Modern jazz drumming is an evolution of the styles of drumming most noted in turn of the century (the 20th century) swing drumming, which was a combination of military drumming patterns, African drumming and European music. The main function of an early jazz drummer was to keep time for the rest of the instruments, much like the drummers in a marching band. Today’s jazz drummers, however, are known less for the ability to keep a rhythm or band intact, and more for the unique rhythms produced, as well as improvisation skills.
A jazz drummer is held to a different standard than other drummers in different genres of music. Since modern jazz drummers are known best for drum improvisation, they lend a unique and different sound to any jazz music performance. Part of this sound may come from the drum kit, especially the types of cymbals used. The rhythms established by the drummer and the sound of the cymbals used in a performance are the keys to defining any performance by the jazz drummer.
Jazz cymbals used in a jazz performance should be medium to medium thin, and produce a dark, warm or even woody sound. A typical jazz drum kit may only include a ride cymbal, but many professional jazz drummers have also integrated a hi-hat or additional ride in the kit. While the weight and size of a jazz ride cymbal may add a different dimension to the sound of a jazz drum set, the materials used in the cymbal and the use of sticks or brushes can have just as much of an effect on the sound.
With the unique sound and rhythms of jazz drumming, the drummer has more control over the songs played. From the expected improvisation of modern jazz drumming to the different tones and sounds created from jazz cymbals, whether the ride or hi-hat, the evolution of jazz drumming from a simple, time-keeping function to today’s expectation of outrageous rhythms and awe-inspiring fills has been a journey from military and African drumming into a genre all of its own. For the drummer, finding the right sound for the crash or hi-hat cymbal may be just as difficult as performing the songs. Once it all comes together, the talent of the jazz drummer can shine just as brightly as the finish on the cymbals chosen.