Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0
Mark Stryker

Seeking: Duke Ellington quote about the drums.

16 posts in this topic

Gang, 

I once came across a quote from Duke Ellington in which he talks about the importance of the drums. I think I now want to use it in a piece, and, for the life of me, I cannot put my hands on it. Does anybody know what it might be? My memory is not super sharp on this matter but my recollection is that Duke was emphasizing just how critical the drums were in his music and perhaps all music under the jazz umbrella. I also seem to recall the quote having a family resemblance to Blakey's line of how no jazz band can be better than its drummer, but Ellington quote wasn't exactly like that. 

Any clues? 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It sounds familiar to me, but I can’t think of where I came across it. Are you putting this question to the Jazz Research listserv? Decent chance that someone there might know the answer. I can also post your query to the Ellington Facebook group I’m in, unless you’d for any reason prefer that I not.

This quote pops up a lot through Google searching, but I can’t yet find a solid source for attribution. Is it the one of which you’re thinking?

"If you have a great band with a mediocre drummer, you have a mediocre band. If you have a mediocre band with a great drummer, you have a great band!"

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, ghost of miles said:

 

 

 

"If you have a great band with a mediocre drummer, you have a mediocre band. If you have a mediocre band with a great drummer, you have a great band!"

Amen to that. First of all I listen if the drummer is good. Only a very good drummer makes things happen. Yesterday I participated at a jam session and the first drummer who played was just mediocre and anyway left after one tune. Later in the evening the fanstastic drummer from the opening band got back on the drum chair and it was heaven on earth.

Ellington and drums......I must admit I don´t have much Ellington on record. I love to play some of his ballads, but must admit I got to Ellington through the "Monk plays Ellington" so I have more the Monkish touch and voicings in those things. 

I further have Ellington-Mingus-Roach....... and I mean Roach. Best choice and like Mingus one of my all time favourites. 

On the other hand, the second Ellington I have is a Trane and Duke on Impulse, which my wife bought for me. Very nice on the tunes where Elvin Jones is on the drum chair. But there might be one or two tunes, where the use Elllington´s regular drummer, I forgot his name, but I didn´t like it. I mean he plays rhim-shots constantly behind an otherwise great Coltrane solo. Well Coltrane was such a genius that he didn´t let it bug him, but for a lesser musician it would have narrowed him down, and the drummer is supposed to push you to the highest inspirations......

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 hours ago, ghost of miles said:

It sounds familiar to me, but I can’t think of where I came across it. Are you putting this question to the Jazz Research listserv? Decent chance that someone there might know the answer. I can also post your query to the Ellington Facebook group I’m in, unless you’d for any reason prefer that I not.

This quote pops up a lot through Google searching, but I can’t yet find a solid source for attribution. Is it the one of which you’re thinking?

"If you have a great band with a mediocre drummer, you have a mediocre band. If you have a mediocre band with a great drummer, you have a great band!"

Bingo! Thanks. Now the question is: Can we find a reliable citation?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 hours ago, Gheorghe said:

Amen to that. First of all I listen if the drummer is good. Only a very good drummer makes things happen. Yesterday I participated at a jam session and the first drummer who played was just mediocre and anyway left after one tune. Later in the evening the fanstastic drummer from the opening band got back on the drum chair and it was heaven on earth.

Ellington and drums......I must admit I don´t have much Ellington on record. I love to play some of his ballads, but must admit I got to Ellington through the "Monk plays Ellington" so I have more the Monkish touch and voicings in those things. 

I further have Ellington-Mingus-Roach....... and I mean Roach. Best choice and like Mingus one of my all time favourites. 

On the other hand, the second Ellington I have is a Trane and Duke on Impulse, which my wife bought for me. Very nice on the tunes where Elvin Jones is on the drum chair. But there might be one or two tunes, where the use Elllington´s regular drummer, I forgot his name, but I didn´t like it. I mean he plays rhim-shots constantly behind an otherwise great Coltrane solo. Well Coltrane was such a genius that he didn´t let it bug him, but for a lesser musician it would have narrowed him down, and the drummer is supposed to push you to the highest inspirations......

Sam Woodyard was the other drummer on the session.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Could the quote be from Music Is My Mistress?

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I kinda want to posit that a great drummer can't really carry a lesser bassist, but a great bassist can carry a lesser drummer.

Duke never really had to worry about either.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)

1 hour ago, Ken Dryden said:

Could the quote be from Music Is My Mistress?

 

I had the same thought. My copy’s at the office, so I’ll try to check later on. I just posted the question to the Duke Ellington Society group on Facebook as well.

