Old Drummers And Young Drummers by Roy Burns

I was talking with a young drummer in New York just after I had presented a clinic in November of 1989. This drummer, who was in his early twenties, said, “I just met a well-known jazz drummer (who shall remain nameless), and he was so negative and so down on young rock drummers that it ruined my respect for him. How do you feel about that?”

My immediate thought was that this was very unfortunate. One of the worst attitudes is that of the “bitter, narrow minded old jazz drummer.” I also know a few of these people. They say things like, “All these kids do is bang on the drums. When we were young it was better.” My response to that is: “It was not necessarily better, it was just different.”

If I were a young drummer today, I would be a rock drummer because that’s what’s happening today. I’m sure that I would get myself a double-bass kit, play matched grip, grow my hair long and go for it. In my own case, when I was young, it was radical to get a crew cut (which I did), play a 20” bass drum (which I did), and play traditional grip (which I did). Interestingly enough, I have seen some young drummers of late playing four or five piece drumkits. I have seen more young drummers playing traditional grip with the left hand today than five years ago. Don’t ask me why: things just come and go in cycles.

It’s sad that the communication link between older and younger drummers is not always there. I think the fault lies more with the older drummers because they should know better. After all, older drummers have more life experience. They should reach out to younger players and, of course, some do. Examples are (and I have mentioned these gentlemen before) Louie Bellson and Ed Shaughnessy. Max Roach is another fine gentleman who reaches out young players through his teaching- as does Alan Dawson. So it does happen, but not as often as it might.

I recently watched some videos of Gene Krupa, Cozy Cole, and Buddy Rich from the “40s. It was a thrilling experience to watch these great pros in action. It was like watching the history of our instrument. And it was an opportunity to look back in time and see where we came from. Sure, the music was different and the drum setups were different but the great drive and enthusiasm of these marvelous drummers remains obvious and contagious.

Fortunately, many of these great performances originally on film are now available on videocassettes. These offer a chance to see the great players who paved the way for all of us. It is wonderful to get the new videos by Dave Weckl, Carmine Appice, Steve Smith, Tommy Aldridge and all the other fine players of today. But check out some of those historic videos as well. You’ll be glad you did.

What some older players fail to appreciate is that being a young drummer today is more difficult than it ever was. For example, there are many more drummers today than ever before. As a result, there is a great deal more competition. A young drummer today has to be able to play more beats, more rhythms and more styles than drummers did when I entered the scene.

Today’s drummers must also be in better physical shape. Just watch Tommy Aldridge play a two-hour concert and you’ll see what I mean. It is hard playing-full out and non-stop. There is no doubt in my mind that a drummer today is going to “work hard” in a contemporary band.

I recently did a clinic in Florida with Keith Cronin,the fine young drummer who, until recently, was playing with the Pat Travers band. We did a clinic that was sort of the history of the drumset. I went on first, explaining how it all started and how we arrived at the present state of drumming and I demonstrated a number of styles. Then Keith took over, demonstrating current styles, double bass technique and contemporary rhythms. He also explained how certain patterns and rhythms could be developed for today’s music. Then he played a terrific solo.

At the end of the clinic we played a duet in which we exchanged rhythms, licks and solo ideas. At the finish, we wound up playing single strokes in unison and the crowd loved it. We had a great deal of fun. And that was the key! We had fun playing music and playing the drums. Later, Keith told me that he had been to one of my clinics when he was in his early teens. And now here we were, playing together and having a great time. It was a thrill for both of us. I have children who are older than Keith Cronin. However, there was no communication problem between the two of us. We were just two drummers, having ourselves a ball.

I had the same experience years before with Louie Bellson. I had seen him play, met him and attended a clinic of his when I was quite your. A few years later, we did a number of clinics together. In fact, we also did concerts together off and on for years afterward. So in a way, I felt that I was “passing the torch” to Keith, as Louie had to me years earlier.

I’m still playing and so is Louie Bellson. I think it goes to show that the tradition of sharing and having fun with music and drumming is alive and well. So all you older guys out there: Lighten up and give these young guys a little more respect.

Remember when you were young? I know I remember.