Earl Palmer remembers . . .

Excerpts from Backbeat: Earl Palmer’s Story, by Tony Scherman—long out of print, but wonderful. Earl Palmer was a first-call session drummer in Los Angeles from the late 50s into the 80s, but got his start in New Orleans (where he began as a boy tap-dancer) making records with Fats Domino and Little Richard. He is credited with inventing the straight-eighths beat on the hi-hat or cymbal that is characteristic of rock ‘n roll, and says that he got the idea from Little Richard’s straight eighth-note pounding on the piano. He is the drummer on hundreds of hit songs from the 1960s and 1970s, but also recorded film scores, TV jingles, etc., in almost every musical genre. He could sight-read almost anything, and also did a bit of arranging and composing.

Three of us in that group were the best jazz players in New Orleans at the time: Edward Frank , Red , and me. Sam Mooney never became well known but he was a good guitar player. Ellis Marsalis used to sub for Frank and sometimes for Tyler; sometimes he’d even play Earl’s bass. We welcomed that, because Earl couldn’t play. We used to cheer every time he hit a note that was actually in the chord. The people thought we were crazy. Earl had never gone near a bass, he just didn’t want to hire a bass player.

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[Racism in New Orleans]: White musicians who were in town at the Roosevelt came down . It wasn’t their fault they couldn’t take you downtown; you knew they couldn’t do a damn thing about it. 

I saw a white guy get thrown off a city bus once for sitting in the black section. “Can’t sit there, it’s the black section.”

“I can sit anywhere I want.”

“Not with niggers you can’t.” Threw him off the bus. One time Mike Sherpas, a white trumpet player we called Cheese, painted himself green. Got on the bus and said, “Where do you want me to sit, I’m green!” Threw him off, too.

————————

Me and Rene Hall and Plas Johnson always talked about how we could make some money and not leave the studio. One day I said, “Let’s do a rock version of ‘In the Mood.’”

“‘In the Mood’?”

Bought my house on it. 

You see, back in New Orleans millions of old white guys always said, “By God, do you boys know ‘In the Mood’?” If they liked it so much, why wouldn’t their kids, if we put a rock-and-roll beat to it? Rene and Plas said, “Okay, write an arrangement,” so I did. We put it under Ernie Fields, an old bandleader wasn’t doing nothing. It was a big, big hit. It went to number 4—that’s pop, not no R&B chart. We never did another thing, but it worked once. I’m telling you, “In the Mood.”

————————

When it really dawned on me that I could do this was when I had to play cartoon music, the hardest music I ever had to play. . . . Tom and Jerry fucking cartoons. . . . That music looked like fly shit, notes all over. 

————————

Rene Hall arranged everyone’s records. His stuff wasn’t my favorite but I admired one thing, the simplicity of it. “You Send Me,” that’s a perfect example of simplicity, I can’t think of any arrangement that could have been better for that tune. . . . 

I remember the stop-time in the bridge made me think of tap dancing. You know, that may have been my idea. I sort of remember suggesting that. 

————————

There was an engineer out there, I won’t call his name; somebody must have asked him what he thought once, and from then on he had to assert himself. Come a time he picked the wrongest thing in the world to say to the wrongest person and boy, when he said it the studio got to where you could hear a mouse piss on cotton. Because Red Callender was very, very particular about tuning his bass. Red was known to have great pitch, he was known to hit the note. So this engineer, sounding very authoritative, says to Red one day, “By the way, Red, I think you’re a little out of tune.”

Everybody say, “Oh shit.”

“Out of tune, you say?”

“Yeah, Red, a little bit.”

Red looks at the cat like he’s staring at an ant.

“And how in the fuck would you know?”

————————

Curt Wolf had the thickest German accent you could ever hear. I used to say, “Curt, man, when you going to speak English?” He’d say, “I em spicking Engglish, Airl!” 

————————

During a coffee break the subject came up about Orval Faubus, the segregationist in Arkansas. This same guy’s opinion was, “Segregation is a terrible thing, but those people,” meaning us, “have to be patient. Things like that don’t change overnight.”

He turned to me and said, “Do you or don’t you agree with me?”

