For the JT staff, theme issues can either be a lot of fun or a real chore. When it doesn’t work, it feels like we’re simply connecting a bunch of dots, albeit well-written and sharply designed ones, to form some preset picture. Plus, if we’re doing a theme devoted to a specific instrument, we feel a certain pressure to somehow make it comprehensive, as if it must include all the giants of the past as well as the innovators of the present. If, as with this month, we’re doing a drum issue, then it must include something on the likes of Papa Jo Jones, Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, Buddy Rich, Tony Williams, Max Roach, Elvin Jones, Kenny Clarke, Roy Haynes and Jack DeJohnette. But obviously that would take more pages than a single magazine can muster. Or so it seems.
It was only when I read the magazine cover to cover that I realized we didn’t need to connect the dots, because the dots connected themselves. We didn’t need to cover all of those legends and innovators—our featured artists simply did the name-checking for us. Beginning with a cover story on the chronically affable Matt Wilson, we hear not only about his own projects, but also about his affinity for Roach, DeJohnette and other iconic drummers, thanks to a series of toss-up questions posed by our Nate Chinen. Of course Wilson’s list of favorites includes Rich, whose lengthy rivalry with Gene Krupa is the subject of a fascinating piece by Dr. Bruce H. Klauber. Rich also had a rivalry of sorts with Roach, whom Andrew Cyrille recalls fondly in an Overdue Ovation by Bill Milkowski. Cyrille points to bop legend Clarke as his inspiration for taking his music to new places.