“In accordance with the new fairness-in-broadcasting doctrine,” ran a long-ago edition of Nicole Hollander’s Sylvia comic strip, “we are giving the next five minutes of air time to a nut, to talk about anything he wants.” The Drums, conceived in 1973 by jazz critic Hugues Panassié and recently reissued by Hudson Music, lets Papa Jo Jones run up the nut flag, and grants him roughly 80 minutes, mostly just voice and drums. He doesn’t exactly explain how he changed drumming in what we loosely call the West forever. What he does and does best is to evince, to manifest.
Jones in theory is teaching you how to play drums here. What he does in practice, however, casts anything linear (thinking, teaching) down the incinerator. He uses everything—drums, parts of the drum kit, the rhythms, the cross-rhythms, and stories—to agglutinate the egotistical and riveting meta-narrative of how he came, he saw, he played, he conquered, because there was no one and nothing in his path that could resist being eaten.
Other drummers come up, but only in reference to himself; Gene Krupa, for example, played a pretty simple thing, that only got a little more complicated. He liked some, disliked others, only heard about a few, absorbed every single one. He’ll pause occasionally to demonstrate how drumming works, but it’s always swiftly back to his own interior assessing, ways of counting, ways of mixing, ways of evincing—to which a mere mortal can’t hope to catch up.
At least, I’m pretty sure. You sit down in front of this with a drum set if you like and get back to me.
Are you a musician or jazz enthusiast? Sign up for our weekly newsletter, full of reviews, profiles and more!