© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Steve Siegel has been a guest writer on JazzProfiles with previous pieces on pianist Wade Legge and on the Great Day in Harlem Photography “Mystery Man” - William J. Crump.
Here’s his latest contribution - a detailed overview of drummer Frankie Dunlop - another in his series on notable Jazz musicians from Buffalo, New York.
Steve sent along this brief overview regarding his background.
“Biography for Steve Siegel:
My interest in jazz began in 1970 when, as a college student, I took a course entitled “Afro-American Music" – code for “jazz” ( In the late 1960’s a course with the title “jazz" in it may have had a difficult time getting through a college's curriculum committee, because it might not be considered a rigorous enough topic to grant college credit for). Over the subsequent 50 years I have collected approximately 2500 jazz recordings- all on vinyl, and over 250 books which deal with jazz biography, the history of jazz, jazz criticism and jazz's relationship to other art forms.
I spent 36 years in academia and upon retirement in 2013 pursued a second career as a fine arts photographer. My true objective was to finally get around to writing about jazz. Recently I embarked upon a series of human interest articles which focus upon the lives of jazz artists who were active from the bebop era through the 1960’s and are no longer with us, but have a compelling story that, perhaps due to the vicissitudes of time, was lost to history.”
© -Steve H. Siegel copyright protected; all rights reserved; used with the author’s permission.
“Frankie Dunlop's parents to be, William (Willie) Dunlop and his wife, a very pregnant Jessie and their two children, Helen and Boyd Lee had arrived in Buffalo, New York from Winston Salem, N.C. sometime in 1928. In Winston Salem, both parents had been working in the burgeoning tobacco industry for R.J. Reynolds. They were part of the northern diaspora of Afro-Americans to the industrialized cities of the north. Willie's occupation in Buffalo was listed in the 1930 census as a roofer.
On December 6, 1928, Willie and Jessie welcomed their second son into the world, Francis Dunlop. Curiously, the 1930 census lists “Francis” as a “daughter”, which would have us believe that little “Francis’s” blue booties had evidently been exchanged for pink ones and he had become little “Frances.” The world’s first known sex change operation on a baby? Hardly. Probably just a census taker assuming that all children with the name Franc(i or e)s were girls.
One summer day in 1938, 9-year-old Frankie and 12-year-old Boyd, were playing in the front yard of their home at 573 Clinton St. on Buffalo's east-side. The neighbors, in the process of moving, had placed some items that they were leaving behind in a pile by the curb. Upon closer examination Frankie and Boyd discovered two treasures: an old upright piano – a rather common sight in the homes of Afro-Americans during this period- as well as the remnants of a drum set; both bass and snare drums and a bunch of broken drum sticks. Frankie immediately laid claim to the rather sad looking drum set and Boyd settled for the even sadder looking piano.
Following some repairs on the instruments, Frankie and Boyd both demonstrated natural musical aptitude on their respective instruments. This talent so impressed their uncle that he presciently predicted that they were destined to be “good musicians.”
It was also around this time that William Dunlop passed away leaving Jessie to raise her 3 young children. The 1940 census finds Jessie and the children living at the rear of 264 Cedar St., in Buffalo.
The 1940’s found Frankie entering his teenage years and his commitment to music and jazz in particular became the driving force in his young life. Jazz biographies of musicians of Dunlop's generation usually include descriptions of precociously talented, jazz obsessed teenagers sneaking out of the house against their parents' wishes and into a local jazz club where the musicians, remembering their own teenage years performing the same rite of passage, would aid and abet them and even occasionally allow them to sit in. Frankie’s former wife, Laura Dunlop, recalls that his mother didn’t want him to go into the music business. She was a religious person; he could play drums in the church, but she didn’t want him to do otherwise. But despite Jessie's disapproval, Frankie would sneak out at night and repeat this ritual at some of the many jazz clubs that were so prevalent on the east-side of Buffalo in the 1940’s and 50’s.
