I began playing drums on impulse in the spring of 1957. This date is important because my sudden determination to become a drummer and to purchase a used set of drums with hide(skins)drum heads, metal snare, white lacquered bass drum (*)(surprisingly similar to the bass drum in this very primitive set), metal cowbell, wood block, high hat and smallish cymbal and my abandoning my experience as a trumpeter were directly influenced by my having attended Elvis Presley's performance at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens,on April 2, 1957.
A caption to an early Consuls photo identifying me Peter De Remigis as that group's drummer in 1956 led to my writing a bit about when I actually started drumming in 1957. I was so surprised at the online interest in when I started drumming that I began to recall some of the almost fateful experiences that now seem to have predetermined my becoming a drummer in May of 1957, the same month that CHUM started publishing its list of hits on the CHUM Chart. Presley's Gardens show of April 57 established the Gold suited Presley as Elvis, the one that got the girls screaming and who all the guys wanted to be like. Hank Noble was the first Elvis imitator I became aware of when I heard him singing on CHUM radio every Saturday afternoon. Hank's show opened with a Tommy Oki drum solo as an announcer proclaimed his name with a flourish that made him seem the greatest drummer in town as he played some syncopated beats reminiscent of Gene Krupa; that's how close we all were to that fading era and that swing style from which Elvis first appeared. Though that Hank Noble show with Tommy drumming must have been close to the time I started trying to play, I still was inexperienced enough to believe, that Tom whom I eventually befriended, was probably beyond my class; maybe up there with Max Roach or Shelley Man, or even Gene Krupa whether I knew I was a drummer or not.
My first concrete awareness of drums and the drum set seems to have originated a number of years before 1957, well before I heard Tommy Oki's ra-ta-tat opening of the Hank Noble radio show, when an uncle by marriage who played a kind of honky tonk; probably boogie woogie influenced style piano performed at a family gathering accompanied by a Japanese drummer.(* *) I'll assume my proximity to a real drum set must have remained in my psyche until I purchased my own set on impulse. The next fateful and tangible expression of the drumming impulse preceding my becoming a drummer must have been the curious outburst I displayed at a football game at Exhibition Stadium when I found myself banging out rhythms on turnstiles under the stadium seats. For some unknown reason an audience came from the football stands to listen to my utterly impulsive and unknowing drum solo. This curious display of drumming ignorance which I have recalled only recently must have occurred less than two years before I bought my first drum set.
Since thinking of the prospect of writing more thoughtful commentary on my drumming life I have become aware of a bit of drum/ percussion history including an article by my teacher, and some of my personal reflections as to the importance of drumming. And for me the important term is drumming, playing the drum set and not the term percussion, the playing of tympani and other percussion instruments for orchestral effects.
The player of the drum set/kit has the responsibility (probably inherited from the baroque harpsichordist) of a musician conductor. Not only is the drummer like a conductor responsible for maintaining tempos and expressing feeling, but unlike a conductor is a kind of living pulse that guides a group's rhythms and expression from within. Unlike the stand in front baton waving conductor, or effects producing percussionist, a drummer cannot stop his conducting, cannot stop his rhythms, and cannot stop to anticipate an upcoming effect.
I have also learned another interesting aspect of drumming which for years I had associated only with the 26 drum rudiments and technical exercises. I have recently come to believe that roll, and flam rudiments are related to trills and appoggiatura. Measured rolls hold a note for an indicated number of beats as do trills; a flam's grace note adds force to the beat it precedes as the grace note of an appoggiatura emphasizes the importance of the note it precedes.
So in talking about drumming and my impression of its intimate relationship with the harpsichord I have to say both are probably my favourite instruments because both have a sound and feeling of immediacy that appeal to me. I also like the recorder perhaps because its melodic sounds are formed percussively by finger tips tapping open holes directly, unlike the flute or trumpet where keys and valves act as intermediaries to cover and open notes indirectly. Sometimes I've thought that Henry Purcell's works played on a harpsichord are my favourite especially his cadences that conclude sections and entire pieces with unanticipated harmonic melodies. His tunes like J.P. Rameau's are full of roll-like trills; most are constructed in dance forms as are many works by J.S. Bach, Handel, Vivaldi and Corelli. Purcell's works are unique I believe because they are full of syncopated rhythms with some sections expressed like marches; a few of his tunes are titled March. When I played trumpet I enjoyed the Souza marches we played for military inspections more than I did our symphonic performances at assemblies. I've recently concluded that solo snare drum playing for which drum rudiments were designed seems the basis of the march; in fact rudiment filled marching band solos may be the most stirring musical sound I can think of. I remember watching a parade on Toronto's Yonge Street thinking that the drummers marching rhythms sounded like a jazz swing rhythm.I have since learned that the earliest jazz musicians came out of marching bands. To me the most obvious relationship between the march and jazz occurs in ragtime especially in the piano works of Scott Joplin with whom many of us are familiar.
