JazzTimes 10: Peak Jazz Drumming Albums

A tentet of terrific percussive displays

To use an age-old (but appropriate) simile, choosing the top 10 recorded examples of jazz drumming is like trying to pick your favorite child. Each has different traits that endear, in the same way various phases of a musician’s career yield different qualities of equally enjoyable fruit. The following recordings, ordered alphabetically by the drummers’ last names, (a) highlight a precise moment in the artist’s evolution, (b) frame them mid-stride in a defined stylistic arc, or (c) offer irrefutable evidence of genius. 

Honorable mentions: Ed Blackwell on Don Cherry’s El Corazón (ECM, 1982); Justin Brown: NYEUSI (Biophilia, 2018); Jon Christensen on Ralph Towner’s Solstice (ECM, 1975); Mike Clark on Herbie Hancock’s Thrust (Columbia, 1974); Billy Higgins on Jackie McLean’s Let Freedom Ring (Blue Note, 1963); Marcus Gilmore on Ambrose Akinmusire’s Origami Harvest (Blue Note, 2018); Milford Graves on New York Art Quartet (ESP-Disk’, 1965); Jo Jones: The Drums (Jazz Odyssey, 1973); Kassa Overall: I Think I’m Good (Brownswood, 2020); Mickey Roker on Stanley Turrentine’s Easy Walker (Blue Note, 1968); Bill Stewart on John Scofield’s Swallow Tales (ECM, 2020); Art Taylor: A.T.’s Delight (Blue Note, 1960); Kenny Washington on Ralph Moore’s Round Trip (Reservoir, 1987)

Philly Joe Jones: Showcase (Riverside, 1960)

Philly Joe Jones: <i>Showcase</i> (Riverside, 1960)

Jazz session drummer par excellence Philly Joe Jones can be heard on such classics as John Coltrane’s Blue Train, Art Pepper’s Meets the Rhythm Section, Sonny Clark’s Cool Struttin’, Dexter Gordon’s Dexter Calling . . ,, and Workin’, Relaxin’, Cookin’ and Steamin’ with Miles Davis’ first great quintet. His wide and incredibly stable cymbal beat; his beautiful, rudimentally-based snare drum figures; and his ability to make music swing like mad kept him busy from the ‘50s to the ’70s. He recorded 17 solo outings, including a dual drummer-led album with Elvin Jones, Together! Less heralded is his sextet album for Riverside, Showcase. Including Julian Priester, Jimmy Garrison, Blue Mitchell, and Pepper Adams, it features Philly’s trademark grandiose swing feel, recorded upfront and intimate. The diverse set, with contributions from Priester and Bill Barron, is like a breezy top-down automobile tour of Manhattan circa 1959.

JazzTimes 10: The Composing Drummer (or the Drumming Composer)

Ken Micallef

Ken Micallef was once a jazz drummer; then he found religion and began writing about jazz rather than performing it. (He continues to air-drum jazz rhythms in front of his hi-fi rig and various NYC bodegas.) His reportage has appeared in Time Out, Modern Drummer, DownBeat, Stereophile, and Electronic Musician. Ken is the administrator of Facebook’s popular Jazz Vinyl Lovers group, and he reviews vintage jazz recordings on YouTube as Ken Micallef Jazz Vinyl Lover.