The ten best jazz drummers of all time
An integral part of jazz is the swing feel, and drummers are often the ones stoking that fire, helping to propel the song along with the other players involved. While the saxophonists, trumpeters, pianists and guitarists all get their fair share of attention, the importance of a great drummer can't be understated in the combo or big band setting. Although there are a number of outstanding players worth inclusion (Kenny Clarke, Brian Blade, Joey Baron, Joe Morello, Billy Cobham, Jimmy Cobb and Philly Joe Jones), these are the ten best jazz drummers of all time.
10. BILLY HIGGINS
After playing on some of Ornette Coleman's early efforts in the late '50s, albums like The Shape of Jazz to Come and Something Else!!!, Billy Higgins, who was usually smiling behind the kit, played on dozens of excellent Blue Note hard-bop releases from first-rate players like Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan and Jackie McLean. He also shows what a great groove player he was on albums like Eddie Harris's mid-'60s releases, The In Sound and Mean Greens. Some of the final records made by Higgins, who passed away in 2001, were with Charles Lloyd, including Hyperion With Higgins and Which Way is East, both of which are highly recommend.
9. PAUL MOTIAN
There's something inherently beautiful about Paul Motian's drumming, which was unmistakable early on his career, especially on the late '50s and early '60s recordings he did with the Bill Evans Trio. There was that subtle lilt on some of the songs, which was quite the opposite of some of the heavy-handed drummers of the time. Motian, who passed away in 2011, was not only an inventive drummer and improviser, he was a remarkable composer, releasing a number of outstanding discs under his own name on ECM and Winter & Winter, including the gorgeous trio of records he did with Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano.
8. JACK DEJOHNETTE
After playing with avant-garde players Richard Abrams and Roscoe Mitchell in Chicago, Jack DeJohnette moved to New York in 1966 and joined Charles Lloyd's group, which also included pianist Keith Jarrett. While DeJohnette would spend decades lending his precise time-keeping skills to Jarrett's groups since 1971's Ruta and Daitya, he performed with Miles Davis during his electric period, including discs like Bitches Brew, Live-Evil and a Tribute to Jack Johnson. DeJohnette's ECM releases with Special Edition are highly recommended, as is Saudades, the 2006 Trio Beyond with John Scofield and Larry Goldings.
7. TONY WILLIAMS
At just seventeen years old, Tony Williams was part of Miles Davis's Second Great Quintet that also included Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter. While Williams was a genius on the ride cymbal, which is clear on many of the recordings Williams did with Davis's group throughout the '60s, his jazz-rock fusion work with the Tony Williams Lifetime, which he formed in 1969 with John McLaughlin and Larry Young, was heavy and primal, evidenced on great albums like Emergency!