I said, “Man, that’s a rough question.” I kept scratching my head. He didn’t notice I was stepping on his toe, harder and harder.

“Hey, you’re hurting my toe!” he finally yells. 

“Have a little patience, man. I’ll get off in a minute.”

He got my point. We became good friends.

————————

[Phil] Spector wasn’t an arranger of notes; I don’t know if he could write no notes at all. He was an arranger of ideas, of the elements that make a hit record. If there is any genius in him, that’s where it was. He had his finger on what other producers would die for: he knew what the kids wanted to hear. But you ain’t getting me to accept him as no musician.

————————

Sarah Vaughan was a chick that liked to hang. She was the Hang Out Queen, outhang anybody, drinking and getting high, day and night, talking and laughing and joking. . . . She had a mouth, too. Guys got furious at her but they took a swing at you. Anytime you was with her, you ran the risk of getting punched.

————————

The first time I met Ike [Turner] he’d just come in town. He wanted to pay everybody cash. I said I didn’t work for no cash. He starts to cuss me out and opens a briefcase with stacks of cash and a gun. That’s about what I expected. I’d heard he was a thug.

“Who the hell are you?” he says.

“I’m Palmer, and I don’t work no cash dates. I’m a union musician.”

“What I’m supposed to do, make out a contract just for you?”

You going to have to do something like that, because I don’t want no cash money. When I get fined fifteen hundred dollars by the union, are you gonna pay?” He wound up filing a contract for me alone.

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[Bobby Darin]: He was head above shoulders more professional than most of the little singers I was doing around then: Paul Anka, Fabian, Bobby Rydell. Wayne Newton was a long-legged short-torso kid but Darin struck me as professional right off the bat.

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Paul Revere & the Raiders . . . was Hal [Blaine]’s client. . . .  

Teddy Reig asked me to do Manufacturers of Soul,  Basie’s album with Jackie Wilson. Harold Jones, Basie’s drummer at the time, didn’t play rock, which is part of why Teddy hired me. At the session he asked me, “What can we do to make these charts a little more commercial?”

“One thing, we could try using a tambourine.”

“Who can we get to play tambourine? Larry Bunker?” That made no sense—a top-notch percussionist, just to play tambourine?

“Man, let Harold play tambourine,” I said. 

“Can he?”

“All niggers play tambourine, Teddy.” Harold Jones played tambourine and got paid for it. I still have a medallion he gave me for that.

Teddy once tried to hire me to join Basie. “There was a time I would have paid to join this band,” I told him, “but I can’t afford to now.” Teddy said he understood. I said, “Man, I’m probably go home and get drunk after this.”

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They made a movie called Zachariah, a real hokey satire on cowboy days. Elvin Jones played a gunslinger. In his big scene, instead of saying, “Draw,” he says, “Gimme them drumsticks” and plays a big solo. . . .

Anyway, somehow or other the sound got messed up. The drum solo had to be played all over again. Jimmy [Haskell] told the producers, “Oh yeah, we can do that.”

I said, “Wait a minute. I’m not going to do this. I’m not going to fucking do this, man.”

Haskell said, “Why not?”

“Do you know who this is? I can’t match Elvin, nobody can. The man is a genius.” Finally I said, “All right. Give me two hours.” I took my lunch and a Moviola machine and some music paper, went across the alley into a little room, and transcribed Elvin’s whole solo. Took me two-and-a-half hours to  write out a five-minute solo.  Then I played it. I not only got paid overtime, I got a bonus when they realized how hard that was and how near it came to being perfect.

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NUMEROUS DATES, 1970-74 — BAKED POTATO, SWEETS EDISON. Sundary nights, always a Sunday night. Never paid much, twenty bucks, but we drank for free and got a lot of coke. Don Randi, who owned the place, asked me about getting a group in there. I said, “Why don’t you get Sweets? He’s going to bring all the pimps and hookers in. Every musician that comes in town going to come by and see Sweets.” Sure enough, the Basie band came through and they all sat in. Ellington band, same thing. Red Foxx came in to work out his nightclub routine; he’d get up there and stay an hour or more. The band was me, Sweets, Plas Johnson, Dolo Coker on piano, Larry Gales on bass. That’s some of the best jazz I played here. Sweets is a stylist, a great stylist: the minute you hear him you know him. . . .