Edited by ghost of miles

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I didn’t find the quote in any of the sections discussing drummers.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Maybe it's planted propaganda.

Because from time to time some people would carp about Sonny Greer, but nobody ever carped about the bass players, going back to Wellman Braud...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, JSngry said:

Maybe it's planted propaganda.

Because from time to time some people would carp about Sonny Greer, but nobody ever carped about the bass players, going back to Wellman Braud...

Part of the reason I'm asking is I want to write about Greer. (Spoiler: he's awesome, not just as a "percussionist' but as a swinger. On a related note, I think it's kinda received wisdom that Greer's time wasn't particularly steady. especially near the end of his tenure. But I'm not sure I can recall any recordings with him where the tempos dropped or speeded up appreciably. Of course, Greer was always a juicehead, and if there were tempo issues, these would typically reveal themselves more often on the road rather than in the studio. Can anyone cite an example of Greer fucking up the time? 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
43 minutes ago, Mark Stryker said:

Part of the reason I'm asking is I want to write about Greer. (Spoiler: he's awesome, not just as a "percussionist' but as a swinger. On a related note, I think it's kinda received wisdom that Greer's time wasn't particularly steady. especially near the end of his tenure. But I'm not sure I can recall any recordings with him where the tempos dropped or speeded up appreciably. Of course, Greer was always a juicehead, and if there were tempo issues, these would typically reveal themselves more often on the road rather than in the studio. Can anyone cite an example of Greer fucking up the time?   

 

Do you have Stanley Dance's The World Of Duke Ellington? I was skimming it last night to see if I could find the quote, and there's some interesting commentary from Greer in there on pg 62-69.  I can try to scan or photograph and send it to you if you'd like.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)

49 minutes ago, ghost of miles said:

Do you have Stanley Dance's The World Of Duke Ellington? I was skimming it last night to see if I could find the quote, and there's some interesting commentary from Greer in there on pg 62-69.  I can try to scan or photograph and send it to you if you'd like.

Would appreciate photos or scans. I actually don't have that book. (Hangs head in shame.). Is there any commentary from Sam Woodyard as well? Also relevant ... 

Edited by Mark Stryker

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
7 minutes ago, Mark Stryker said:

Would appreciate photos or scans. I actually don't have that book. (Hangs head in shame.). Is there any commentary from Sam Woodyard as well? Also relevant ... 

Yes, I believe so. I’ll check with a colleague who has a scanner and see if he can do them tomorrow.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)

13 hours ago, Mark Stryker said:

Would appreciate photos or scans. I actually don't have that book. (Hangs head in shame.). Is there any commentary from Sam Woodyard as well? Also relevant ... 

Here is the book on the Internet Archive: https://archive.org/details/isbn_079123844X

If you create an account, you can "borrow" the book (for an hour, renewable) and search through it. Sam Woodyard is extensively quoted starting on page 192.

15 hours ago, Mark Stryker said:

Part of the reason I'm asking is I want to write about Greer. (Spoiler: he's awesome, not just as a "percussionist' but as a swinger. On a related note, I think it's kinda received wisdom that Greer's time wasn't particularly steady. especially near the end of his tenure. But I'm not sure I can recall any recordings with him where the tempos dropped or speeded up appreciably. Of course, Greer was always a juicehead, and if there were tempo issues, these would typically reveal themselves more often on the road rather than in the studio. Can anyone cite an example of Greer fucking up the time? 

 

Eddie Lambert mentions this as well in "Duke Ellington: A Listener's Guide" - but without specifics:

"For over a quarter of a century Sonny Greer was the drummer with the Ellington Orchestra through all its many changes. In the recordings of the 1920s and early 1930s Greer's contribution is often one of color and rhythmic decoration; he was outstanding at this time for his subtle use of cymbals. Unlike most jazz drummers of his generation he does not seem to have been influenced by the New Orleans drummers but rather to have drawn upon his experience as a theater percussionist. Although his work is usually in excellent taste, there are some recordings on which Greer's theatrical effects are overly obtrusive and these, added to his inconsistency in swinging, have caused some jazz writers to underestimate his contribution. The records on which he is rhythmically pedestrian are few, and on the majority Greer shows himself to be a swinging jazz drummer with an exhilarating, exciting beat. In the Ellington band of 1940, he established an outstanding partnership with bassist Jimmy Blanton, and it is from 1940 that one of the best examples of Greer's drumming comes-the recording of a complete dance date at Fargo, North Dakota, on which the drumming is consistently swinging, and powerfully so."

 

Edited by hopkins

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.