In an effort to provide Frankie with a more respectable grounding in the art of percussion, Jessie arranged lessons with Johnny Rowland who was just beginning a distinguished 4-decade career as a percussionist with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. Rowland, a classically trained musician and a graduate of the prestigious Eastman School of Music, had one other qualification that was rather unique for a percussionist in a symphony orchestra- he had started his musical career in the 1930’s drumming in dance bands. By working with Rowland, Frankie was able to acquire a musical foundation that straddled both worlds and a well-rounded technique that he drew upon throughout his career.
By 1945, the 16-year-old Frankie, though not old enough to appear in nightclubs, was working with rehearsal bands at the Buffalo Colored Musicians Club, led by some of Buffalo's best jazz musicians including George Clark who was to go on to record with Stuff Smith, Cootie Williams and Milt Hinton.
Frankie also had the opportunity to work with Lenny Lewis who led one of Buffalo's best bebop influenced big band. Here he shared time in the drum chair with another Buffalo born drummer named Melvin Sokoloff, who was 5 months younger than Frankie. Melvin would also attain great success in jazz. Young Sokoloff went on to be nominated for 14 Grammy awards. He also was the co-leader of one of the greatest big bands of the modern jazz era, the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra under his stage name- Mel Lewis.
In his Mel Lewis biography, The View from the Back of the Band, author Chris Smith reports:
“Between 1944 and 1948 Mel cultivated a friendship with another young drummer from Buffalo named Frank Dunlop. Mel remembered Frank Dunlop as the best bebop drummer in town and the two young drummers spent hours listening to records together and sharing drumming ideas.”
I might add that at this time Mel and Frankie lived within 2 miles of each other and by 1944 both were 15 years of age and were already being paid for their work as professional musicians.
Author Smith also makes the point that the war years provided an unprecedented opportunity for very young musicians to find work that would not normally be offered to them, as older musicians were drafted or voluntarily joined the armed forces. This helps to explain how both Frankie Dunlop and Mel Lewis were able to quickly find musical outlets for their prodigious talent.
In addition to the many opportunities that the thinning of the drummers’ pool had in creating opportunities for young drummers, Frankie also put in the hard work necessary for continual improvement. Future master drummer and educator, Nasar Abadey, whose mother was a cousin of Frankie's mother, remembers moving in with the Dunlops when he was 6 years old and listening to Frankie continually practicing in the attic. When Abadey was 7, Frankie gave him his first drum lesson and became his primary influence.
Buffalo, by virtue of its large and growing Black population as well as its geographic location- about halfway between New York City and Chicago, 200 miles from Cleveland and 90 miles from Toronto, Canada- was a frequent destination for the nationally known big bands as well as small groups playing “the new thing," bebop. Nothing, including school, would stop Frankie from finding his way to the theater to see his idols such as Gene Krupa (who Mel Lewis also cited as an influence) and Lionel Hampton perform. On any given night at the Buffalo night spots such as the Anchor Bar or McVan's, you could hear Mead Lux Lewis, Art Tatum, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Nat Cole and other musicians of a similar musical pedigree.
In Buffalo, Frankie continued to synthesize his ever-expanding knowledge of drumming. The city had provided him with the opportunity to assimilate a wide range of influences, from the percussion lessons with Johnny Rowland, to the small group and big band rehearsals provided by the Colored Musicians Club and the opportunities to actually play in the many downtown Buffalo clubs that featured jazz. The consolidation of these influences opened the doors for Frankie to even greater opportunities in both the short run and long run. In the short run it gave Frankie the confidence to make frequent trips to New York City where he met and occasionally worked with such established jazzmen as Max Roach, Kenny Clarke, Charlie Parker and Frankie's future employer, Maynard Ferguson.
The long run benefits were even greater. Much like Mel Lewis, Frankie's varied musical experiences during these formative years allowed him to successfully work in a wide range of jazz configurations throughout his career. He could drive a big band as he did with Maynard Ferguson and Lionel Hampton, as well as successfully negotiate the angular rhythms of Monk's piano style, yet provide the melodic and powerful drumming that Monk expected.