JANUARY 18, 1973 —  INAUGURATION, $1,500.00. Don Costa, Sinatra’s man, was musical director of the thing. Sinatra was emcee. . . . As it turned out, everybody brought their own band, so I wound up only playing with Roger Miller. All I had to do was walk around tasting hors d’oeuvres here and there. Since I was with Sinatra’s man, they gave me a Secret Service button that let me go in any room I wanted. All the guests are wondering, Who is he? They didn’t have many black Republicans then to speak of, so they all figure this is somebody they should know and don’t. It dawns on me: they’re worried. They don’t know who this nigger Republican is that’s big enough to be in this particular room. Who is this nigger? That’s exactly what they thinking. Who is this nigger? For him to be in here, must be somebody we supposed to know! I’m reading their minds. Who is this nigger? Must be an important nigger, an important nigger Republican AND WE DON’T KNOW HIM! Jesus, let’s don’t fuck up. Somebody find out who he is!

Nobody knew, except Mrs. Pat Boone. She saw me and came running over.

“Earl, what are you doing here?”

“Well, hi, Shirley. How’s Pat?”

“Wait, I’ll get him!” And she went and gets Pat and we’re shaking hands and hugging because I did a lot of work with him at Dot Records, and little Debbie’s hugging me and Shirley’s hugging me . . . . And the guests must have all breathed a great sigh of relief. Now we can find out who this nigger is. Everybody came swarming around Pat, who gave them the story.

“Oh! He’s an entertainment nigger! One of those kind, by God!

So now they all come up to me. “Oh, Mr. Palmer, are you having a nice time?” Mrs. Nixon, for one, very sweet lady.

“Yes, Mrs. President, I am, thank you very much.” I was feeling pretty good—I’d just smoked some weed with Pete Fountain’s band and Al Hirt. 

I met them all, I’m telling you, everyone but Nixon. John Dean was the only one asked me anything about what I did.

“Who are you going to be playing with?”

“Well, I don’t know yet. That’s why Mr. Costa had me come along.”

“You mean you’d be able to play with any of them?”

“Sure, that’s what we do all the time, play with anybody we have to.”

“Must be quite an experience.” . . . 

I was shocked when Sinatra exploded. They got their signals crossed and he introduced somebody, I can’t remember who, but Joey Heatherton came on. Wrong act. Sinatra hit the roof. I was in his dressing room with Costa and he storms in. “These cocksuckers don’t know what the fuck they’re doing!” I hadn’t realized until then what a rough guy this was. “Wait till my man gets in there, he’ll straighten this shit out.” I’m wondering, “What does he mean, his man? Nixon’s in.” You know what he was talking about? Agnew. He didn’t like Nixon worth a shit. That was his man, old Spiro.

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SEPTEMBER 25, 1973 — Midnight Special, . . . She came up the hall at NBC whe I was getting my shoes shined. I said, “Hello there.” Nothing wrong with saying hello.

She turned and said hi. Slowed down.

I said, “How are you? My, you look awful good.”

She said, “Thank you.” I got down off the shoeshine stand and talked to her. She was pretty, and very shapely. Had an Afro, not too big. One feature I liked about her, she had a little space between her teeth. That do something to you, too? She said she was there to be on some kind of talk show. 

I said, “What’s your name?”

“Angela,” she said. She never mentioned Davis. 

I suggested we meet for lunch. She said, “Yeah, that would be nice.” She didn’t turn a cartwheel, but she responded. I wouldn’t have imagined her to be receptive, and this is why I didn’t grasp who she was till long after. 

We met at the Carriage House, . . . I told her what I did and how busy I was. She wanted to know, “Do you have any control over what you do, over your work situation?”

“Control? Yeah, I take the job or I don’t.”

“Well, you’re rather prominent as a musician. You should be doing this and this and this,” and suddenly she’s talking all kind of politics. 

I said, “Wait a minute—why?”

