Drums are essential to African music, and as a style with origins in African-American aesthetics, it's natural that drums would be essential to jazz. There are many kinds of drums and many types of struck instruments that make up the "percussion" section of a jazz group.
The classic drumset consists of a bass drum (sideways), a snare drum, a second drum with a deeper sound (tom), and cymbals on a stand. The drummer can add an almost unlimited number of drums, cymbals and smaller instruments to the set-up. These small instruments can be common sounds such as cowbell, or exotic sounds from almost any culture of the world.
The drummer traditionally sits at the back of the jazz ensemble, but could sometimes be heard as a soloist. During the Swing Era, many drummers had their turn in the limelight. One of the first big stars of the drumset was Gene Krupa (above) who got his start with the Benny Goodman Orchestra, then went on to lead his own group. He was followed by Buddy Rich, who started his career as a small child in the 1920s, then led his own band and gained national recognition through television appearances, staying active well into the 1980s.
Most of the best drummers have appeared as "sidemen" accompanying soloists as part of the standard jazz rhythm section (guitar or piano, bass, and drums). Because of this, it's difficult to categorize drummers by style. The drumset is the backbone of all the styles, but different parts will be featured. For example, "cool" or West Coast jazz drummers use "brushes" on cymbals for a distinct, soft tone. In Latin-influenced groups hand percussion such as maracas may be more prominent. Many drummers have led long careers spanning styles and adapted to different circumstances. The following is a rough breakdown:
Big Band percussionists:
- Lionel Hampton (vibraphone)
- Louis Bellson(Count Basie Orchestra).
- Mel Lewis (Stan Kenton, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band)
- Ed Shaughnessy (Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, Tonight Show Orchestra)
- Max Roach (with many of bop's greatest stars),
Ed Thigpen (as part of many groups organized by Norman Granz for the Verve label)
- Art Taylor (with John Coltrane and others)
- Art Blakey with the Jazz Messengers
- Elvin Jones (with John Coltrane and others)
Cool jazz drummers:
- Airto (Moreira), with Weather Report,
- Billy Cobham (Mahavishnu Orchestra, New York Jazz Quartet),
- Danny Gottleib (Mahavishnu Orchestra, Pat Metheny Group),
- Dave Weckl (with Chick Corea and his own band),
- Jack DeJohnette (one of the hardest working drummers in jazz! He has also put together an instructional DVD: "Musical Expression on the Drumset)
- Bill Bruford (played in both rock bands - Genesis - and jazz)
- Cal Tjader (Latin jazz)
- Chico Hamilton defies definition. He has played with big bands (Duke Ellington, Count Basie) but also with Dexter Gordon and others in smaller venues through the decades.