Throughout the late 1940’s, Dunlop continued to freelance around the Buffalo area with occasional side trips to New York City. In 1949 Dunlop cut his first record, a 10-inch, 78 rpm 2-sided single. It was recorded by a pick-up band under the nominal leadership of 21-year-old Canadian saxophonist/flautist Moe Kaufman and included Frankie’s brother Boyd on piano and another musician from Buffalo, Elvin Shepherd on trumpet.
As the decade of the 1950’s began, the 21-year-old Dunlop joined the band of saxophonist Big Jay McNeely. McNeely fronted a rhythm and blues group that was riding high in 1950 after his 1949 recording of “The Deacon's Hop” topped the R&B charts. In a 1985 interview for Modern Drummer, Dunlop related: “McNeely took me under his wing and showed me the rhythm-and-blues approach to the drum, because I wasn't giving him the right beat.”
The linear development of Dunlop's career was interrupted in 1952 when he was drafted into the Army and was sent to Korea as part of an anti-aircraft unit but eventually ended up as the drummer in the Seven Dukes of Rhythm army band.
Upon his release from the army in 1955, he left Buffalo and moved to New York City. His first recording session was hardly inauspicious. It took place in October of 1957 and was a Charles Mingus session which produced the album Jazz Symposium of Poetry and Music. The album combines music and narrative. Frankie did not play drums, Dannie Richmond did and Frankie only appeared on one selection – for about the 2 seconds it took to throw a garbage can lid to the ground.
Dunlop relates the rather weird story to Scott Fish for Modern Drummer magazine in 1985:
I did another record date with Mingus that was on Bethlehem Records. That particular record will be a collector’s item — I don’t give a damn how long the world stands here. You can dig this particular record by Mingus up 50 years from now and it’ll be a collector’s item...
…Mingus slides down on his bass. All this is on the record. The guy [musician] walks upstairs [and] the music imitates that. And he says, “Oh, there’s my room.” There’s a knock at his door. “Hey, who is that?”
“This is your landlady. You owe me rent.”
“I told you I don’t have it. I was downtown tryin’ to get a gig.”
“Well, look. If you don’t get any, you’re going to get evicted. I’m goin’ to throw you out if you don’t pay.”
Then [the musician] hears some noise in the alley. He yells down, “Who is that?”
“It’s the garbage man.”
Mingus yells out, “OKAY? FRANKIE.”
I threw the garbage can top down. Mingus said, “Wait a minute. Cut! Cut! Hey, Frank. You didn’t throw the can down on time. You’re behind. Hey, take that take over.”
Here I am at my first record date in New York, throwing a garbage can lid in the RCA Victor recording studios. Dannie Richmond was playing the drums. He was playing all the intricate stuff. But my thing was, when the [musician’s] yelling down to the garbage man, “Man, stop rattling that stuff. I’m tryin’ to sleep!” — that’s when I was supposed to slam the lid down. And I missed it.
Mingus says, “No. You’re supposed to wait, Frank, until [the musician] says [the word] ‘sleep.’
The A&R man is sitting in there looking at Mingus, thinking, “What in the hell are we doing? Who is this cat? What kind of record date is this?”
Dunlop's first major recording which did not involve a garbage can lid was a 1957 session under the leadership of bassist Wilbur Ware and included Johnny Griffin, Junior Mance, John Jenkins and drummer Wilbur Campbell, who Dunlop shared the drum chair with.
The summer of 1957 also provided one of the highpoints in Dunlop's musical life followed a few days later by what might be considered a very low point.
The story of Thelonious Monk’s engagement at the Five Spot in the summer of 1957 has entered into jazz lore as possibly the most consequential club engagement in the history of jazz, bringing together Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane and serving to rapidly propel both careers forward. But Frankie Dunlop's very short roll in it and his near miss at having a “back-row-seat” while jazz history unfolded in front of him, is less well known.
