Jazz music of nearly every variation can be extremely technical and complex, making the musicians that create this music that much more talented. Drummers, specifically, have long been the butt of the joke regarding their musical abilities with some people claiming that they are not actually musicians, but rather human metronomes. However, a drummer’s role in a jazz band is perhaps the most important one of all.
To keep up with this highly technical music, drummers must be extremely skilled. This has produced some of the greatest drummers the music industry has ever seen. While there are hundreds of legends in the jazz world specifically, I’ve named just a few below that are particularly mesmerizing.
Originating from Panama, Billy Cobham made a name for himself by keeping up with the legends. He has performed with Miles David, Horace Silver, and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. His iconic enormous drum set was one of the first of its time, featuring double bass drums and a gong. Cobham’s extremely physical style of playing was comparable to that of his hard rock counterpart, John Bonham.
A staple among the drumming world, Buddy Rich was far ahead of his time, playing with insane speed and power that was not often seen in the mid-20th century. Starting very young, Rich was considered a child prodigy with the title carrying well into his later years. He was a master of the extended drum solo and swing music, laying the groundwork for many styles of drumming today.
One of, if not the first prominent drummer of the bebop era in the late 1940s, Max Roach arguably changed the style of jazz drumming to what it is today. He would use the ride cymbal as an emphasis to a song’s rhythm, which developed into a softer type of swing. Roach is also well known for his unique solos and style of play, incorporating the shells and rims of the drums as opposed to just their heads.
Art Blakey is frequently considered a king of polyrhythmic drumming and one of the greatest drummers to ever play. Acting as both a drummer and bandleader for The Jazz Messengers, Blakey added a more powerful style to the genre and created a pulsing rhythm for his bandmates to follow. Known for his trademark “swelling press roll,” he was able to command the room and the music throughout most of the 20th century.
Popular across a multitude of genres, Steve Gadd is a versatile drummer often considered a ‘man of the people’ within the drumming community. His technical prowess is accompanied by a strong sense of pocket, time, and rhythm. Gadd has played on jazz, rock, R&B, and pop records throughout his career. Just to name of few of those he’s played with, he has recorded with Frank Sinatra, Paul McCartney, Al Jarreau, Chick Corea, and Eric Clapton.
Jazz has not only produced some of the greatest drummers of all time, but has also built the foundation for many styles of drumming that did not exist until years after the genre came into the spotlight. Because of this, the world of jazz drumming is one full of legendary musicians that have etched their names in music history and have served as inspirations for many of the drummers of today.