Posts Tagged ‘Gretsch Drums’

Art Blakey – The Driving Force

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

The history of Gretsch drums is inseparably linked to the history of American music. And never was that more true than during the “Golden Age” of jazz that began at the end of the 1940s and ran through the early 1960s. In those years jazz dominated New York’s legendary 52nd Street club scene, with groups powered by stellar drummers playing on Gretsch drumsets.

“First among equals” in a group that included Max Roach, Elvin Jones, and “Philly Joe” Jones was the inimitable Art Blakey. Art’s unique drumming style combined a primal force and an elemental simplicity. With a driving 2/4 hi-hat pulse, a hissing ride cymbal sound, and loud snare and bass drum accents in triplets or cross-rhythms, Art streamlined the swinging groove of bebop, making it less busy and spasmodic.

Art established himself in the 1940s, working as a sideman for some of the biggest jazz artists of the day. During that same period he visited West Africa—after which he converted to Islam and took the name Abdullah Ibn Buhaina (which led to his nickname of “Bu”).

In the early 1950s Art formed the Jazz Messengers, a group based on his belief that a jazz group should be a solid cohesive unit, not just “five guys blowing on the same changes.” Accordingly, the Jazz Messengers rhythm section didn’t just play time behind the horns. Instead they backed up the horn section solidly and would set up the soloist—who, in turn, would listen and pick up cues that would be thrown his way.

For more than thirty years this legendary group served as the launching pad for young players who would influence music for generations to come. Just a short list of Messengers alumni includes Clifford Brown, Horace Silver, Wayne Shorter, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, and Wynton Marsalis.

One of the pinnacles of Art’s career was his appearance on the unparalleled jazz classic album Gretsch Drum Night At Birdland. Recorded live at the famous New York City nightclub in 1960, this remarkable album documents performances by four great Gretsch drum artists: Blakey, Charlie Persip, Elvin Jones, and “Philly Joe”Jones.

Long-time Gretsch AR director Phil Grant said of Blakey, “Art was everybody’s all-time drummer. He was an individualist, a soloist. Not the greatest technician, by far. But he made up for that with his ideas and innovations; the way he did things. When he played a roll, it wasn’t the greatest roll, but it did things for you. He was quite a guy.”

Art continued to perform with the Jazz Messengers into the late 1980s. Over the years his force and fury on the drums eventually cost him much of his hearing. At the end of his life he often played strictly by instinct. Art died in 1990, leaving behind an enviable legacy and an approach to jazz that’s still the model for countless hard-bop players.

Enjoying Art Blakey

YouTube has an abundance of clips that showcase Art Blakey in his innovative prime, as well as clips from his later years when he was as much a musical mentor as a bandleader.  To begin with, check out a great Blakey drum solo from 1965 here.

Who says jazz can’t groove? Listen to “Moanin’,” performed by Art and The Jazz Messengers live in Belgium in 1958 here.

Art’s dynamic approach is evident on “Dat Dere,” played with the Messengers on a TV appearance in 1961 here.

A trademark drum intro and a dynamic solo by Art spice up a super-cool jazz waltz called—appropriately enough—“Kozo’s Waltz”—from the classic  ANight In Tunisia album. A clip from the record can be seen here.

You can see and hear the terrific interplay between Art and the various soloists in the Messengers playing “Close Your Eyes” on another TV clip from the 1960s. The sidemen are Lee Morgan – trumpet, Wayne Shorter – sax, Jymie Merritt – bass, and Walter Davis – piano. The clip can be seen here.

Art Blakey’s discography as a solo artist, as a sideman with other jazz greats, and as the leader of The Jazz Messengers is a study in itself, which you can pursue at WikiPedia or AllMusic.com. Just to get you started, three classic Blakey recordings to check out include The Big Beat (Blue Note, 1960), A Night In Tunisia (Blue Note, 1960), and Ugetsu—Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers At Birdland (Riverside, 1963). They’re available through Amazon, CDUniverse, and other online sources.

Appreciating Sonny Payne

Friday, September 16th, 2011

by Fred Gretsch

I recently came across a terrific YouTube link leading to a rare early TV clip that showcases the Count Basie Orchestra performing at New York City’s legendary Birdland club in the mid-1950s. Among the many great moments in this clip are several shots of drummer Sonny Payne driving the band in his inimitable style.

