20" base drum


Platinum Member
As a few people have mentioned, I don't get where the stigma that one must have an 18" bass drum to play jazz.

In the early days of jazz, most drummers used large bass drums. 26" and even 28" were common. Then they were scaled back to 24" and 22".

The 18" bass drum came about because they were easier to transport. Guys doing a lot of gigs in New York and Chicago needed to be able to take their drums on the subway or in a cab, so scaling down to an 18" was a way to do that.

Sure, guys like Elvin continued to favor the 18" even when they had roadies to carry the drums for them, but then you had Tony give up the 18" for a 24."
I am an old guy, 63 years old to be precise, and can remember only one guy who used an 18" bass drum back in the 1950s, 60s, and even later, Connie Kay with MJQ. In the early days, Ludwig, then Connie switched to Sonor, first guy I ever saw playing them. I saw Max Roach quite a few times and he always used a 20" bass, which was considered small at the time. The Gretsch Catalog circa 1960 or so listed Max's kit as the Progressive Jazz outfit and it was a 12/14/20 with a piccolo snare. Most guys were playing 13/16/22 kits. The big band guys like Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, Jo Jones, and Sonny Payne played 13/16/24 kits and most of the big band guys had two floor toms, often two 16s, but also popular was a 16 and an 18. Drums were not mic'd in those days and the big drums really were required for anything more than small group sessions. I only saw Louis Bellson live twice and he used 2 bass drums, one time he was using 22's and the other time 24's I am almost sure. Slingerlands in white marine pearl.

Joe Morello played Ludwigs, which are assertive instruments, and used a 13/16/22 set with a steel shell 5x14 Supersensitive snare drum. Joe played loud, which was necessary with Dave Brubeck who played the piano so hard he knocked it out of tune every night. But before Brubeck, Morello played with Marianne McPartland, and she always complained that Joe was too loud. And if you listen to those old recordings Morello blended better with Brubeck than with McPartland.

The size of drums is less important today with everything being mic'd and mixed and all, but if you are playing in an acoustic setting, it is easier to blend in and not subsume the rest of the musicians if you choose wisely. In my opinion it is hard to beat either of the traditional 4 piece kits for versatility. That is either a 12/14/20 or a 13/16/22. Of course it would be nice to have both, but if you go that way then an 18" bass might be preferred for the small set. If one set must do, then arguably a 20" bass is the single most versatile size. The snare drum must blend with the set as well and a lot of the popular snare drums are inherently too loud for a small set.