Jack Sperling was on I think all of Pete Fountain’s great records in the 50’s and 60’s and really pushes that quartet. A real driver. I don’t even know f they have drummers like him anymore, not the way he swings. The snare used to the thing then, the engine. Kenny Clarke changed all that I suppose. It’s kind of a shame…I’d love to hear somebody play a snare like Jack Sperling did, like it was the heartbeat of a jazz band, and if it stopped the music stopped.
You know I’d just love to go to a jazz joint and hear a good Muskrat Ramble. I mean solid, by some killer players. But you can’t drive a Muskrat Ramble with the ride, can’t accent it with rimshots and certainly can’t drop those bombs. Nope, it’s all square on the snare, hard, impeccably timed. No drummer worth his charts plays that way today. It’s light years beyond what it was. Be bop changed the drummer’s universe completely. Drummers before be bop and drummers after are like different species. Their musical DNA totally unrelated. I go out now and I’ll hear amazing stuff, mindblowing stuff. Stuff so new it sounds utterly wrong, and I have to stop watching and listen with my eyes closed before I can see what it is. Drumming just keeps expanding and expanding, big banged far beyond Baby Dodds and Chinese cymbals when jazz was born. I remember once listening to a Miles Davis album and hearing nothing but Tony Williams on the ride. It wasn’t even loud, and Miles and Ron Carter and Herbie Hancock were doing amazing things, but all I could hear was that ride. It just sucked me in. It drove the whole tune. I didn’t even hear the snare, didn’t need to. It was about that ride cymbal. I don’t know if even Big Sid Catlett who, once swung a whole band with nothing but brushes on a phone book, would understand that. Joe Jones would probably have punched me out.
So I’ll never hear a Now’s the Time or Lonely Woman or Naima or even Take Five with its heavy Joe Morello drum break followed by a Muskrat Ramble. Not without an old school drummer. A Paul Barbarin, say, or a Zutty Singleton. A Cozy Cole or Ray McKinley or a Big Sid Cattlett. When they died they took a whole music with them. You could find the horn players now, and the reed players, a banjo player, even a tuba for a bass, but you’d be stuck looking for a drummer. You’d look and look but the beat would be all over the kit, off the rims, dropping onto the bass pedal. It would disappear from the skins completely and reappear on the ride cymbal, incessant and hushed. Sometimes it would disappear completely into syncopated space. It might be the most amazing drumming you ever heard on an ancient New Orleans jazz tune. But it wouldn’t drive the thing. It wouldn’t give it the insistent pulse that was at the core of that old jazz music. There’d be a big hole where that beat was supposed to be. You could have the hottest trumpets and swingingest clarinets in a perfect New Orleans cacophony, but you’ll never find a Jack Sperling again.