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Eliot Zigmund: A Sideman Moves to the Front

After decades of playing with legends, including Bill Evans and Michel Petrucciani, the underrecognized drummer is working to establish his own name

Eliot Zigmund
Drummer Eliot Zigmund (photo: Chris Drukker)

“I was kind of worried that the first set would be underattended,” Eliot Zigmund deadpanned to a packed room at Smalls, the basement jazz club in the West Village, on a temperate evening in early July. “Reminds me of the Village Vanguard when I used to play there, too many years ago to tell you.”

If Zigmund, now 73, seemed anxious about the crowd size—or his age, for that matter—it didn’t show in his performance as the leader of a quintet he had assembled just for the night. Throughout the set, calling tunes and arrangements on the fly, he delivered forceful, swinging rhythms at the drums, punctuating each song with satisfyingly deliberate hits on his dark cymbals and low-tuned toms. At one moment, just after he had switched to brushes at the beginning of a bass solo, Zigmund paused for a moment to reposition his glasses behind his ears, casually maintaining the beat with his hi-hat pedal. It was the kind of move that only a drummer with supreme confidence would make.

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