Monk had opened at the Five Spot with a temporary trio of Mike Matos on bass and Mack Simpkins on drums. During the first 2 weeks at the Five Spot, Monk began to put together his permanent quartet. John Coltrane and Wilbur Ware quickly came on board. For the drum chair Monk remembered a drummer named Frankie Dunlop, who he had recently seen performing at a club in Harlem. Monk had been very impressed by the drummer. So, Frankie Dunlop was hired by Monk and completed the quartet. Monk, Coltrane, Ware and Dunlop opened at the Five Spot on July 16, 1957.
At this time in New York, if you were playing in a union ensemble, you needed a union card issued by New York City Local 802 and a 3-month waiting period existed between the time of application and when the card was issued. By July 16th Dunlop had yet to complete the waiting period, so a few days into the gig a union representative appeared at the club and notified Monk and Dunlop that he could no longer play. Monk protested to the union rep but to no avail and Dunlop was immediately replaced by Shadow Wilson.
Tough break for Frankie but at least Dunlop was now on Monk’s radar and 3½ years later he would get his second chance to work with Monk.
From 1958 until November 1961, when he was again hired by Monk, Dunlop gained valuable experience. He played with Sonny Rollins but did not record with Rollins until 1966 on the Impulse issued album Alfie. He spent the period 1958 to early 1960 propelling the Maynard Ferguson band, with whom he recorded three albums: Swingin’ My Way Through College, Maynard Plays Jazz for Dancing and A Message from Birdland. In the Spring of 1960, he spent a month with Duke Ellington while Sam Woodyard was away from the band. He did actually record with Ellington on April 25, 1960, on a session for MGM that has remained unissued.
Dunlop also used this period to sample marriage. In 1958, he married Elizabeth Kimber who was born in Wales and at the time of the marriage lived at 137 E. 22nd St. NYC.
The fact that Monk had even offered Dunlop, a relatively new arrival to the NYC jazz scene, the ill-fated Five Spot gig in 1957, served as a huge boost to Frankie's confidence. He rightfully felt that he could compete for the best jobs in the most competitive environment in the country for jazz. By October 1961 he felt well prepared for new challenges, so when Monk's then drummer, Roy Haynes, gave notice and Dunlop was offered the drum chair, he quickly accepted. Dunlop's first engagement with Monk was, ironically, to be at the Jazz Gallery, currently owned by the Termini brothers, who had owned the Five Spot where Dunlop's very short tenure with Monk had been.
On opening night Monk, always the rather idiosyncratic teacher, posed a challenge for Frankie. Monk knew that Frankie was solid at fast tempos but Monk wanted a complete drummer. Frankie related the story in his Modern Drummer interview:
“I learned so much from Monk—things that he told me about his philosophy on life that have helped me—things that I laughed about. He used to tell me that it's easier to play fast than slow. When he first told me that, I thought, Oh no. There's no way in the world. But Monk was right. It's harder to play slow and accurate. He proved it to me. I'd been playing fast with all these groups. Man, there was no way anyone could tell me that some of the upstairs tempos I played with Maynard weren't the end all to drumming. Monk proved it to me on my first night, when I rejoined him in 1960 at the new Five Spot (the Jazz Gallery). We were in the back room and Monk said, ‘You want to solo and play fast all the time. All drummers are that way. When you're playing fast, soloing, and throwing your sticks, you think you're really playing. In your estimation, that's the hardest. Well, you know, it's really harder to play slow than it is to play fast, and to swing and create something while you're doing it.’ Monk finished talking to me, and we went up to the stand. Monk had his hat on. The place was packed. He started off the tune with an extra-slow tempo. I wondered what was going on. Charlie Rouse came in and played the ensemble; Monk jumped off the piano and started dancing during Charlie's solo. He danced over to me and said, ‘Okay. Get to me now. Swing it, pal.’ I was wondering if I was doing it. I had to concentrate so hard on the music that I couldn't look at the audience. I couldn't look at the door. I couldn't even look to see what time it was. I had to swing. I thought, "Oh, my God." I was playing slow, which was the hardest thing for me. Monk would dance up to me and say, ‘Okay Frankie, come on now. Let me see you swing now. Shit. I told you it ain't easy to swing when you're playing slow. I told you that, didn't I.’