Because Gretsch drums are so strongly identified with the small-group drummers of the be-bop era, people sometimes forget that they were also the choice of some of the greatest big band drummers ever to play, including Louie Bellson, Don Lamond, Sam Woodyard—and Sonny Payne.

Vintage Gretsch Ad Featuring the Great Sonny Payne

Sonny played with the Count Basie band from 1955 through 1965. And though initially it might have been a challenging task for him to follow his predecessors—the inimitable “Papa” Jo Jones and the vastly underappreciated Shadow Wilson—Sonny brought his own special brand of dynamic technique and showmanship to the drum chair.

No less a drum giant than Elvin Jones said of Sonny: “I first saw Sonny in the early 1950s with Count Basie. Swinging…dynamics…intensity. He was happy—a pure showman. But a showman who knew what he was doing. He just made that band come alive.”

Louie Bellson added, “For a while everybody was criticizing Sonny [because] he was a [drumstick] juggler. But boy, he kicked that Basie band. The minute you walked in and heard Basie’s band, right away your eyes went up to Sonny Payne. Basie himself summed it up, when he said ‘No question about it, Sonny Payne was the spark plug in my band.’”

Sonny Payne and That Great Gretsch Sound

Sonny left the Count Basie Orchestra in 1965. He worked with a number of different artists over the next several years, but his main gig was drumming for Harry James, whose high-energy band was a perfect fit for Sonny’s high-energy style. Sonny drummed with the Harry James band from 1966 until his untimely passing in 1979 at the age of fifty-four.

You can find additional terrific clips of Sonny’s drumming at YouTube:  Sonny Solo and  Zurich Concert.  All great viewing and listening!

Stanton Moore Brings N’Awlins Down Under

Monday, August 29th, 2011

Stanton Moore

Gretsch drum great Stanton Moore recently completed a whirlwind clinic/performance tour of Australia, where he delighted drummers with his New Orleans-flavored funky style. Stanton’s appearances were part of the Drumscene Live Australia Tour 2011, sponsored by Drumtek, the country’s largest percussion retailer.

From August 14 through August 21 Stanton and his tour mates crossed the continent, entertaining drummers in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Newcastle, and Adelaide. They finished up at the 2011 edition of Australia’s Ultimate Drummers Weekend & Drum Expo in Melbourne, where Stanton conducted master classes on Saturday the 20th and closed the show on Sunday the 21st.

As a native son of New Orleans, Stanton is especially connected to that city, its culture, and its collaborative spirit. Inspired by a thriving music scene that includes such greats as Professor Longhair, Doctor John, and The Meters, Stanton is now regularly mentioned amongst these Big Easy mainstays.

In the early ’90s, Stanton helped found the New Orleans-based essential funk band Galactic. Their first album, 1996’s widely acclaimed Coolin’ Off, led to intense touring over the next ten years. Six additional albums later, Galactic continues to amass a worldwide audience.

In 1998 Stanton launched his solo career, aided by guitar virtuoso Charlie Hunter and saxophonist Skerik. The group’s All Kooked Out! release evolved into another project, leading to the first Garage a Trois release, Mysteryfunk (1999). In 2000 the trio was joined by percussionist Mike Dillon and has since released three more albums: Emphasizer in 2003, Outre Mer in 2005, and Power Patriot in 2009.

Stanton is also highly regarded as a clinician and educator. His Groove Alchemy book/DVD/CD package has been hailed by drummers and teachers alike, and was named best educational book and DVD in the 2011 Modern Drummer Readers Poll.

More information on the Drumscene Live tour is available at drumtek.com.au. More information on Stanton Moore is available at Gretschdrums.com and StantonMoore.com.

Gretsch USA Custom Drums: It’s All About Options

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

Gretsch’s top-of-the-line drums are called USA Custom for two very good reasons. The first reason is the fact that every drum is hand-crafted in Gretsch’s Ridgeland, South Carolina factory. The second reason is the staggering number of options available to drummers who want to create truly personalized kits.

USA Custom Gold Glass Nitron

USA Custom toms and bass drums all start with legendary Gretsch 6-ply shells. They’re given the famous Silver Sealer interior coating, 30-degree bearing edges, and Gretsch’s trademark die-cast hoops. From there on, the choices are almost endless.

