The Big Beat

Portrait of Sid Catlett, New York, N.Y., ca. Mar. 1947] / William P. Gottlieb

Portrait of Sid Catlett, New York, N.Y., ca. Mar. 1947/ William P. Gottlieb.

The photographs of  William P. Gottlieb (1917-2006 ) are a priceless document of the jazz era in the ’30’s and ’40’s.  In the Muse will occasionally highlight selections from this collection. Today we celebrate the birthdays of two legendary jazz drummers.

When the Music Division prepared the Gottlieb collection for digitization in the ’90’s, Gottlieb worked directly with staff. Thus we not only have the visual document but a verbal document as well.  Of Sid Catlett, born January 17, Gottlieb said: “The shot of exuberant Sidney Catlett (who had just caught a flying drumstick) was taken during one of Louis Armstrong’s last rehearsals before his Carnegie Hall concert.  Can’t report on Louis’ recital since the Great One had not, at this writing, appeared. By the way, has it ever occurred to you, too, that Big Sid, whether at or away from his drums, gives an unsurpassed impression of tremendous physical power?”

Portrait of Gene Krupa, 400 Restaurant, New York, N.Y., ca. June 1946 / William P. Gottlieb

Portrait of Gene Krupa, 400 Restaurant, New York, N.Y., ca. June 1946 / William P. Gottlieb

Gene Krupa is credited with taking the drum kit out of the rhythm section and making it a solo instrument in its own right. My colleague Paul Fraunfelter, an accomplished drummer himself, tells me,  “It doesn’t matter if you’re a rock drummer, or a jazz drummer, or a go-go drummer, if you’re a drummer you are aware of Gene Krupa.”  Krupa also mentored younger musicians, among them Gerry Mulligan. In Jeru, Mulligan’s oral autobiography, he remembers, “The person who really got me started listening to specific composers and trying to understand what they were doing was Gene Krupa. Gene used to carry a phonograph and records on the road, and he used to enjoy having some of the musicians hang out with him in his hotel room, where he’d play stuff for us. He had such enthusiasm for the music. He’d say, now listen to this, and listen to what the trumpets do here, and listen to the timps here. He’d focus us in on things and it really had a good effect. The best way to learn about something new is to have somebody who’s enthusiastic and who zeroes in on aspects of the music that you might miss if left to your own devices.”

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