Here I was coming back with Monk. They (musicians in the audience) figured that I was going to be wailing. I was thinking the same thing and Monk put this on me. Do you know what? It not only made me look like an ass, but I also played like an ass.”
For a good example of how Frankie successfully applied Monk's advice, hear the recording of Mysterioso, recorded live at Lincoln Center on the album Thelonious Monk's Greatest Hits.
Dunlop’s hiring came at a fortuitous time. Monk had now put together what was to become his classic quartet, featuring Dunlop, tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse and bassist John Ore.
The Jazz Gallery gig concluded on New Year’s Eve. As 1961 unfolded, impresario George Wein approached Monk's manager, Harry Columby, about the possibility of Monk's quartet accompanying him on a tour of Europe, to commence in mid-April. Arrangements were made and a series of concerts took place over a six-week period throughout western Europe and Scandinavia.
While in Europe, the quartet was well recorded, including the final two albums that Monk owed Riverside records to satisfy the terms of his contract. This cleared the way for Monk's representatives to enter into negotiations with Columbia for a contract that would provide Monk with a distribution and promotion system unequaled by any other jazz label. This association would also provide Frankie Dunlop with the type of public exposure that, up until this point, few jazz drummers serving as side-men could claim.
While on the tour, Dunlop's efforts behind the drum kit did not go unnoticed by the European critics, with one critic stating that Dunlop's drumming was…” tasteful and alert” …and (he was) “quick to spot when special interpolations were required.”
From the time of the quartet's first sessions for Columbia in October and November of 1962, until late January 1964, Dunlop participated in a series of well received albums including Monk’s Dream, Big Band and Quartet in Concert, Criss-Cross, Monk in Tokyo, and Miles & Monk at Newport, as well as later releases from the European tour including Thelonious Monk in Italy and Monk in France- the two albums that were released on the Riverside label and satisfied the terms of the contract with Riverside.
(For a thorough account of Dunlop's time with Monk, read Robin D. G. Kelley’s book, Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original.)
As 1963 was winding down, Dunlop began to reevaluate his current situation with Monk. He had felt for a while that he was being underpaid. At the time, you could probably have found support from critics and musicians that Dunlop was the most important of the three band members not named Monk. The initial difficulties that Dunlop's eventual replacement, Ben Riley had in adjusting to Monk's music, would give much credence to that opinion.
In addition to the compensation issue, Dunlop was becoming frustrated by the repetitiveness of the nightly playlist which had become rather formulaic. He was also somewhat bored with music in general and was even contemplating a change in careers.
Finally, towards the end of January 1964, a little over 3 years after he had joined Monk, he gave his notice.
As it turned out, one of Frankie’s biggest fans during his time with Monk was Monk's son, Thelonious Jr. who, in an interview with Modern Drummer, had this to say about Frankie's time with his father:
“Thelonious S. Monk Jr., chairman of the board of trustees at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz and a drummer who also played with his dad, tells MD, ‘Frankie Dunlop was the ideal drummer for my father. Their combined understanding of time, and particularly space, made for one of the greatest and perhaps the most unique rhythm section in the history of jazz.”
Frankie tells of a time when he was attending the dedication of a street in New York City to Monk and Thelonious Jr. told him: "Of all those cats who wailed with my dad, I always dug you. You always fed that beat and made that stuff swing."
Following his departure from Monk, Frankie's career was split between music and show business.
