“The proof is in the putting: putting the people on the dance floor!”
A bandleader told me that in my younger days, and it has stuck with me ever since. It doesn’t mean you have to abandon all intellect and expression, it just means that the music has to groove no matter what. Form follows function. I think another way to look at it would be to find the perfect balance of the visceral and the intellectual.
The drummers featured on the tracks below all achieve that balance. They’re orchestrating while grooving. Instead of cavalcades of 16th-note gestures, they’ll lay down a stone-cold groove with one poetically placed crash cymbal. Instead of constant linear playing, they opt for simple grooves with the occasional accent that makes the whole tune. These are 10 of my fave groove orchestrators.
Otis Redding & Carla Thomas
The Complete Stax/Volt Singles 1959-1968 (Atlantic, 1991)
Al Jackson Jr., drums
“Tramp”! It’s hard to pick any one tune Al Jackson Jr. played on, as he was so danged consistent. I think the group pocket of this Stax house band (Jackson, organist Booker T. Jones, bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn and guitarist Steve Cropper) was one of the deepest ever. Everyone playing simple parts with maximum conviction-together!
Ahmad Jamal Trio At the Pershing: But Not for Me (Argo, 1958)
Vernel Fournier, drums
This is a masterpiece of understated pacing, feel and interplay. It’s a classic for a reason, and that reason is Vernel Fournier. I want to be him when I grow up.