She said, “Because there’s the exploiters and the exploited.”

I said, “Honey, nobody’s exploiting me, I’m just working.” I got a little indignant right there. She don’t know me from Adam and she’s already made a decision as to I’m being exploited and I don’t know what’s what in my job. I didn’t tell her she didn’t know what she was doing in whatever she did. What made her think because I flirted with her and hit on her that I was automatically an idiot? This had turned into something that had nothing to do with two people meeting and flirting, it was a real confrontation. 

She said, “Well, I can see there’s no way of reaching you. You’re just not prepared to hear what I have to say.”

“You’re damn right,” I said, and got up and walked away.

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It didn’t hit me right in the face. Maybe it should have. Ain’t like I wasn’t affected—I felt it in my pocket. Producers started letting groups record their own music, instead of session men doing it. . . . 

And then it finally hit me straight on, where you say, “Oh! This is why it’s happened and why it’s going to get worse.” If you remember, there was a movie called Chariots of Fire and one man, this Vangelis, did the whole score. Had electric drums, electric piano, had all this stuff. One man. And he got a Oscar. I said, “There you go. There’s the end of it right there.”

Kenny Clarke: Jazz has become classical music.

Kenny Clarke:

Jazz has become classical music. We try to play some of the old things we used to do good, really good. I mean you have Beethoven specialists, people who play Beethoven all their lives, the same pieces over and over again. No one ever says to them, “Man, why don’t you change your repertoire?” So they play Beethoven. OK. I play Charlie Parker. I play Thelonious Monk—and I’ll be playing it all my life. The important thing is that it’s well done. If you play it good, it’s good.

—1973 interview, quoted in Klook: The Story of Kenny Clarke, by Mike Hennessey

Philly Joe Jones on Kenny Clarke: “I was so knocked out that I didn’t sleep at night.”

Kenny Clarke influenced me enormously. He totally revolutionized the world of the drums. He originated the way we play bass drum today—all those spaces. He taught us so much that we could progress a little further. When I first heard him play, I was so knocked out that I didn’t sleep at night. When I listened to Kenny I had the impression of being in the presence of the gods; that’s how impressed I was when I saw him play.

We lived together in New York for a time and that was a great opportunity for me. Kenny was my mentor. Max Roach and Art Blakey also expressed great feeling on the drums—and there are other great drummers like Elvin Jones and Roy Haynes. Some of them are excellent. But not like Kenny Clarke. Even Max, great as he is, doesn’t touch me as much.

—Philly Joe Jones in Jazz Hot, October 1985. Quoted in Mike Hennessey, Klook: The Story of Kenny Clarke.

Kenny Clarke: “I always thought drum solos were very stupid.”

I was never a soloist. I always thought drum solos were very stupid. I always concentrated on accompaniment. I thought that was the important thing. That was my basic function: to accompany. And I think that’s why a lot of musicians liked me so much.

—from Klook: The Story of Kenny Clarke, by Mike Hennessey

Kenny Clarke recording at Rudy Van Gelder’s legendary studio. Minimal equipment, maximum results.

Take the Fifth, eh?

Dedicated to TFG & Co., with apologies to the great Duke Ellington.


If you,
must take the Fifth, eh?
you,
will quickly find yourself to be in prison.

If you,
don’t take the Fifth, eh?
you’ll
find an even quicker way to prison.

Hurry, hurry, stop your mumblin’
All your clever schemes are crumblin’

When,
you take that Fifth, eh?
soon,
you’ll be sitting pretty up in prison!

George Saunders: What happens to me when I read fiction

From his wonderful book, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain (Random House, 2021)

I am reminded that my mind is not the only mind.

I feel an increased confidence in my ability to imagine the experiences of other people and accept these as valid.

I feel I exist on a continuum with other people: what is in them is in me and vice versa.

My capacity for language is reenergized. My internal language (the language in which I think) gets richer, more specific and adroit.

I find myself liking the world more, taking more loving notice of it (this is related to that reenergization of my language).

I feel luckier to be here and more aware that someday I won’t be.

I feel more aware of the things of the world and more interested in them.

