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What, No Drummer?
Earlville Association for Ragtime Lovers Yearning
for Jazz Advancement and Socialization

By Bert Thompson
On a completely different tack, there is the topic of “drummerless”
traditional jazz bands, which I have alluded to before in CD reviews.
Now one may, perhaps with some fairness, point out that I have a vested
interest in this matter, being a drummer myself.  But that is not all of it by a
long chalk.  To me a jazz band without a drummer is a bit of an anomaly.
If we grant that jazz derived from a confluence of several musical cultures,
as most commentators, historians, etc., have averred, and that one of the
most elemental or central of these cultural ingredients was the African one,
then it is passing strange that, given that the drum is so central to the
African musical culture, a band should omit such a crucial component of
that culture in performing that to which it helped give birth—jazz.  
Certainly if there is no decent drummer available, then, depending on how
exhaustive the search for an acceptable drummer was, perhaps there is
some justification for there being no drums in the rhythm section.  But I can
think of no other, not even the economic one (“a smaller group means
fewer musicians to be paid…which means a smaller fee being
charged…which makes for more employment opportunities”), that is
justifiable or acceptable.  As several fine bands have illustrated, smaller
groups can consist of a three-person rhythm section (piano, bass, and
drums) or even a two-piece one (piano and drums).  
A jazz band without a (good) drummer is like a creature without a pulse,
or at best a weak one, as far as I am concerned.  Among celebrated jazz
bands that eschewed drummers was Turk Murphy’s, and I don’t for a
moment suggest they were not a good band in any of their configurations.  
But they were a better one when they had Thad Vandon or Lloyd Byassee
or Wayne Jones in the back line.  It was no accident, I believe, that Murphy
opted not to go drummerless (as he certainly could have) at one of the high
points, if not the highest, of his career: the Carnegie Hall Concert.