Drums are frequently a part of jazz bands but playing percussion in jazz bands is quite different from playing percussion in other types of music. The introduction of drumming into jazz was a result of a mix of cultural influences from different countries, including countries in Europe and Africa. In America, the rhythmic part of blues music became an important part of jazz music and this included how the drums were played. It was largely during the 1950s and 1960s that drums became more than just a time keeping instrument in jazz bands and began to take on a larger and more interactive role helping to set the mood and feeling of the music.
Drums were common in the jazz bands found in New Orleans in the 1900s, and their role at the time was to delineate the beats and create changes in energy and mood in the music. This was the case in swing music of the time too. Many of the drum sets that were invented or modified for playing in jazz bands were done so by drummers from New Orleans.
It was Charlie Parker who is credited with founding the Be-Bop movement that first started improvising in how the drums were played. One of the first changes that were made from the straightforward military type style of percussion that musicians were using was what is known as the roll. The rolls are when drummers play so that there are alternate beats forming a sequence of rhythms that are called the ‘ride pattern’.
Up until the 1940s jazz drummers accompanied dance bands that played the ragtime tunes. Often the bands would have two separate drummers, one to play snare and the other to play bass. Over time this developed into one person playing one drum set which had both the snare and bass.
Over time the playing of the drums in jazz became freer and fluid in feeling. Jazz is a technically complex type of music compared with many other types of music which means that playing the drums in a jazz band can be very technically demanding as well as challenging. Many modifications of the basic drums took place and eventually such accoutrements as cowbells, Chinese tom-toms, wood block and cymbals were added. By the 1950s and 1960s jazz drumming had become more improvised and there was the development of ‘broken time’ which was the dynamic rhythm patterns of drumming that became evident. Over time the drums became as important in a jazz band as the other instruments.
Jazz drummers tend to use smaller drum sets than rock drummers. They use more sounds on each of their pieces. These drummers tune their drums high and they use coated heads which have rich overtones and a warm character. Jazz drummers are true percussionists who often also have tambourines, sleigh bells or even shells to add to the overall effect. There have been many great jazz drummers over the years, some of which showed great inventiveness and creativity in their drumming. Each generation of jazz drummers has added to the style of jazz drumming.