Musically, shortly after leaving Monk, he signed with Atlantic Records. In 1964, Frankie recorded several rather commercial singles under this own leadership, Frankie Dunlop & His Orchestra, including Latin Twist, Lowdown Waltz and Uptown Downtown. He freelanced on some small group recordings with Mose Allison, Sonny Rollins and bassist Richard Davis. The Davis album, The Philosophy of the Spiritual included a rather unusual instrumental configuration which included 2 bassists (Davis and Bill Lee, who is Spike Lee's father) and 2 percussionists, with Sonny Brown listed as the drummer and Dunlop on “percussion.”
Most of Dunlop's work during the post Monk period was with Lionel Hampton with whom he appeared on a series of recordings from 1977 to 1982. However, the bulk of his recorded output was the extensive reissuing and repackaging of his 1960-1963 recordings with Monk.
On the show biz front Frankie found some success as an actor and impressionist. Frankie could do a devastating impersonation of Thelonious Monk which the hip jazz crowd could appreciate but unfortunately many others could not, because Monk rarely ever spoke in public.
His jazz pantomime act entitled Frankie & Maletta, reached its apogee when it received 3rd billing on a show which took place on June 2, 1968 at the Fillmore East entitled: A Salute to Dick Gregory, with Bill Cosby receiving top billing.
Dunlop also appeared in the off-Broadway stage play The Charlie Parker Story.
In Frankie's personal life, on March 18, 1969, 40-year-old Frankie married Laura Louise Eady, in Alexandria, Va. It was the second marriage for both. The couple settled at 2569 7th Ave. In New York City.
In 1985, Dunlop contracted the debilitating Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disorder attacking the nervous system. The protracted illness was later complicated by Alzheimer’s dementia, leading to Frankie’s death on July 4, 2014 in Englewood, N.J. at the age of 85.
In 2012, two years previous to his death, Frankie Dunlop and his brother Boyd were jointly inducted into the Buffalo, N.Y. Music Hall of Fame.
As it is with many musicians who have spent much of their careers as sidemen for dominant leaders, Dunlop’s legacy may not be easily defined. Though Dunlop has performed on many recordings, his work will primarily be viewed through his 3-year stint with Monk. When you work for a leader whose style is so idiosyncratic that the listener's ear is continually drawn to his work, then the performance of the other members of the rhythm section might, at times, be overlooked and therefore might escape much critical evaluation from the listener and perhaps even from many critics.
As oblique as Monk could be in his communication, he clearly set performance parameters for his drummers.
Dunlop, from the Modern Drummer interview:
“Monk always liked an exceptionally strong bass man and drummer. The reason you heard so much straight playing was because Monk didn’t consider it a rhythm section – even though it was a quartet- unless it had a driving sound… rhythmically, his conception was not like the average quartet. From the first beat, Monk's quartet would be just like the rhythm section of any good big band…”
Looking at the members of rhythm sections who played in, what might be loosely considered, the jazz “Super Bands” of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s we see drummers and bassists who were, to some degree, less constrained by their leaders’ concept of their role than Dunlop was by Monk.
With Coltrane, Elvin Jones often functioned as a de facto second horn often playing the role of a duettist with Coltrane and accordingly was provided the freedom that a second horn would be given. With Miles, “Philly” Joe Jones played for a leader who stressed individuality in his sidemen, expecting them to figure out what that role should be. Jones was also one part of a legendary “three headed” rhythm section with Paul Chambers and Wynton Kelly, whose influence, as the rhythm section on a large number of other sessions, extended well beyond the Davis band. With Bill Evans, Scott Lafaro was charged by Evans to elevate the bass' role to that of an almost equal partner to the piano. The importance of his role was truly confirmed after his untimely death, when Evans struggled for years to find another bassist who could fulfill that truly creative role adequately.
Only in Danny Richmond, a “creation” of Charles Mingus who converted him from a saxophone player into Mingus’ personal drummer, do we find a similar level of explicit expectations of an iconic leader for a “Super Band”, as existed between Monk and Dunlop.
