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Artist’s Choice Playlist: Steve Jordan on Masters of Swing & Groove

Drummer and producer Steve Jordan on his favorite tracks anchored by drummers with strong rhythm and groove

Groove drummer Steve Jordan
Steve Jordan (photo by Jeff Fasano)

These are drummers you might hear in my playing; they were all instrumental to my outlook. The feel, the groove, is the most important thing to me—for a drummer and for any musician, period. It’s the thing I care about the most.  All of these people have a tremendous sense of rhythm and groove.

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers
Blakey, drums
Moanin’ (Blue Note, 1959)
My dad, when I was 8 years old, told me if I learned how to play this Benny Golson classic, I’d be able to get somewhere. He was an architect but he made a very astute musical observation.  The solo grooves heavily but is also melodic, very catchy.

Miles Davis
Tony Williams, drums
Seven Steps to Heaven (Columbia, 1963)
The drum breaks are very melodic within the framework of the tune. He was only 17 at the time, which is unfathomable; it doesn’t make any sense. This was my yardstick for being a professional. I had to get to a certain point by the time I was 17 because of this recording.

Chuck Berry
Fred Below, drums (Chess, 1957)


Little Richard
Earl Palmer, drums (Specialty, 1955)
When rock and roll was invented, jazz drummers were playing on the records. Fred Below and Earl Palmer were the architects of rock-and-roll drumming—they invented a whole genre of music. They were swinging. These records weren’t straight eighths; they were dotted eighths played against straight eighths. That’s the roll in the rock.

James Brown
Clyde Stubblefield, drums (King, 1969)
James Brown fashioned himself as a drummer. When James got syncopated, even more than he was early on, Clyde Stubblefield was able to decipher in beats what James was moaning and grunting and singing to him. The beginning of the syncopation was “Cold Sweat,” but “Mother Popcorn” shifted gears into a more intense, hyper syncopation.

The Beatles
Ringo Starr, drums (Parlophone, 1963)
Ringo was more influential than people will ever realize. “Twist and Shout” is the perfect example of Merseybeat, which was the key to the Beatles’ sound and rhythm. If you listen to the version of “Twist and Shout” by the Isley Brothers, it’s a Twist beat, a straighter eight beat. Ringo is swinging tremendously here.


Barrett Strong
Benny Benjamin, drums (Tamla, 1959)

Sam & Dave
Al Jackson Jr., drums (Stax/Atlantic, 1967)
Every record they played on was incredible. Benny Benjamin and Al Jackson Jr. were jazz drummers. They would come up with stuff at the clubs at night and bring it to the studio the next day and implement some of these things on the records. “Money” is one of my favorite records of all time. That record drives me insane.

Tower of Power
David Garibaldi, drums
Back to Oakland (Warner Bros., 1974)

Sly and the Family Stone
Greg Errico, drums
Stand! (Epic, 1969)
Dave’s development of super-syncopated playing is not only innovative but astounding. He defined the sound of the band. When he wasn’t playing with the band, they didn’t sound the same—still a great band but it didn’t have the same juice. Greg Errico did the same type of thing. He loved jazz. His combination of funky playing and rock-and-roll playing was key to the sound of Sly and the Family Stone. Nobody had heard playing like that because there had never been a band quite like that.


[As told to Jeff Tamarkin]

Grammy-winning producer and Emmy-winning musical director Steve Jordan is a composer, drummer and cofounder of Jay-Vee Records, home to Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm and the Verbs, Jordan’s band with Meegan Voss. Jordan has recorded with the Rolling Stones, Keith Richards, Chuck Berry, Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock, Eric Clapton, Beyoncé, Aretha Franklin, the John Mayer Trio, Chick Corea, Sheryl Crow, Bruno Mars, Alicia Keys, Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Steve Wonder.

Read Christian McBride’s Artist’s Choice playlist on Classic Funk & R&B Bass from the April 2015 issue of JazzTimes.

Originally Published