802 Bookshelf: Drummin’ Men – The Heartbeat of Jazz: The Bebop Years

by Burt Korall, Oxford University Press, 2002, 308 pages, $35 hardcover

Volume CII, No. 12December, 2002

Bobby Shankin (reviewer)

Attention drummers, jazz lovers, bebop lovers and students of jazz history! Run – I repeat, run – do not walk – to your local bookstore and purchase this absolutely wonderful book. And make sure you purchase it instead of just borrowing it from a friend. The price we pay is small, and it’s important we support these kinds of works so they continue to come forth.

In Drummin’ Men: The Bebop Years, Burt Korall has compiled an enormous wealth of information about 22-plus drummers. Most are from the bebop era, but Korall also includes the innovators who started in swing and stretched to bop. On a personal note, these musicians were and still remain icons of bebop and the idols of my life as a drummer.

Korall gives us a biographical study of each of these drum masters, based largely on hundreds of interviews and, I am sure, his own personal knowledge and contact with many of them. Intertwined with all of the anecdotes, stories and personal histories is a analysis of each man’s playing in detail.

Aside from being a fine writer and researcher, Burt Korall is a drummer. He obviously has a keen understanding of the instrument and how it is played. It is that understanding that enables him to give us the in-depth study of each player’s style, substance and contribution to the music.

While telling the individual stories, Korall also gives us a glimpse of the entire jazz scene during the 1940’s and 50’s. But not just the jazz scene. One gets a real sense of what was happening in New York and elsewhere in the country economically, socially, politically and racially, vis-à-vis the jazz culture.

I loved reading about these people in much the same way that a baseball fan would love reading about Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams and Sandy Koufax. For me, the stories are compelling. And frankly, once I started to read, I didn’t want to stop.

Drummin’ Men is a must read, but also an easy read, because it has a flow and a forward motion that I can perhaps liken to any one of Max Roach’s gorgeous solos of that period. Best of all, this book was so much fun to read. I felt as though I was watching – not reading – an exciting and gripping documentary about bebop drummers.

Korall provides us with a very good bibliography and an excellent discography. A special added treat are three transcribed solos by Max Roach and two by Roy Haynes. Korall also includes two pages of drum rudiments, the original 26 plus 14 additional ones.

For me, the bebop era was the most exciting, the most powerful, and the most prolific period in all of American music. The changes in drumming during that time were profound, and many of the drummers who created the changes and innovations and evolutions have never really gotten the public attention and focus that they deserve.

I wish Drummin’ Men had been written when I was a kid. I used to search every publication I could find for the too-few words written about my heroes. By now, I would have had this book memorized.

Bravo, Burt!