Perhaps another reason for Dunlop's relative anonymity might be his lack of longevity within high profile bands. When he left Monk, he had just turned 35 years of age. For the next 21 years until his illness in 1985 which led to his retirement, he had few high-profile long-term gigs or a steady stream of studio recordings which would have keep his name in the public eye.
It also did not help that within weeks of Dunlop leaving Monk, the Beatles came to America and “Rock and Roll" captured the attention of the nation, leading to a very difficult and confusing time for jazz, both economically and aesthetically. Consider: During this period the only instrument that was always present in every rock as well as every jazz band was the drum (we are differentiating electric bass from stand-up bass). So, as the 1960’s progressed, the youth culture music media determined that the great drummers of the day were no longer Max Roach or “Philly” Joe Jones but such figures as Ginger Baker, Keith Moon and Charlie Watts. Therefore, it was very easy for the jazz drummer turned actor, Frankie Dunlop, to be virtually forgotten.
Todd Bishop of the Cruise Ship Drummer on Dunlop's legacy:
“Dunlop was one of those drummers who will make you work a little bit to figure out why they are so great— he was great in a smaller way than someone like Tony Williams or Jack Dejohnette. If your views and priorities as a musician are out of whack, you could mistake him for a mediocre drummer; so, your response to him can tell you something about your own musical maturity.”
Jeff Porter of Modern Drummer:
“With this unit (Monk's band) Dunlop made his defining mark. Wielding crisp yet fluid technique in the service of a forward moving, swinging pocket, Dunlop created an ideal balance of precision and openness. His quirky, unexpectedly placed fills served as both swinging links and responsive commentary to Monk’s angular and playfully fragmented phrases. And he intuitively understood Monk’s idiosyncratic swing feel, which sometimes straddled a bouncing 2 and a hard-swinging 4.”
Laura Dunlop, recalling Frankie's love for others:
“He didn’t play for money necessarily. I knew many a night when he’d be out until four or five in the morning, doing somebody a favor, playing for twenty-five dollars. And of course, he and all the musicians would go up to Minton’s after work and play all night for nothing.”
Pianist Ethan Iverson, who in the liner notes to a 2018 release of a 1963 Monk quartet live recording from a concert in Copenhagen, Denmark, had this to say about Dunlop (and John Ore):
“Frankie Dunlop was a heavy swinger comfortable with powering a full big band, yet his seriousness of purpose was leavened by cryptic snare drum fills and bass drum bombs just the right side of outrageous. For some, Dunlop was the greatest drummer for Monk... Based on this Copenhagen concert alone, Dunlop and Ore could be called one of the great rhythm sections. It is sadly typical of the history of American art that both men died unheralded in 2014 after decades of utter obscurity.”
The jazz literature often tells us that “ …on this album, the unheralded (fill in the name of any unheralded jazz musician – Herbie Nichols comes to mind as a prime example.) gives what is perhaps their greatest performance and is an artist worthy of greater recognition…" Media treatment such as this seems to indicate that the writer holds the artist in question in much higher regard than most other jazz pundits do, therefore making the case that he is offering a minority opinion. The result of this is that other jazz writers might take note of this and in future articles simply pass on that evaluation. It appears that after a decade or two of being considered “unheralded” by so many, you become permanently unheralded by both the writers and the jazz loving public, as well as permanently obscure. It appears that Frankie Dunlop (along with quite a few other jazz musicians), have suffered this fate.
This truism begs the question: How many times must an artist be referred to as “unheralded, underappreciated, underrated,” et. al., before history might lift the veil of obscurity and provide the artist his due?
Hopefully Mr. Iverson's comments, along with the comments of others in this article might help the “unheralded and obscure” Frankie Dunlop move closer to just such a moment.
After all, having one’s story told is the worst enemy of obscurity.”
Here’s Frankie with Maynard Ferguson’s Big Band on Oleo:
With Scott Fish for Modern Drummer:
Frankie’s drum solo with Monk: