Virtuoso Drummers?

ccsimms

Senior Member
Can't say I have ever heard the term virtuoso attached to any type of drummer or percussionist. Why is this? There are plenty of incredibly skilled, versatile drummers who could probably qualify for this honorable title.
 

BassDriver

Silver Member
The only drummer attached to this title that I can think of was the jazz drummer...

...Buddy Rich, had the best technique of the big 3 (Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, Louie Bellson)...

...I'm not sure about musicality...his solos weren't very musical, always sounded like a Buddy Rich solo.

There are drummers with great technique but whether you chose to call them virtuosos is up to you...Jojo Mayer for example has excellent and very precise technique...would you call him a virtuoso? IDK?
 

rjvsmb

Senior Member
The only drummer attached to this title that I can think of was the jazz drummer...

...Buddy Rich, had the best technique of the big 3 (Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, Louie Bellson)...

...I'm not sure about musicality...his solos weren't very musical, always sounded like a Buddy Rich solo.

There are drummers with great technique but whether you chose to call them virtuosos is up to you...Jojo Mayer for example has excellent and very precise technique...would you call him a virtuoso? IDK?
Not to steal the thread, but is a drummers musicality only (or mostly) judge by his soloing? Buddy's body of work with Doresy, James, Marsala, his bands the countless combos that he played with speaks volumes to his ability to drive and comp other players. This is also part of a drummer's musicality.

With all that said, IDK about how to identify and define a virtuoso drummer. I do know when I've watched a bad ass mofo. That's all I need.

Best,
rjvsmb
 

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
Definition of virtuoso:

A virtuoso (from Italian virtuoso, late Latin virtuosus, Latin virtus meaning: skill, manliness, excellence) is an individual who possesses outstanding technical ability at singing or playing a musical instrument.

By that definition the DWs list of drummers would have many, many virtuosos. Then there are the highly gifted players who aren't on the list. In the early days of jazz drumming, virtuosos were rare, guys like Chick Webb and Sid Catlett. Now there's a huge number of drummers with greater facility (although probably not greater natural ability) than the masters in the early years. Drumming has progressed enormously in some ways.
 
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wy yung

Guest
In the early days of jazz drumming, virtuosos were rare, guys like Chick Webb and Sid Catlett.
I hate to disagree Pol, but I think this was not the case. There were a great many virtuoso drummers playing in jazz bands, orchestras, movie pits etc etc. Just as there are today.
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
Can't say I have ever heard the term virtuoso attached to any type of drummer or percussionist. Why is this? There are plenty of incredibly skilled, versatile drummers who could probably qualify for this honorable title.
Really?

I've heard the term thrown around a lot.

Buddy, Gadd, Weckle, Vinnie, Neil Peart.

Now, if people are the term is fitting is another matter all together, but I've certainly heard of people using it.
 

alparrott

Platinum Member
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think there is an official body granting the title of "virtuoso" to any one musician on a regular basis, nor any checklist of what a musician should have, be, or do to be considered one. If one meets the definition of virtuoso by popular or individual opinion, then one is a virtuoso.

Virtuoso, as far as I know, is a descriptive word, not an official, granted title.
 
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wy yung

Guest
Back in the days of Chick Webb?
Oh yeah, loads of them. Fletcher Henderson had a monster, but I can't remember his name now. Plus many others. Baby Dodds, George Lawrence Stone, Papa Jo..... so many. Think of all the orchestral snare guys and those in the military. Loads an loads and......
 

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
Oh yeah, loads of them. Fletcher Henderson had a monster, but I can't remember his name now. Plus many others. Baby Dodds, George Lawrence Stone, Papa Jo..... so many. Think of all the orchestral snare guys and those in the military. Loads an loads and......
Guess it's all relative. I might be missing something (perfectly possible) but from what I've heard the things that guys like Dave Weckl, Vinnie, Denis Chambers, Billy Cobham, Tony W, Elvin and earlier on, Buddy and Louie B were a fair bit more advanced than the work of a guy like Chick Webb.

Only first saw a clip of Papa Jo the other day and he was amazing ... and I love the way he nonchalantly smiles as weaves his magic. For knocking you out with a charm offensive he wins hands down :)
 
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wy yung

Guest
Guess it's all relative. I might be missing something (perfectly possible) but from what I've heard the things that guys like Dave Weckl, Vinnie, Denis Chambers, Billy Cobham, Tony W, Elvin and earlier on, Buddy and Louie B were a fair bit more advanced than the work of a guy like Chick Webb.

Only first saw a clip of Papa Jo the other day and he was amazing ... and I love the way he nonchalantly smiles as weaves his magic. For knocking you out with a charm offensive he wins hands down :)
Webb kicked everyone on their butt. The battles of the bands are legendary. Buddy used to watch Webb in awe. As did Krupa. Especially when Webb was wiping the floor with Goodman's band. :)

You cannot compare a Webb with a Cobham. Webb owes Cobham nothing. Cobham owes Webb a great deal. There is an historic timeline that cannot be ignored. Any advance was made by drummers playing the instrument over decades.

Have you ever heard stories about Stone's snare technique? If not try to find some. There have always been virtuosos. And back in the days of Webb the name, and even unknown bands were chock full of monster players.
 

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
You cannot compare a Webb with a Cobham. Webb owes Cobham nothing. Cobham owes Webb a great deal. There is an historic timeline that cannot be ignored. Any advance was made by drummers playing the instrument over decades.
That's my point, Wy, but I take yours that the old guys blazed the trail. I love the old jazz guys, at least as much as the newer ones - often more, because they carried the original spark and there's always a special quality in those who did things first.

Each generation takes what the previous one did and takes it a bit further. And today there's drummers who owe Billy Cobham a great deal ... so the cycle continues. I could be wrong but I'm not sure if it's possible to take things further than the current crop of drum superstars, technically speaking. Even less sure that it would be a good thing but that could be the old fart in me speaking :).
 

madgolfer

Senior Member
Interesting...

I agree with other posters that there have always been virtuoso drummers. I think more so in the earlier years of the instrument even than now. Musicality was expected then, I believe, where it is sometimes a welcome surprise now.

I think virtuosos (on any instrument) have incredible command of their instruments, but also have a truly deep understanding of the history of their instrument and of the compositions they perform. How many drummers these days know anything before Neil Peart?

JoJo Mayer has done a wonderful job disseminating information about Moeller technique, but many have embraced it as though it were a "new" revelation. However, if you look at the old footage of the old jazz drummers, they were using Moeller! This lack of awareness of the history of their own instrument is what precludes so many from this categorization (imho). You don't see this with classically trained musicians, and is often the criticism of most drummers by classical musicians.

I think something else is the basic function of our instrument, which is playing time. Traditional virtuosos have a large vocabulary of compositions to showcase their instrumental mastery (versus technique) whereas drummers might have few options beyond Sing, Sing, Sing and Moby Dick, meaning pieces specifically composed to showcase drums.

All this is not to say that drums do not qualify. Of course they do, but I think drummers have to look a little deeper than just great technique. This is only a fraction of becoming a virtuoso. How many drummers perform with attention to dynamics? I don't mean just internal dynamics, but also REAL dynamic shifts within the music? When they play mezzo piano, is it consistently the same section to section, song to song, and performance to performance? I can't say that I see much of this from Lang, Donati, Mayer, etc., as much as I love their playing. Perhaps it is the music that limits their ability to showcase this aspect of their skill, but this is an issue as well.

How many drummers know how to build a song or play for the song? Who can play fluently across a range of styles? How many can demonstrate the range of techniques employed by drummers throughout the history of the instrument? How many understand song form and can read music to the point where they can nail a chart the first time they sit down to perform it? I think reading counts. It does for any other instrument. What about time? Who has demonstrated consistently great time and interpretation whenever they perform?

I think when you consider the range of factors that play into the traditional application of the term to drumset the list becomes EXTREMELY SHORT. Genius, Artist, and Virtuoso are terms that, I feel, get bantered around too often by those without a understanding of the true extent of their meaning.
 
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JPW

Silver Member
How many drummers know how to build a song or play for the song? Who can play fluently across a range of styles? How many can demonstrate the range of techniques employed by drummers throughout the history of the instrument? How many understand song form and can read music to the point where they can nail a chart the first time they sit down to perform it? I think reading counts. It does for any other instrument. What about time? Who has demonstrated consistently great time and interpretation whenever they perform?

I think when you consider the range of factors that play into the traditional application of the term to drumset the list becomes EXTREMELY SHORT. Genius, Artist, and Virtuoso are terms that, I feel, get bantered around too often by those without a understanding of the true extent of their meaning.
But wouldn't the list be as short with any other instrument with your definition? The thing is, with time the amount of styles and techniques that one could master has grown exponentially. And it will come even harder in the future to be able to "play fluently across a range of styles". And by who's standards should it be evaluated. There's always couple of those people who will say "you call that JAZZ?!" or "you call that a blast?!", "you seriously think that's moeller?". The list would go on and on. Why whould the consistency of a mezzo piano dynamic be a make or break of a virtuoso? Isn't it a bit trivial in terms of a bigger picture on the instrument.

I'm not sure a piano virtuoso is labeled as such with your definition.
 
