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THE INSTRUMENTS, THE SOUNDS, THE PERFORMERS
tive media were the recourse of the folk blues artists, while large bass and snare drums hit with mallets and sticks played a bombastic role in the brass bands. As the blues, ragtime and the brass bands fused into the earliest jazz, the function of the drummer became clear. Unchanged in essence since the beginning of jazz as we know it, it was succinctly assessed by George Wettling: "It's not a question of two beats or four. It's a matter of feeding the band with rhythm and underlining what they re doing—that's what you call shading. And the secret of that is simply listening to the other fellows."
The adolescent jazz fan who clamors for louder and longer drum solos at every concert, every dance, every night club performance, is either unaware of this simple truth or reluctant to concern himself with it. Jazz is a fusion of three interdependent units: melody, harmony and rhythm. The drum solo, dispensing with the first two, divorces itself from the essence of the music. Zutty Singleton recalls that except for occasional novelty effects the drum solo was a rarity in the early days of jazz. The drummer played a subsidiary role: "We just kept the rhythm going and hardly ever took a solo. But when we did, the drummers had all kinds of different sound effects; a bucket gimmick that almost sounded like a lion's roar; skillets, ratchets, bells, everything. I remember when I used to play in the Lyric Theatre in New Orleans with John Robicheaux, they'd wait until the end of the tune and then put the spotlight on the drummer and he'd start hitting everything!'
"Everything" in those days, four decades ago, did not quite have the significance that could be attached to the word today. Aside from the gimmick sound effects the drummer's task had to be accomplished on the snare drum, small Chinese tom-tom ("we used to have four of 'em, with different tones," Zutty recalls), and a Chinese cymbal with a morgue-like tone. Zutty believes that the tension drums, tuned with keys or thumb screws, came into general use around 1915. When asked "Was there much rhythmic variation, much syncopation, any concentration on the drummer's role in the band?" he answered, "Very, very little. All you had to do was keep good time and keep the sticks going. It was drumsticks generally, though mallets were used in the brass