(*)Notice the riveted cymbals and the piece torn out of the ride cymbal on the drummer's right in the 1912 photo; the large piece broken out of the ride cymbal recalls a feature of Levon Helm's ride cymbal with its partial crack around the bell that had always mystified me as to its cause. The rivets on all this old photo's cymbals remind me of a ride cymbal I had in my second (entirely white lacquer) drum set in the early 60's. I'm not certain, but I think rivets had gone out of fashion on cymbals by the 1970's as bands became louder and heavier with increased instrument amplification.(Today, December 1, 2012, I dicovered that the link to the "Wikepedia" Juke Joint early drum set image had stopped working because the "http" had vanished from the " html " text. I hope it remains now that I got it back.)
(* * )Re-reading this page many times trying to understand why it still is attracting hits and visits I suddenly realized that the first Canadian drummer I remember hearing every Saturday on radio-station CHUM was also Japanese decent, my old friend Tommy Oki who I met some time after I too had become a drummer.
The older I get the more I find myself wondering why I became a drummer. Drums were my third instrument maybe even my fourth if I include rejection of the clarinet, that metal tube with the stick that made me gag like a doctor's probe which I abandoned in high school for a trumpet, my second instrument after the piano which I practise daily: music of our high-flown European heritage; not the jazz, the bebop with its hipster zoot suits and pork pie hats and lingo that percolated throughout the jitter bugging America I was thrown into, that infectious swinging rhythmic setting that permiates the psyches of Jack Kerouac's characters wandering the streets and roads of 1940's America owning nothing but the haunting stimulus of its rhythmic drive. A music that I have come to believe is nearly the age of the drum set itself, jazz the unique achievement of American culture shaped and driven by the rhythmic, sometimes chaotic pulse of drums, a music, which classical music cellist Yo Yo Ma at the Lincoln Center during this year's birthday bash praises as a music that even today inspires composers of the classical European tradition.
This one of my many attempts to understand what possessed me to devote most of my teenage years and early youth to drumming was provoked by my finally viewing, the entire 1948 movie Easter Parade set in sumptuous upper class 1912 surroundings, curiously the same 1948 new year celebrated by Kerouac's destitute characters half way through On The Road. One of Easter Parade's many frivolous dance scenes caught my attention, probably because I am a drummer; Fred Astaire extended his tap dance by transferring his shoe tap rhythms to his hands with a pair of sticks. His drum-like solo was intricately polished with ruff-ike embellishments(tiny rolls), added I think to triplet (3 beat phrases). These varied rhythms especially with grace note ruffs are difficult to execute and take years of practise to perform as precisely as he was doing; so I asked my wife, a dancer, if she thought dancer Astaire was really the one performing these intricate drumming sounds. I had learned and practised these Astaire-displayed ruffs that decorated his melodic drum-stick rhythms whether or not I believed that drumming seriously equaled singing, piano, sax or guitar playing. For despite the prevailing anyone can play drums attitude, sometimes apparent in performances by guys in tee shirts flailing at an expanding circle of "tubs" and cymbals, something drove me to practise the 26 snare drum rudiments: varied rolls and ruffs, paradiddles, flams, radimacues; triplet eighth, sixteenth, thirty-second, and even sixty-fourth note patters, accented, dotted and slurred; and to hold the drum sticks as precisely as seemed necessary to execute those patterns.
So in retrospect I am learning that my study of drumming, not percussion, had itself taught me that there was more to drumming than arbitrarily hitting things and that my impulse to become a drummer and to learn that instrument's technical niceties more than equaled the study of keyboard, conducting or even singing, because for me the study of drums was the study of rhythm and all its mathematical intricacies: music's essence.
And today I am certain that understanding and executing the intricacies of drumming which include ordering and highlighting musical ideas and instruments in ways that make a group sound its most musical more than equals the task of a stand up front symphonic conductor because a drummer performs within the group conducting like the old baroque harpsichordist who could also embelish and expand performances from the understanding of composition. But only drummers know what drummers do. For often a drum player is an after thought to those who've devoted their lives to calling up the winds in developing technical facility on a keyboard sometimes with the subtleties of musical sentiment sacrificed to executing baron stretches of mechanical thunder in the sometimes violent a-rhythmic interminable technicalities of 19'th century musical frustration.
Even though I still wonder why I got started on drums especially when I sometimes found sitting at the back of the stage confining so that every so often I'd get up front sing and jump around a bit,sitting back there and adapting my playing to changing pop styles I came to understand that those changing styles were most perceptible in their changing rhythms and dynamic expression, for the lyrics and melodies of just about any tune can be performed to various rhythmic beats: cha cha, tango bossa nova, swing, rock and roll like the box-pulse to keep chords,melody and lyrics flowing together. The other thing I learned playing drums was the idea of the show, what audiences looked at while listening. And for bar musicians especially drummers the stripper and cymbal crashes and drum rolls come to mind that highlight gestures and entrances that help increase audience anticipation.next The Bar Room Show
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(* * )Re-reading this page many times trying to understand why it still is attracting hits and visits I suddenly realized that the first Canadian drummer I remember hearing every Saturday on radio-station CHUM was also Japanese decent, my old friend Tommy Okie who I met some time after I too had become a drummer.
Early Rock and Roll Rhythms
Toronto's Secret, Spoken; The Beat