Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The 1968 Downbeat Magazine Annual Drummers Poll

In addition to having an Annual Percussion Issue (See blog dated June 8th), Downbeat also published an issue with ratings for various musicians and their recordings. These popularity contests were somewhat skewed because the only votes that counted were those that were mailed in by readers who took the time to do so. Nowadays, a few clicks can get you almost anywhere in cyberspace, but back then, snail mail was the way to go.

Anyway, these polls covered all jazz musicians who played an appropriate instrument. Guitarists,pianists, horn players, drummers---you name it and there was a poll for it. The poll only applied to jazz and, in a few cases, pop musicians. There were no classical, country, or world musicians. There was even a category for Record of the Year. These polls were only for the readers of Downbeat. No critics or commentators were allowed to vote. There was a separate issue for a critics poll.

In any case, the poll you see pictured here is the drummers poll from 1968. It's self explanatory, but the number in parenthesis indicates the standings from the previous year's poll. No numbers in parenthesis indicates a new entry for the year.

The poll gives a snapshot, albeit a small one, of the popularity of jazz drummers in 1968. All the drummers on the list were active at the time, some more than others. The first 3 names were, as can be seen, interchangeable from the previous year. Elvin Jones had left John Coltrane and had his own trio. Buddy Rich had his big band. And Tony Williams had left Miles Davis and was in the process of creating his ground breaking group, the Tony Williams Lifetime. All had a unique style. All equally valid.

The rest of the top 10 is interesting. Roy Haynes is still playing brilliantly. A few weeks ago he appeared on the David Letterman show. Joe Morello recently passed on, but his legacy as a player and a teacher is secure. Grady Tate is still playing and, at the time, played with the some of biggest names in Jazz. Max Roach and Art Blakey are household names within the drumming community. If you're a drummer, and you're not familiar with them, you haven't been paying attention. And Ed Thigpen was a great brush player who also played with some of the biggest names in jazz.

The rest of the list is equally interesting. Perhaps it's here that many drummers would begin to quibble with the ratings. There were, and are, a number of Shelly Manne fans. They would insist the he belongs in the top 10. The same would hold true for Mel Lewis fans. For me, Louis Bellson and Papa Jo Jones should be rated higher. And Gene Krupa? His career was winding down at the time, but 15th? Jack DeJohnette was playing with Miles Davis, so perhaps he should have ended up higher in the ratings. Joe Cusatis was very underrated, but not so in this poll. He's gone on to write some fine drum books. And Chico Hamilton, I believe, continues to play.

Only 2 drummers with a legacy in rock drumming made the list, Ginger Baker with Cream and Mitch Mitchell with Jimi Hendrix. Both had backgrounds in jazz and r & b, so to refer to them as simply "rock " drummers, as some critics did at the time, is a disservice. They were the only two drummers from the pop music world to make the list. Neither Hal Blaine or Earl Palmer made it, although it's understandable since both toiled in relative obscurity cranking out hit record after hit record.

Both Milford Graves and Ed Blackwell were active in the Avant Garde jazz scene. Here, too, some of the more opinionated critics at the time, questioned their style and talent.

The last 3 drummers were all active in big bands. Rufus "Speedy" Jones, Sonny Payne, and Sam Woodyard all played either with Count Basie or Duke Ellington.

It's important to remember this was a popularity poll. It's clearly a moment frozen in time. I'm sure anyone could find something to question. For example, where is Philly Joe Jones on this list? Also no Keith Moon? What about Dino Danelli? Bernard Purdie? Charlie Watts? Ziggy Modeliste? John Bonham? The list could go on and on. It should be pointed out that Downbeat was a jazz magazine. So perhaps that explains some of this. Drummers such as Billy Cobham, Steve Gadd, Neil Peart, Carl Palmer, Bill Bruford, and Simon Phillips were just starting to make their mark.

Their time was coming...

1 comment:

  1. what abouut the great Ringo Starr--he definitely should have made the list.