Sunday, May 12, 2019

"The Forming of Philly Joe Jones" - by Ralph J. Gleason

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

The year 1960 arguably found Philly Joe Jones at the top of the heap of modern Jazz drummers. He had just finished a five-year association with trumpeter Miles Davis on the strength of which he was able to form and tour with his own group.

He was issuing LP’s under his own name with Riverside Records and was in constant demand at Blue Note, Prestige and other New York-based record labels that specialized in modern Jazz.

Miles would ask him to return to work on his themed LP based on the music from Porgy and Bess which was arranged by Gil Evans and he would close-out the decade of the 1960’s with frequent appearances as a member of pianist Bill Evans’ trio.

All Jazz musicians “come from somebody” and the following 1960 interview that Philly gave to the Jazz columnist, writer and reviewer, Ralph J. Gleason describes Philly’s journey through his drumming influences.

Philly was also a fairly astute observer on the Jazz scene as it was unfolding around him in 1960.

Kenny Clarke started it all, but Art Blakey, Max Roach and Philly Joe Jones became the heart and soul of East Coast Jazz. The pulse of the music would never have been the same without them.

Without getting into the East Coast versus West Coast Jazz thing that seemed to haunt the music and its makers from about 1955-65, there is a certain irony in having Ralph J. Gleason provide a comprehensive interview with one of the scions of East Coast Jazz drumming as Ralph was for many years the writer of all things Jazz for the San Francisco Chronicle.

To his credit, however much Ralph was a supporter of Dave Brubeck Cal Tjader, Paul Desmond, Vince Guaraldi, Shelly Manne and other musicians who were unfairly grouped into the West Coast school, Ralph, like most lovers of the music, embraced good Jazz wherever it was being played.

The Forming of Philly Joe Jones
- Ralph J. Gleason

"I always say a drummer has to find himself; seasoning means so much," said Philly Joe Jones, the drummer who shot to the forefront of modern drumming with the Miles Davis group and is now leading his own combo.

"Young drummers today are coming up in an era where all of us, all the drummers the young ones admire, are playing modern drums. Therefore, the young drummer doesn't have in his mind the older drummers, Chick Webb, Baby Dodds, or Sid Catlett. They haven't ever seen Baby Dodds or sat and watched him play like I did.
Or Sid. These are the drummers for the next 20 years. I don't care how the drums move. If any drummer can tell me he can't go back and listen to Chick and Dave Tough and Baby and Sid . . . and tell me that's not drums, I'll break up the drums and forget it!"

Let Philly Joe tell about Baby:

"When I was working with Joe Morris opposite George Shearing in the Three Deuces on 52nd St., I went across the street one night to the Onyx. Just casually, you know. And I happened to look at the placards outside that said BABY DODDS. Well, I had always been reading books and things and so I knew that Gene Krupa had been influenced by Baby and Baby had been hanging out with Gene.

"So, wanting to play the drums as bad as I wanted to, I said, I'm goin' to listen to this drummer.' So what I did, I went in the Onyx, and Baby was playing in there with a bass drum, and a snare drum, and ONE cymbal, a ride cymbal. It wasn't a sock cymbal. He was swingin' SO MUCH I was late an entire set! I didn't get back to work. I missed the entire set, and Joe fined me. I think it was a $30 fine. I couldn't leave, I sat down and just stayed."

Let Philly Joe tell about Sid:

"Sid was very close with me, he liked me. And I loved him, and I used to want to be around him as much as I could. Everywhere he was, I was there. I got most of my brush work from him. Sid Catlett used to sit down and show me the things I wanted to know. Of course, all the things I dream up now, I try to dream up original things. But the direction I got earlier, the foundation, the right way to go, Sid showed me. He taught Teddy Stewart of Kansas City, too. We used to practice together, and it came out that Sid showed Teddy the same things. We used to talk about how Sid used to play the brushes with so much finesse that it was just fabulous."

And Chick:

"I had heard Jo Jones years ago with the Basie band and I always admired Jo's drumming, and I loved him, and I loved the things he played. Jo Jones was merely a heck of an influence on me when I was a kid. But my mind used to go past Jo Jones because at the same time, the Savoy was hollerin', and Chick Webb was playin'."

"Chick was the drummer I used to listen to. I'd be listenin' to those broadcasts, and my mother used to really holler at me because I kept the radio on all night! Chick used to have a theme song called Liza. I memorized that tune, it's in my mind right now, I could hum the tune the way he played it. I used to listen to the drum solos that he played in between . . . That's the reason why I fashioned with this quintet I'm trying to get together the theme I'm using. Of course, I'm using Blue and Boogie, but I'm inserting drum things in between here and there; let them play a few, and then I play some drums and then go out with a big smash. Chick used to do that with Liza. It always impressed me. It was a beautiful thing."

