The drummer is the foundation of the traditional jazz band. He is the man responsible for laying down the beat and keeping time. Whether the band is large or small, he is a vitally important part of the ensemble. That is not to say that it is impossible for a drummer-less band to play jazz. The history of the music is full of such line-ups; for example, "Clarence Williams Blue Five", "Louis Armstrong Hot Five", and the "New Orleans Wanderers."
The fact that these ensembles did not carry a drummer has, I believe, more to do with the restrictions of the recording technology of the day, rather than any artistic preference. In the early 1920s, the acoustic recording technique, where the band grouped around a large horn, and the mechanical vibrations on the cutting needle gouged the grooves into the master disc, made it technically difficult to record the drum. On most pre-electric recordings, therefore, the drummer is restricted to the snare drum, woodblock and cymbal; the latter being held to choke the sound.
The very first New Orleans jazz drummers were heard in the early parade brass bands, which relied upon the snare drum and the large marching bass drum, which usually had a cymbal attached to it. There are no early recordings of these Brass ensembles - it was not until the mid 1940s that jazz historian Bill Russell recorded Bunk Johnson's Brass Band. Captured in the open air one memorable day in 1944, this fine array of musicians featured the grandfather of Jazz Drumming, and arguably one of the music's most gifted percussionists, Warren 'Baby' Dodds.
To read more about the great jazz drummers, select from the menus or click below:
Baby Dodds : The father of Traditional Jazz drumming
Christopher ‘Black Happy’ Goldston : Pioneer New Orleans Jazz Drummer
Zutty Singleton : Pioneer New Orleans Drummer
Gene Krupa : America’s Ace Drummin’ Man