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wy yung

Guest
I could be wrong but I'm not sure if it's possible to take things further than the current crop of drum superstars, technically speaking. Even less sure that it would be a good thing but that could be the old fart in me speaking :).
The human race continues to advance. Imagine drumming 200 or 300 years from now? Today the drumkit is a little over 100 years old. We cannot imagine the future.

And it will be a good thing. And the greats of our time will be looked upon as curiosities.

Just as it should be. This makes the greats of today no less relevant or less virtuostic.

How could Chick Webb in 1933 envision Death Metal??? He could not.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
This entire post is all my opinion. The drumset, IMO is unique among all the other instruments. With certain exceptions, the drumset is an entirely rhythmic instrument. You

can play rhythmic figures on pitched instruments, but you can't effectively play chords, melodys and harmonies on the drums. Sure you have wood blocks, triangles and the like,

but the drumset is the Big Daddy of all the rhythmic instruments. It's almost as if a different set of values applies to the kit as opposed to any other pitched instrument,

because you can't compare it with anything else. I think the term virtuoso is used more for pitched instruments. I'm not sure that you can play actual "music" on the drumset. I'm

sure there will be some who disagree w/ this, but in my opinion, music requires melody, harmony, and so forth to qualify. That's one reason that most drum solos leave me flat,

you can't really play a melody. However when soloing, if one can conjure compelling rhythms and execute them in a way that it flows beautifully, and is seamless, for me

THAT is the promised land as far as the drumset is concerned. In my mind there are technical virtuosos and rhythmic virtuosos that play the drumset, but I can't say every

technical virtuoso is also a rhythmic virtuoso. I think there are more of the former than the latter. I tend to gravitate toward the latter as I think it is a higher form of achievement, even

though the Minnemans and Donatis certainly have my utmost respect. The greats can floor me with their technical wizardry, but if the rhythm of what they're playing takes a

back seat to how fast they can execute something, I'm left feeling unfulfilled. I want to hear drum solos that make standing still nearly impossible. And you don't need to be able

to play single strokes at 1000 bpm or be able to blast at 250 bpm. What you do need (IMO) is to realize that the drumset is designed as a rhythmic instrument. Playing it is not

a sport although some definitely treat it like that. And that's OK, there's room for everyone. Myself, channeling rhythms is it for me and it is my goal to be able to tap into

the universal well of rhythms. The pinnacle of drumming to me are the rhythmic possibilities, not treating the drumkit as a sporting device. I can name many technical

virtuosos but am hard pressed to name many rhythmic virtuosos. How many drum solos can you dance to? That's a tough thing to pull of in my book, and my goal when I solo. I'll

let you know when I reach it ha ha. Even Garibaldi, one of the funkiest drummers I can think of...his solos don't do a thing for me.
 

madgolfer

Senior Member
But wouldn't the list be as short with any other instrument with your definition? The thing is, with time the amount of styles and techniques that one could master has grown exponentially. And it will come even harder in the future to be able to "play fluently across a range of styles". And by who's standards should it be evaluated. There's always couple of those people who will say "you call that JAZZ?!" or "you call that a blast?!", "you seriously think that's moeller?". The list would go on and on. Why whould the consistency of a mezzo piano dynamic be a make or break of a virtuoso? Isn't it a bit trivial in terms of a bigger picture on the instrument.

I'm not sure a piano virtuoso is labeled as such with your definition.
You make excellent points. To clarify:

Any list of virtuoso performers should be short (at least in my opinion). I am not sure I intended for dynamics alone to be make or break, in terms of being labeled a virtuoso. However, I think control of dynamics is an essential skill to possess. I challenge anyone to find a virtuoso performer on any other instrument that has not mastered dynamics.

Yes, there is perhaps a broader range of styles to perform on drums than on many other instruments. I concede that you can only go so far in terms of competency in multiple genres. I never intended to imply that one must know ALL styles, but rather be well-versed in a number of them. As to the subjectivity you suggest, I believe that when something is performed well, these questions do not exist (musically informed people recognize quality when they hear it), but I digress.

I feel that concert pianists are judged by these standards at the very minimum. Add in to everything I already mentioned the ability to perform a vast repertoire of songs from memory and a greater expectation emerges. Yes, you do the same thing on drums, but how much of this is interpretation/improvisation vs. memorizing parts? (One is certainly not better than the other so take from this consideration what you will).

An aside: A recent research article that I read about the training that virtuoso concert pianists received early in their development was very insightful. The researchers discovered that there was a strong relationship between the amount of resources available to the parents of the virtuoso pianists and the success/ability level of those pianists. Meaning, the parents were able to send their children to the best teachers and schools and were able to afford professional quality instruments and attend concert events, and these privileged experiences made the difference in their children's careers. So much for God-given ability. I will see if I can find it.

Thank you for making me think harder!
 
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