An Interview With Danny Gottlieb about “The Evolution of Jazz Drumming”

Hudson Music’s own Rob Wallis posed a few questions to Danny Gottlieb, author of The Evolution of Jazz Drumming

Why did you write the book?

I have been teaching at the University of North Florida since 2005. Many of the drum set students appear to have a pretty good knowledge of the history of jazz drumming, but I usually discover that there is much missing in their background. When looking for a resource that would contain a basic jazz drum set history, I found that there were many jazz drum set videos and books available that refer to and feature many of the greats, but nothing that really serves as a comprehensive study guide. Hudson Music had previously released some of the most complete video collections available, but there was no text included, no practice exercises, no separate audio, and as a result, no real item that would work as a single source for the study of jazz drumming. The idea for this book was to take a compilation of Hudson’s previously released videos, and package them in study form that would serve this purpose.

A typical college semester is 15-16 weeks so I figured it would be best to feature the top 31 drummers, plan to study one drummer per week, and cover the entire overview in two semesters, a total of 31. There are of course more than 31 great jazz drummers, but with help from the Hudson crew, we picked the ones we felt would be the most important for a comprehensive overview.

For each drummer featured, I have included a basic bio, photos, study exercises and etudes. In many cases, the study exercise or etude is written in the style of a portion of the included video. Most jazz drum set students perform etudes or transcription solos as part of a weekly lesson, or as an end of semester jury. These exercises and etudes are designed to provide material for both purposes. In addition, I have found that it is very beneficial to pull a small excerpt from a particular drummer’s performance and make a study loop from it. By hearing the same passage over and over at different tempos, a student can really memorize the feel of a specific drummer. While many students use this method, I know of no other textbook or study guide on the market that uses specific excerpts from a variety of jazz greats for this purpose. I think we have over 300 study loops!

The audio is taken directly from the videos, and students can also view the complete performance as well. For those drummers featured where there is no video or audio, solos in the style of each drummer are provided, and a suggestion for further study. The important factor is that by studying this text, the student will now know the names of the most important jazz drummers on whom to base their study. After these drummers have been addressed, they can advance to more intensive analysis.  As my students have mentioned, this a book that you think must exist somewhere on the market, but until this point has not.

What were you using before this book became available?

The best resource I had found was a series of interviews that saxophonist/ bandleader and director of the Harlem jazz museum, Loren Schoenberg had conducted with the great big band drummer Mel Lewis. Just a year before Mel passed, Loren and Mel did 8-3 hour radio shows on WKCR, a NY based college radio station, where they listened to a “History” of jazz drummers, and Mel and Loren gave their comments. It’s 19 cd’s worth of listening and discussions. I have used these tapes for years,  they are great history of jazz drums source. They are also very much an inspiration for this text. The tapes also illustrated, though, that there was no source of study in one volume for the history of jazz drums, and it added to my desire to create one.

I was very close to Mel, and played occasionally in Loren’s band, and after Mel’s passing, Loren gave me his original tape copies of the shows. I was hoping to have them released commercially at some point, but as there are 130 musical selections, the copyright and legal issues are too much to really consider releasing them as something for the consumer. However, some of the tapes are available via the internet. The difference between those shows and this text, is that 1) Mel gave hours of comments about all of the drummers. This is a text just to get everybody started in the right direction. 2) In this text , we have actual written exercises and study loops 3) we have actual video examples.

There are other texts that I have used that include valuable information for many of these great drummers, such as John Riley’s books and Billy Mintz’s  “Different Drummers”. But there has been nothing else that really approaches this from a full week by week, drummer by drummer overview.

For whom is this book written?

The main focus of the book is to provide a student with a starting place. I will use it with college level jazz majors, and I am hoping that university professors around the world will find it useful for that purpose. It can also be used by a high school level student that wants to study jazz drumming in order to achieve entry into a competitive university jazz program. And in reality, even a middle school drum set student can use this material.

I am hoping that teachers that might not have had a strong background in jazz drumming would be able to just give this book to a student, and have them study one drummer per week. They themselves do not have to know that much about each drummer, as the student can discover each drummer by themselves. And a drum set instructor can just assign one drummer per week, and follow the student’s progress by listening to the exercises and etudes for each drummer studied.

The book might also be useful to any level rock oriented drummer who wants to learn more about jazz, and does not know where to start. And for the jazz drummers, it might contain some fresh material, great photos, and practice loops. I think those can help any drummer, including myself!

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