Thursday, February 19, 2015

Joe Morello - Drum Talk, - Down Beat, March 26, 1964

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Can’t you just imagine the following interviews occurring in the context of today’s video conferencing capabilities!?

The full introduction explains how the Drum Talk project came to be and a list of all the participants.

In our quest to compile information about Joe Morello in order to develop a more extended profile on him, this introduction is followed by only an ordering of the questions that Joe offered responses to.

Drum Talk Coast-to-Coast, March 26, 1964

The discussion that begins on this page is out of the ordinary in that it was held at three separate locations on separate dates. The first discussion was at Down Beat's New York City office with Art Blakey, Tony Williams, Mel Lewis, and Cozy Cole. The second get-together was appropriately, at the Professional Drum Shop in Hollywood, Calif., with Shelly Manne, Nick Ceroli, Donald Dean, and Mel Lee participating. The last conference was held in Down Beat's Chicago office with Elvin Jones and Joe Morello.

The same basic questions were asked at each discussion; the participants' comments, in some cases, have been juxtaposed in order to show different approaches to the same subject or differences of opinion.


Cozy Cole has been among the most respected drummers ever since the 1930s when his work with Stuff Smith and Cab Calloway gained wide notice. He currently teaches in New York City.

Art Blakey has led his Jazz Messengers practically around the world in recent years, but he first gained influence as a sideman with Billy Eckstine's big band. He also worked with Buddy De-Franco for some time before forming his own group in the 1950s.

Mel Lewis is a veteran of the Stan Kenton Band and other West Coast musical groups and has toured with Benny Goodman in Russia. He has also done much studio and recording work and is the drummer with the Gerry Mulligan Concert Band. He currently lives and works in New York City.

Tony Williams is still in his teens. A native of Boston, he worked with Jackie McLean before joining the current Miles Davis Quintet.

Joe Morello is one of the most well-liked and respected drummers in jazz. Long a member of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Morello has won the last two Down Beat Readers Polls.
Elvin Jones has worked with many groups but his greatest fame has come since he has been associated with John Coltrane. One of the most influential drummers, he was winner in the drum division of the 1963 International Jazz Critics Poll.

Shelly Manne is another poll winner, having won the Down Beat Readers Poll several years running. For years one of the busiest Hollywood studio musicians, he has led his own group since the '50s and owns his own night club, Shelly's Manne Hole, in Los Angeles.

Nick Ceroli is a young drummer making a name for himself in the Los Angeles area, where he has worked with the big bands of Gerald Wilson, Les Brown, and Ray Anthony,

Donald Dean is another Los Angeles drummer beginning to make his presence known in the jazz world. He has worked with Kenny Dorham, Dexter Gordon, Curtis Amy, and Carmell Jones, among others. He now is with Gerald Wilson's band.
Mel Lee, though relatively young, has had varied experience with Louis Jordan, Johnny Otis, Phineas Newborn, Etta Jones, Gloria Lynne, and many others. He currently is a member of the Harold Land-Carmell Jones Quintet.

Mel Lee, though relatively young, has had varied experience with Louis Jordan, Johnny Otis, Phineas Newborn, Etta Jones, Gloria Lynne, and many others. He currently is a member of the Harold Land-Carmell Jones Quintet.

Down Beat: It used to be that other musicians looked down on drummers as being not quite full-fledged musicians. In recent years this has changed some" what. To what extent has it been overcome and how? And how can it be completely overcome?.

Joe Morello: I think that in the last 15 or 20 years the drummer, the role of the drummer, has changed quite a bit, because the music during the last 15 or 20 years has developed to such a degree that the drummer today is not only required to keep time but also to shade and phrase, and so on, with the band in order to create a more interesting rhythm line for the band to play on.

Down Beat: Does the drummer have to be more musicianly now?

Morello: Yeah. Today it's very difficult for a drummer who can't read to go into a recording session — he's in trouble if he's playing with a band that has more than 10 men, if they have charts. He doesn't only have to be able to read them, he has to interpret this music and still create, improvise, make the sound, and make the band swing.

I think drummers are listening more today as well as using the undertones. I think that in the next 15 or 20 years there's going to be another great trend towards development in the rhythm section.

Down Beat: Today there may be an over dependence on the bassist for keeping the time. Has the switch from the bass drum to the high-hat for time-keeping deprived young drummers of essential training? Dizzy Gillespie has been quoted as saying that most drummers — not just the young ones — don't know how to play the bass drum.