Most of that applies to other art forms, too.

It Don’t Mean a Thing, If Your Nose Can Be Seen

[Tune: “It Don’t Mean a Thing, If It Ain’t Got That Swing”]

It don’t mean a thing, if your nose can be seen
Pull up pull up pull up pull up
pull up pull up pull up your mask!

[Bridge]
It’s no good if it’s only on your mouth
It’s still not safe, if your nose is out!

So get with the scene, keep your nose behind the screen
Pull up pull up pull up pull up
pull up pull up pull up your mask!

[Bridge 2]
It ain’t no good to cover just your mouth
So pull that mask up, cover up your snout!

Your MAGA Hat Won’t Get You Into Heaven

[A variation on the late, great John Prine’s “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven,” with apologies.]

While digesting Reader’s Digest
In the back of a dirty book shop,
I stumbled on a box of MAGA hats,
Twenty-five cents a pop.
Well, I picked one out and paid two bits,
Pulled it down it over my eyes,
And if I could meet that Melania Trump
She’d get an awful big surprise.

[Chorus]
But your MAGA hat won’t get you into heaven, not today,
The pandemic’s dead are sharing harps and taking turns to play,
And Jesus don’t like hatred, no matter what those liars say,
So your MAGA hat won’t get you into heaven anyway.

Well I went to the grocery store today
And the doorman said to me,
“I’m sorry, sir, you need to wear a mask
Here, we’ll give you one for free.”
“I don’t need no freakin’ mask,
I got a MAGA hat!” I said,
I went on in and bought a dozen eggs,
And a loaf of that whole-wheat bread.

[Chorus]

Well, my MAGA hat kept slippin’ over my
Eyes so I couldn’t see.
I ran the car upside a curb
And right into a tree.
By the time they got a doctor down
I was already dead.
And I’ll never understand why the man
Standing in the Pearly Gates said…

[Chorus]

Cymbal Crash

In Grade Nine, as the youngest member of the high school concert band’s percussion section, I was assigned the cymbal part for a long symphonic piece whose name I have forgotten. 

On the night of the concert, the auditorium was filled with parents and students. I stood in the back row on the highest riser, a tall, skinny kid feeling uncomfortable. Partly my discomfort was due to the tie that was strangling me, but mostly it was because I had had very little rehearsal time for this number. There were, it seemed to me, about 5,000 measures of rest, including several repeated sections and other confusions along the way, before my single cymbal crash. The cymbals were heavy, 16 or 18 inches in diameter, and I stood for a long time, hands gripping the leather straps, a cymbal at each side resting lightly against my thighs. In vain I searched the music with one eye and kept the other on the band director as he conducted, hoping fervently that he would give me a sign when my moment was near.

To crash the cymbals properly, however, required some preparation. I had to raise them up in front of me, about six inches apart, one about twelve inches higher than the other. I worried that the band director, having more important matters at hand, would not alert me long enough before the crash to give me time to prepare. Finally it seemed to me that I had better get ready, so I raised the cymbals up to their proper positions and waited. Just as my arms were starting to quiver under the weight of the cymbals, the director looked at me and discreetly shook his head. 

As inconspicuously as possible, I slowly lowered the cymbals and stood again with my hands at my sides. Only later did I realize that a tall, skinny boy raising a large pair of shiny cymbals in the back row provided, for most of the audience, the only real interest of the performance.

The piece continued, and I waited, hoping desperately for either a section of music that I recognized, or a sign from the conductor. 

Nothing. 

Once again, fearing I would miss my cue, I raised the cymbals, and waited. Again my arms began to tremble. Again the conductor shook his head, and again I lowered the cymbals slowly to my sides.

I can’t remember now whether this sequence repeated three times, or four, but finally, my arms now visibly shaking, the conductor nodded. With immense relief I recognized the crucial passage of the music, and I successfully crashed the cymbals, right on time. 

My relief turned to shock, however, when—right in the middle of the piece—the entire audience erupted in applause! They had been waiting through almost the entire, dreary number for that cymbal crash. The tension caused by my repeated false starts must have been excruciating.

