludwig drum kit. He endorsed Ludwig from 1948 until late 1950's. Buddy, too, was an endorser of Ludwig at the time. Gene, on the other hand, was a Slingerland man all the way.

Older drummers and musicians would have no trouble identifying who is who in the photo. But for younger players, a brief description of each might suffice.

Gene Krupa is in the center of the photo, in between Barrett and Buddy. It was Gene who brought the drums out front and center during the Swing Era. Before Gene, drummers weren't even considered musicians. A big band was described as, " 14 or 15 musicians and a drummer." Gene had such a charismatic presence that it was only a matter of time before he ventured out on his own. He fronted his own big band and he featured great soloists (Roy Eldridge) and singers (Anita O'Day). Gene Krupa was truly an ambassador for drummers everywhere.

Barrett Deems billed himself as "the world's fastest drummer." He played with Louis Armstrong and, as the promotional photo shows, fronted his own orchestra. Barrett played in all sorts of groups in his hometown of Chicago. He played well into his 80's and I remember seeing him hanging out at the Jazz Showcase whenever a famous jazz drummer came into town to play the club.

Buddy Rich is standing next to Gene. If you're a drummer, and you don't know who Buddy Rich is, you're in serious trouble. I still remember the first time I heard him on record. Max Mariash, my teacher, played a tune on his record player with Buddy playing drums. He then asked me to write down what I thought he was playing. I sat there open mouthed. True, I was only 14 at the time and Max did this exercise with other drummers' recordings e.g. Max Roach, Jo Jones. It was a great way to learn about drumming style and technique. More often than not, Buddy Rich, occupied center stage in these listening sessions.

Buddy's history with big bands, both his own and others, is well known and there's no need to rehash it here. Suffice it to say that his technical virtuosity remains unmatched, even in this day and age.

We drummers of today stand on the shoulders of giants