Morello: I've played it both ways; I've played in bands where I've used the bass drum on all four, and I've played in bands where I just use it for accents and so on. But I'm inclined to go along with Diz, in that a lot of kids don't put as much importance on the bass drum as they should. Take the old Basic band with Jo Jones. The blend of the piano, bass, guitar, and drums . . . every beat, the bass drum was right there. It never became overbearing.

Morello: A lot of the young drummers have nothing but top—a top sound. You don't hear any bottom to it. The bass drum gives the band a lot of bottom. For instance, our bassist [with the Brubeck quartet], Gene Wright, if I don't play that bass drum in four, he'll look over and sort of nudge me. There've always been arguments between bass players and drummers, like who's going to lay down the time. But Gene wants to hear that bass drum. It should just blend together perfectly. He feels the bass drum is the basic pulse, and he can put the harmonic structure on it. Kids should learn how to play the bass drum!

Morello: I think what Diz was referring to was that a lot of the kids got hooked on this top-cymbal-hi-hit-left-hand when that was the thing, like the hi-hat was the anchor on 2 and 4. The pulse, of course, is always on 2 and 4, but we don’t have to play the high-hat on just 2 and 4; we can play it on 1 and 3 if we want.

Down Beat:  Have  any  of  you studied another instrument?

Morello: As far as my background is concerned, I played the violin when I was a child. Then I went into a little piano. I'm not a professional pianist or violinist, but I feel being a little familiar with these other instruments has helped me some. Just recently I've been trying my hand at writing. It's a lot of fun; I think it has helped me as far as playing for the group, being able to pick out things.

Down Beat: How much do you practice and how; do you practice on the pad or the set? If you practice on both, how much do you practice on each?

Morello: I hear this question about practice just about every night in the week. Put it this way: I don't practice as much as I used to or as much as I'd like to. A lot of my work, though, is done on the job. It's not practice—it's playing.

A young drummer should, as we said before, learn as much about the instrument as he can, but one just starting out should devote some time to pad practice; he can hear his mistakes more clearly and develop co-ordination. It requires a tremendous amount of co-ordination to play drums today.

Some teachers today think you should put the pupil on the drum set immediately and start him playing. Well, this is fine, but he'll just have to go back and correct his mistakes later. I'm from the school that says you should diversify your practice.

Certainly the first thing the young drummer should do is find himself a teacher who is familiar with the music business today and what's going on, who has a good knowledge of the instrument, and who can teach him control and technique on the pad. Then he can apply some of these things on the drums, because, after all, this is where he is going to be playing, not on the pad. A lot of teachers feel that pad practice will hurt you — you're not going to take your practice pad out on the job with you. True, but I think there's a happy medium; you can diversify the practice — devote an hour to the pad, an hour to the drums, as much time as you can spend.

Down Beat: What goes through your mind when you're playing either in the section or solo? And are drum solos really meaningless?

Morello: Meaningless? That's up to the individual who's listening. You could be telling the greatest story on earth, and if the person listening doesn't get anything from it, it's meaningless to him. I personally don't think they're meaningless because I enjoy playing them. I try to develop a musical form or theme and extend it.

As far as what goes through my mind, I couldn't say. I never thought about it.

Down Beat: There's been an increase in recent years of jazzmen playing in different time signatures 9 in 5/4, 7/4. Can a young drummer do himself a disservice by concentrating on these exotic times, to the neglect of 4/4?

Morello: Odd time signatures have been done for years in classical music; it's just that recently they've been applied to the jazz idiom. I don't see why 5/4 can't swing; I think it does. We've been fairly successful with them in our group. It won't hurt the young drummer to investigate these signatures. It'll give him larger scope. Naturally, he should learn to play 4/4, 3/4—and as far as that goes, 2/4. He should be able to play anything. Jazz shouldn't be limited to just 4/4. Everything develops.

A lot of drummers today, including myself, are trying to play cross-rhythms. I'm searching and trying to do different things rather than the things that have been done. And I know they can swine. We do it.

Down Beat: How ignorant are we of complex rhythms and how can a study of African and Indian rhythms help or hinder the young drummer?

Morello: I think he should also know what went on before him, how rhythm patterns developed. When he's ready to go into this, it's a necessity for him to do it; but half-knowledge is not good.

African and Indian rhythms, which are quite complex, can be incorporated into playing, if handled wisely. But I don't think a youngster just starting off should go into this; he should learn how to count four, the basic things first.

The following video from the BBC program “Jazz at Club 625” shows Joe in action in 1964 with the Dave Brubeck Quartet on Sounds of the Loop.

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