Decisions, Decisions
Sizes? How ‘bout twenty bass drums, thirty-eight rack toms, and nine floor toms. Finishes? Pick from twenty-six Nitron wraps, twenty-three nitro cellulose gloss lacquers, and fourteen nitro cellulose satin lacquers. Any of those lacquers can be combined with black in a diamond pattern called Harlequin, and any lacquer finish can be applied over an outer ply of highly figured curly maple.

USA Custom Satin Ebony

But the options don’t stop there. Gretsch USA Custom bass drums can be ordered with a variety of hoops, T-rods, spurs, mufflers, tom mounts, and cymbal holders. Floor toms can be fitted with four different models of leg brackets, including Millennium or Vintage Diamond. And virtually all of these hardware components are available in chrome, black, and gold finish.

That Special Drum
Most drummers consider the snare to be their most personal drum. The USA Custom line of wood snare drums offers seven sizes and five lug configurations (ranging from six to twenty) to suit virtually any musical application. And if those aren’t enough, four solid-maple and four solid-walnut G-5000 models are also hand-crafted in the Ridgeland factory…along with unique signature snares designed with and for Vinnie Colaiuta, Stephen Ferrone, and Stanton Moore.

Any snare drum may be ordered with the drummer’s choice of the classic Gretsch Lightning, Nickel Drumworks, or Dunnet strainer and butt. And now there’s a fourth choice: the fabled and much-loved Gretsch Micro-Sensitive strainer.

Just like it used to be, only better.

Making History…Again
The 2011 Micro-Sensitive strainer is actually a re-launch of a design that graced Gretsch snares from the mid-1950s to 1969, and that’s been a favorite of players and collectors alike ever since. But the new version has the added advantage of updated internal mechanics designed to meet contemporary standards of functionality. It’s a classic case of “just like it used to be…only better.”

Also available in a revamped and improved version is the new G5463 bass drum claw. It’s modeled after the classic G5462 claw hook, which has been in use since the 1950s. The new version is die-cast and triple chrome plated, and it features an interior pad that acts as a buffer between the claw and the bass drum hoop.

Along with the dozens of other options available, the return of the revered Micro-Sensitive strainer and the G5463 claw hook provide even more choices to make your USA Custom kit truly your own.

To see the complete line of Gretsch drums, visit the Gretsch Drums website.

Spotlight: Renown 57 Motor City Black

Monday, August 8th, 2011

From the GretschDrums.com site:

Renown 57 Motor City Black

Inspired by the great American car companies from the 1950’s, Motor City Black adds a new color dimension to the innovative Gretsch Renown 57 drum set. All drums feature the distinctive ‘57 Chevron, which features an aluminum panel with raised edges and embossed badge. Each drum has its own sized chevron, scaled to symmetrically fit that specific drum size. Renown 57 includes standard Renown maple specifications to produce punchy, full tones and rock solid performance.

Drum Set Features:
• Innovative drum set design
• Proportionately-sized 3-D chevrons
• Maple shells with 30-degree edges and Silver Sealer interiors
• Die-cast hoops on snare and toms
• Hinged tom and FT leg brackets
• Heavy duty 12.7mm FT legs
• Gretsch ball-socket tom holder with 12.7mm tom arms
• Chambered FT rubber tips for enhanced sustain
• Evans G1 coated batter heads on toms/snare
• Evans EMAD BD batter head

Click here for all the details.

Jack Gavin Revisits His Youth at The CMT Awards

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

For any country musician, performing on the Country Music Television (CMT) Music Awards Show is an exciting experience. But for Gretsch artist Jack Gavin, this year’s show—which aired live from Nashville to 90 million people this past June 8—provided a special thrill.

Anchoring the show’s house band was a fun gig for the veteran drummer whose credits include long stints with country greats Tracy Lawrence, Mel McDaniel, the Charlie Daniels Band, and presently Tanya Tucker who will soon be departing for some European tour dates. During the show Jack was kept busy backing artists including Hunter Hayes, The Jandear Girls, Thompson Square, Kid Rock, Wynona, Hines Ward, and Colt Ford, as well as playing for every presenter and every commercial break.

Jack's 1970s Gretsch kit was in pretty sad shape to begin with.