A week or so later, my French teacher kicked me out of class and sent me to the vice-principal’s office. She was angry with me because I refused to carry the heavy textbook home each night to complete her five-point homework assignments. “If you did your homework, you could have an A!” she shouted in exasperation. When I told her that I was quite happy with my B+, she kicked me out.

The vice-principal, hardened by constant experience with rather more serious discipline problems, listened to my story, looked at me without expression, blinked once, and invited me to sit down. “I really enjoyed that band concert,” he said. “You did a great job with those cymbals.”

Taken aback momentarily, I recovered my footing and we talked for several minutes about the weight of crash cymbals. We discussed the care one must take not to catch one’s tie in between the cymbals and thus spoil the crash. And so on. We pretty much exhausted the topic. Then he looked at me and asked, “Do you think she’ll let you back into class now?” He wrote a note for me and sent me back.

Fado!

Fado is Portuguese folk music that is found almost exclusively in Lisbon.

I went there for a teachers’ conference in 1989 when I was working in Morocco. The guy that was supposed to pick us up at the airport was late, so I and a couple of buddies bought a map and jumped on a city bus. We talked up a friendly girl, who told us the name of a restaurant in the Bairro Alto (an old neighbourhood of the city) where we could hear good fado. That’s the first time I heard the word.

The restaurant was a family-owned greasy-fish place filled with locals drinking cheap red wine and eating greasy fish. We sat down and ordered food (and cheap red wine) with the help of Cristina, daughter of the owner, who spoke enough French for us to communicate. There was a guitar leaning against the wall, but nothing else. After a while a nondescript fellow wandered in, shook a few hands, then picked up the guitar and started singing this amazing music, with the locals singing along on the choruses. After about 15 minutes he put the guitar down, joined a table, and had his meal.

As the evening progressed this happened repeatedly, with different singers coming in, doing a set, and then either sitting down for a glass of wine or wandering off, presumably, to the next place. How or if they got paid was unclear.

Finally, about midnight, there was this scruffy looking guy with the guitar. Our waitress, Cristina, took off her apron, walked up to join him, and began singing like Maria Callas. She and the guy began doing a kind of duet, but clearly it was improvised, with lots of snarky back-and-forth between them and the crowd roaring with laughter.

We stayed as long as we could, and went back repeatedly during our three-day conference. Cristina, it turns out, had recorded an album, and she sold me a tape cassette of it. The tape was good, but in person she was magnificent.

Of course we didn’t understand a single word of the lyrics, but it didn’t matter. The music was so beautiful, and powerful, and sad. One guy told me, “Fado is the Portuguese blues.”

Here is the great Amália Rodrigues:

And here, more recently, is Carlos Manuel Moutinho Paiva dos Santos Duarte, whose stage name is Camané:

Enjoy!

Quality vs. Taste: The Ice Cream Story

No ice cream was consumed during the writing of this story, and consuming ice cream of any kind is NOT recommended. If you want something sweet, eat fruit.

One Saturday afternoon my friend and I were walking down the pedestrian-only section of the main shopping district downtown. My friend looked to the left and saw a Mr. Softie vendor selling swirls of soft ice cream in three different colors, with sprinkles of various kinds available at additional cost. “Oooh! Mr. Softie!” he cried, and started toward the stand. “Wait!” I said. “Do you have any idea what’s in that stuff? It’s just air and chemicals and artificial sweeteners and artificial flavors and artificial colors. The only real thing about it is the very real damage you do to yourself when you put that poison in your body.” “I know,” he said. “It’s crap, and it’s really bad for me, but I love it anyway.” And off he went. 

Waiting for him amid crowds of shoppers, I began looking around. On the opposite side of the street to the Mr. Softie stand was a Waldorf-Ritz Gourmet Ice Cream shop. The best, most expensive, and most delicious ice cream in the world! Without hesitating I walked through the ornate double doors, already salivating as I imagined a scrumptious bowl of Waldorf-Ritz Rocky Road. The moment I passed through the doors, lights began flashing, celebratory music began playing, and confetti began falling from the ceiling. The store manager rushed straight up to me, smiled happily, and said, “Congratulations, sir! You are the one millionth customer to walk through those doors!” He took me by the arm and led me to a special roped-off table that had been prepared for the occasion. “Please have a seat here, sir,” he said. Then he called to his employees, “Bring out the Prize Ice Cream!” In a kind of procession, the entire staff escorted the master ice cream chef to me as he carried, on a silver tray, a large bowl of ice cream. “There you are, sir!” said the manager. “Three scoops of our unbelievably delicious pistachio ice cream, free of charge, with our compliments. I know you will enjoy it.”