On O'Neil Spencer:

"I changed my mind about drums when I met O'Neil Spencer [Mills Blue Rhythm Band which later became the Lucky Millinder big band]. O'Neil was the first name drummer I met, and, as I often say to myself, thank God I met him at the time I did. John Kirby was working in town, and he came by one of our sessions and liked what, we were playing, and he brought his drummer to hear me.

"When I met O'Neil, something just dawned on me. This man was such a beautiful drummer, he did so many things that I dreamed of. He made me think about drums differently. O'Neil used to say to me, 'Why don't you do this and do that? Why don't you play an afterbeat on the two and four with the sock cymbals?' And that used to fascinate me. I had never heard anybody do this, and John Kirby used to say, 'That's it! That's the way it's supposed to be.' O'Neil was the first person I ever heard do it with the 2, 4 thing."

On Slim Gaillard:

"Slim Gaillard used to teach me all the cow bell tricks, and the things that he plays on cow bell are authentic. Other guys might not dig it, might not get close to Slim and listen. I had to listen to him - I was playing with him every night. And he plays authentic, actual rhythms on that cow bell. That throwing the cow-bell-up-in-the-air bit is something different. But he taught me the things to play on the top of the cymbal. Slim was responsible for all the Latin things that I've learned."

On local drummers who influenced him when he was a youth:

"There's an old fellow in Philadelphia, who's still there playin' — he's playin' every night—named Coatesville. He used to teach me how to play the drums, and I used to sit underneath the bandstand in the club because I was too young to be there, but he'd sneak me in. He's still one of the swingingest older cats I've met. In 1938, '39 I used to watch this guy and another old man. He used to play drums, used to sit up with a pipe in his mouth and play every night.

"I lived across the street from a place called the Lennox Grill in Philadelphia, and I used to peek through the windows in the back of the club, they had bars on the windows, and I used to always stand there and look at this drummer. He had a pipe in his mouth and a regular old setup of drums — you know, no high hat, nothing like that — just a bass drum and a little cymbal, cymbals were small then. But he was swinging like I don't know what. My mother used to come around the corner and look up and see me peeking in the window and say, 'Come on now,' and I'd go home — I only lived across the street. But I used to sneak out of the house sometimes at night because they'd be playin' after my bedtime ...  I had to go to school . . . but I used to sneak out, run across the street, 10:30, 11 o'clock at night and peek in that window and listen to him playing drums."

On Max Roach and Art Blakey:

"I left Philadelphia in 1947 and came to New York to live because during and before those years Max and Art used to come to Philly, and I'd be working in the clubs when they came to town, and I idolized them, and they used to say, 'Why don't you come to New York?' In fact, Art or Max would confirm that they've ridden with me when I was driving on the streetcar, and then Max came back a few years later when I was driving a grocery truck and used to ride with me in the afternoons, and we'd talk.

"I loved Max and Art, and I wanted to talk to them and be with them, and I couldn't because I was in Philly so I used to buy a train ticket. I used to commute from Philly to New York and go to Max' house over on Monroe St. in Brooklyn with Kenny Davis. I'd eat dinner and stay maybe six, seven hours, and we'd play. We'd go into his bedroom, and Max would be showing Kenny and myself different things. We'd be, so to speak, swapping notes. Max introduced me to Kenny Clarke. He told me, This is Kenny Clarke the forerunner of all of us!'"

On Miles Davis:

"Miles had this uncanny sense of time and rhythm, real different from anybody I've ever met. And he often said that my sense of time is strange and so between the two of us having these strange senses of time, we just seemed to get together with the sense of time, and I could never lose him, and he could never lose me. I always knew where he was. As much as I like to play the melody in things on the drums, I could get with Miles and go into anything, just like he does with me; he never stays with the drummer; he goes way out. But I know where he's at, and I know what he's doing, and with Miles I could play some drum things without having to stick close to the melody on the drums to let him know where I was at 'cause he had such an uncanny sense of time. He would know the amount of time that I had to be playing, and I'd come out right, and it would bring him right back, and he'd come right back where ONE was . . . and it was always beautiful.

"The greatest experience of my life was with Miles, of course ... I could never deny that — the greatest experience of my life other than the few times I worked with Charlie, meaning Charlie Parker. They were the greatest experiences of my life. To work with Miles later gassed me because I knew that he got all of his seasoning from Charlie.

"In Miles group, Miles would let me play 'most anything I felt like playing. He used to have a firm hand on me. With Miles, I'm a sideman, and there's so much I can do and so much I can't do. Miles used to get angry about some things I would do and limit me and have me play certain things and tie me down and I couldn't progress. I feel that if a drummer can experiment on the bandstand without upsetting the rhythm and disturbing people, it's good for you and makes you progress. But Miles wouldn't let me experiment too much, because he'd say I'd be getting in the way. With my own group, I can experiment the way I feel because it's my group! With my own group I feel more at liberty. If I feel something, to go into it. I used to feel things with Miles that might have been some spectacular things, but I wouldn't do them because I was afraid he would reprimand me.