But while Jack certainly enjoyed performing behind all of these talented artists, it was the Gretsch drumkit he was doing it on that made the evening unique. That kit has a special place in Jack’s heart, because it’s the one that Jack’s dad gave him when he was starting his career as a young drummer in the 1970s.

Jack practiced and “played out” on that drumset while growing up in the Niagara Falls/Buffalo, New York area, so it held many fond memories for him. But, as will happen with professional players, Jack moved on to other kits over the years, and the ’70s Gretsch kit wound up gathering dust on a shelf. That is, until early in 2010, when Jack’s drum tech Kendal Kramer undertook the challenge of restoring the vintage kit to like-new condition so that Jack could use it for performances again.

First the old covering had to be removed, exposing the old adhesive beneath.

The shells had to be sanded smooth.

Kendal’s task involved stripping the shells of the existing covering and adhesive, working with Gretsch to obtain parts, having new bearing edges cut, plugging holes from the original hardware, and re-covering the drum with a new wrap. Then he had to drill holes for new hardware—including new lugs necessary to convert the drums from single-headed concert toms to standard double-headed toms. It was a long process that had to be done with loving care. But the outcome of that process was a like-new version of that classic Gretsch kit, now covered in a white satin finish that Kendall describes as, “classy, but with an electrifying look under stage lighting.”

Holes from old hardware were carefully plugged.

When Jack Gavin sat atop the drum riser at the CMT awards, he had still another reason to be thrilled: His parents were in the audience. There they could not only enjoy Jack’s playing, but could also enjoy the new look, the great sound—and the fond memories—produced by his beautifully restored Gretsch set. It was a special night for the Gavin family.

A beautiful new White Satin wrap was applied.

A very proud Jack Gavin sits behind his restored kit.

A Birthday Salute to Charlie Watts

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

From the GretschDrums.com website:

This past June 2 marked the 70th birthday of Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts. And While Gretsch Drums and the whole Gretsch family join the drumming world in congratulating Charlie on this milestone, we have a reason of our own to celebrate. Charlie is the longest-running Gretsch endorsing artist. He’s played Gretsch drums for his entire career…starting even before he joined “The World’s Greatest Rock & Roll Band” in 1963.

Charlie Watts in 1969

As Charlie puts it, “I’ve always used Gretsch. I still use the same one that Max Roach advertised you should buy, which was the soft [rack] tom-tom, bass drum, deep [floor] tom-tom, and a snare drum.” That simple four-piece kit has anchored The Rolling Stones over a history that spans forty-eight years, more than thirty record albums, and dozens of legendary (and sometimes infamous) tours.

Although he established his reputation as one of the simplest and steadiest—and yet most recognizable and emulated—of all rock drummers, Charlie’s own musical tastes run toward jazz. In the late ’70s he joined fellow Stone Ian “Stu” Stewart in the retro boogie-woogie party band Rocket 88, which featured many of the UK’s top jazz, rock, and R&B musicians. In the 1980s, he founded and toured worldwide with a big band that included such jazz/rock luminaries as Evan Parker, Courtney Pine, and Jack Bruce.

In 1991 Charlie founded a quintet to honor his personal hero, Charlie Parker. Two years later that quintet recorded the critically regarded Warm & Tender, which reached #6 on the Billboard jazz charts. All told, Charlie recorded seven jazz albums between 1986 and 2004. And as recently as 2010 Charlie was gigging with a quartet called The ABC&D of Boogie Woogie, together with pianists Axel Zwingenberger and Ben Waters, plus Charlie’s childhood friend Dave Green on bass.

There’s much more to this story.  To read the rest of it, click here!

Spotlight: Gretsch USA Custom

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

From the Gretsch Drums website:

The epitome and legend of “That Great Gretsch Sound.” The USA Custom series is hand-crafted every step of the way in our Ridgeland, SC factory by highly experienced and skilled drumsmiths. Our legendary Gretsch formula 6-ply shell is the cornerstone of our legendary sound. Shells are completed with 30-degree bearing edges, Silver Sealer, die-cast hoops and custom finishes – ingredients all combined to make a sound long recognized for its classic clear timbre, balanced tone and explosive projection. Custom design your Gretsch dream kit “a la cart” by choosing your desired drum sizes, colors and hardware options. The Gretsch legend continues.

Get all the details here.