Sunday, March 13, 2011

Joe Morello--Drummer

The pictured drum book by George Lawrence Stone was my first introduction to Joe Morello. The preface reads, "Dedicated to Joe Morello,Oustanding Perfectionist in Modern Drumming." This book and its companion book, Stick Control, were THE books for hand development among drummers back in the day. My teacher , Max Mariash, viewed these books as bibles for any aspiring drummer. But Joe Morello? I didn't really know much about him. Max raved about his playing, particularly his finger control. I had to find out more.

I was aware of Dave Brubeck because of the success of Take Five, a million seller jazz record. This was quite unheard of. Pop records were million sellers, not jazz tunes written in 5/4 time. Brubeck crossed over and his group appeared on various TV variety shows. I think I first saw him on one such show. I don't remember which show, perhaps Steve Allen, but it was a revelation. Joe swung like crazy, yet with a light touch. He had loads of technique which he used judiciously. Joe stayed with Brubeck until the group broke up in 1967.

In 1968, I finally saw Joe Morello in the flesh. It was a moment to remember. In the 60s, there were 2 major drum stores in Chicago, Franks Drum Shop and Bill Crowden's Drums Unlimited. The shops were close to each other....they both were on the same block downtown. They both put on drum clinics and one of them, I don't remember which one, put on a Drum Festival in nearby Grant Park. This was right at the time of the Democratic Convention. In fact, if memory serves, it was right after the convention. There had been rioting at the convention and police were extremely edgy.

In any case, 4 drummers were scheduled to appear, Sheldon Elias, a Camco clinician, Barrett Deems, Joe Morello, and Elvin Jones. They all shared the same back up musicians and they all played solos. Sheldon was first with a very tasty solo. Barrett followed with pure speed. Then Joe, looking and acting like an affable bank clerk, gave a tremendous solo. The crowd went nuts and some rushed the stage. It then started to rain, just as Elvin began to play. An enterprising fellow jumped on stage with an umbrella, and while all the musicians scattered, Elvin gave his inspired best, playing under a hand held umbrella. It was pure heaven. The police simply let things go and the event went off without a hitch

Obviously, I never forgot that moment. The opportunity to see Sheldon, Barrett, and particularly Joe Morello and Elvin Jones was a one off. To just hear and see the contrasting styles was an education in and of itself.

Soon after that, I went out and purchased two of Joe's drum books, Rudimental Jazz, and New Directions in Music, studies in 3/4 and 5/4 jazz. Both books have stood the test of time. His newer books, Master Studies 1 and 2, were really a continuation of his studies with George Lawrence Stone.

Joe Morello was a rare bird. He was a great drummer and great teacher.

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