"I believe in everybody in the band letting them play their own arrangements. That makes them a happy group. When I was in Miles' band that was the thing that I didn't like in the band. Miles would never play anything that I would write or that anybody else in the band would write. Course we could suggest, which I did. I suggested on numerous occasions how the format of an arrangement should be. "I'll play brushes here" like on All of You. Different things like that. That concept was me. I said, 'Miles, I want to play brushes in front of that' when he started the opening of All of You. That's my idea. We dreamed that up on a plane flying to Detroit or somewhere."

On young, outstanding drummers:

"Louis Hayes! He's going to be an excellent drummer. And a student of mine named Andrew Serrill — he's becoming a very good drummer. And a protege of mine from Philadelphia, a young boy named Endlove. They're going to be very excellent drummers."

On tricks and stick twirling:

"It looks good. It's flash. It looks very good with those sticks being twirled in your hands, but you should be kept on the drums. You're supposed to be playing the drums. A lot of guys will say, 'Ah, man, I left my tom-toms home, and my other cymbal is gone.' Drums can be played with the bass drum, snare drum, and ONE cymbal. Or if you don't have the cymbal, you can use the snare drum. I know a lot of guys can sit down and play the snare drum.

"I don't like tricks, I don't like to resort to tricks. Now I try to do some kind of trick things with the cymbals, but I want to do them in the rhythm. It's not just a trick, and you don't hear it; it's a trick and you hear it. Twirl the sticks and that's a trick, and nobody hears it; it's all right, it looks flashy, but what looks flashy is one thing— what you hear is still rhythm that keeps it swinging. Don't do pantomime drums! 'Cause pantomime drums cannot be heard on a record.

"I've seen Buddy Rich do all kinds of solos, any way you can think of, and I've never seen him do tricks. He plays drums and cymbals all the time, both the hands and the feet. Buddy does things that are unbelievable for any drummer. I used to play the conga on stage while he was playing drums in his solo. I'd be playing rhythm, and I used to look over at him to see when he was going to come out of his solo . . . and I couldn't see his hands! I couldn't see them! They were a blur, the sticks were a blur. He's the greatest drummer I've listened to when you start saying, 'Go in there and play those drums.'"

On playing loudly:

"I am comparatively a heavy drummer. I like to play heavy, and I play forceful, and sometimes I tend to get loud, and it might be overbearing because I've seen some customers who sit close to the drums get up and move. So I understand.

"A lot of drummers play for themselves and don't think about the audience. I do. I think about the audience at all times when I'm playing. I have a feeling for their ears as far as volume is concerned. But on some tunes, you just cannot come down and make the tune effective, so I have to play loud. If I would play it much softer, it wouldn't be any good. It would kill the brilliance of the tune.

"But even though a drummer can play loud, I notice the public will accept it if the drums are loud and musical. If you're loud and not musical, they won't accept it."

On the future of drums:

"The era has changed, and it's getting so that people are getting more modern-minded. We're talking about the moon. The drums have got to go to the moon! You can't be playing the drums in 1923; it's 1960 now, and the drums have got to move along and progress, too. I think drums are changing constantly.
"We have so many young drummers that are coming up, and they listen to me and Art and Max and different cats that are playing, and they want to play different. They're constantly trying to surpass. That's the way I felt about the older drummers. I wanted to surpass what they did, so that I can be doing something progressive and get recognition, and the younger drummers that are younger than I are doing the same thing. Youth just comes on. Youth comes through, and it's with a different flavor. They're constantly searching, and there's no end to drums, what you can do with drums.

"The only thing I can say is for all drummers, including myself — and I'm really scuffling just to stay this way — I want to keep time behind me and don't let it catch up. When time catches up with you, you become passe, so I'm striving to keep time behind me. I don't want time to pass me, and go ahead, and wake up someday and I'm old-fashioned. I say, don't let "emit"— that's "time" spelled backwards — don't let "emit" get you."’

Source: March 3, 1960 edition of Downbeat magazine.


  1. I agree with you Sir. No more needs to be said.
    Except :); I was playing a gig once in Rochester, NY and a drummer friend of mine walked in the door and sat down with another guy. The lighting was poor and I couldn't really identify the other person. During the break I walked over to their table and my friend introduced me to Philly Joe Jones. YIKES! During the short break my fiend asked me if Philly could sit in; uh, yea! He played three tunes as I remember it, blew me away of course and during the next break complimented me on my 18" Crash/Ride cymbal. Of course he could (and did) make anything sound great. A milestone moment to be sure.


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