I looked at the ice cream, and then at the circle of happy employees waiting to see me take my first spoonful, and then at the manager. “I really appreciate this,” I said, “but I’m sorry to say that I don’t like pistachio ice cream.” The manager looked shocked, but then smiled. “I think you misunderstand, sir,” he said. “This ice cream is handmade in small batches by our master ice cream chef. All the ingredients are 100% natural, organic, and completely free of any artificial additives or colorings of any kind whatsoever. The cream comes from cows raised in luxury dairy farms where they are treated like movie stars. Nowhere in the entire world will you find ice cream even half as good as Waldorf-Ritz Gourmet Ice Cream!”

“I know that your ice cream is the best in the world,” I sighed. “But I don’t like pistachio ice cream!”

The moral of this sad tale, of course, is that judgments of quality are different from judgments of taste. I may love Mr. Softie ice cream, or I may love a corny movie or a trashy piece of pop music, even though I know that if I judge their quality, they all fail the test. On the other hand, I may admit that Waldorf-Ritz Pistachio ice cream or the novels of James Joyce or the ballets of Igor Stravinsky are all superb examples of ice cream, fiction, and dance, while still not enjoying any of them. In the words of the great American film critic, Roger Ebert, “Does it make a movie ‘good’ because you ‘like’ it? No, it doesn’t, and I have liked a lot of bad movies.” We can put this another way: no one can tell you that your judgments of taste are wrong. No one can say, “You are wrong to dislike pistachio ice cream!” But if someone who knows more than you do about literature and ballet says, “You are wrong to claim that the novels of James Joyce or the ballets of Igor Stravinsky are crap,” he just may be correct.

Kansas City, 1938

Jesse Price (L) and Charlie Parker (R) horsing around in the summer of 1938. Price was 19, Parker a year younger. Jesse Price was a drummer and singer who worked largely as a sideman but made a few great recordings as a band leader and vocalist in the early days of R&B, similar in style to early Louis Jordan. “Frettin’ for Some Pettin'” (1948) and “Jump It With a Shuffle” are great examples of his work. Photo credit: American Jazz Museum.

Gene Krupa: how to develop your left hand

The author has found it very helpful to try do as many things with the left hand as is usually done with the right. Opening doors (the ones with the door-knobs being an ideal hand turning exercise), lacing your shoes, carrying parcels, tieing your necktie, buttoning your shirt, feeding yourself at the table, and writing, have been found to be excellent exercises for the left hand.

—Gene Krupa’s Drum Method (1938)

Sit on your trap case!

Daniel Glass’s podcast conversation with Brooks Tegler reminded me of the old days when drummers sat on their trap cases and a cushion. I learned in the podcast that Gene Krupa was the first to sit on a purpose-made drum “throne,” which in his case was a “box throne” designed at the urging of a concert promoter who didn’t like the look of Gene sitting on his trap case. The box throne was never put into production, but was followed by the canister throne that was—I learned—initially open at the bottom, but later turned into a . . . trap case! . . . by putting a bottom on it and putting clasp hinges on the lid. I still like the minimalist beauty of just sitting on the trap case. Here are two photos of the great Kenny Clarke sitting on his trap case. The first might make you think that this was only done in rehearsals or recording sessions when the drummer didn’t want to haul a lot of gear, but the second one is clearly a performance. As for not wanting to haul a lot of gear . . . who needs a lot of gear, eh Kenny? Bass, snare, hats, one cymbal—done!

Here’s Krupa himself, sitting on a trap case:

And here he is again, sitting on what appears to be that custom-made box throne, wrapped in white marine pearl to match his drums: