For this faculty blog, Musicians Institute drum instructor writes about the importance of looking back to traditions to further strengthen the music you make today. Here, he makes the case for four of his favorite class jazz drum solos that can provide inspiration to modern musicians.

In order to expand their musical abilities, young drummers are persistently encouraged by their instructors to listen to jazz. The problem most drum students face is the fact that the genre of Jazz is incredibly vast and it is really hard to know where to begin. To help, we turned to our own resources at MI and asked Drum instructor Stewart Jean to pick four classic jazz drum solos that will help guide students along the right path! 

Written by: Drum faculty Stewart Jean

Max Roach, Sandu from the 1955 release, Study in Brown by Clifford Brown and Max Roach

Sandu is a great place to start when studying Jazz drumming. This tune is 12-bar blues and Max Roach takes a masterful solo over two choruses of blues (24 bars). The very first two bars, his first “statement” provides incredible insight on how to approach a drum solo; Max simply plays triplets on the snare drum. While most drummers would start their solo with the hottest lick they know, Max displays the maturity and composure needed to express oneself through their instrument. Check out the solo and the entire tune here:

Art Blakey, Sincerely Diana from the 1961 release by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, A Night in Tunisia

This is an interesting tune with three different sections. Once it gets to the drum solo Art simply lays out 4 and 8-bar phrases with some of his most classic licks. In this solo Art does an incredible job on showing how to make a musical statement and then develop that statement before moving on to a new idea. Again, as with Max Roach, Art decides to start his solo on the snare drum, a perfect way to start a solo with a clean slate. Check it out:

Philly Joe Jones, Billy Boy from the 1958 Miles Davis release, Milestones

While many drum solos are unaccompanied and extensive, another method to showcase a drummer is to trade fours. This is where the drummer trades 4-bar solos with the other members of the ensemble. “Fours” allow for bite-size ideas to be bounced around the band creating a flurry of energy on the bandstand. On Billy Boy, Philly Joe does not hold back by throwing out all his tricks on each of his fours. Philly’s ideas run the gamut of being complex, technical, fun, slippery and masterful. Take a listen:

Tony Williams, Nefertiti from the 1968 release, Nefertiti from Miles Davis

Nefertiti is a slow swing tune with a haunting melody. The treatment on this tune is that none of the other instrumentalists take solos. This essentially turns the tune into a drum feature with the entire band backing the drums. Tony slides his way through various ideas from simple rhythms on cymbals only all the way to flurries of notes played as rhythmic illusions. Tony has amazing vision on this solo as the arc of the solo can really be felt by the listener.


Happy listening!

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