Drummer, composer, broadcaster and bandleader Jae Sinnett has never been one to wait for the phone to ring. He’s made eight recordings as a leader since 1986, tapping musical friends Chris Potter, Wallace Roney, Steve Wilson, Billy Pierce, Frank Foster and others to join him in his various projects. He’s scored the music for five documentaries, taught at Christopher Newport University and produced a performance/instructional video “Musical Drumming Concepts.” Sinnett is also the radio host of two successful programs, “Sinnett’s In Session” and “The R&B Chronicles” on NPR affiliate WHRV-FM in Norfolk, Virginia.
1. Jo Jones
“Liza” (from Jo Jones: The Everest Years, Empire Musikwerks). Jones, drums; Harry “Sweets” Edison, trumpet; Jimmy Forest, tenor saxophone; Bennie Green, trombone; Tommy Flanagan, piano; Tommy Potter, bass. Originally released 1960.
Before: The first thing that caught me immediately was how the drummer was playing in a cut time hi-hat pattern while the melody started in half-time. I was also intrigued with the brush sound on the hi-hat. My guess would be Buddy. And if it’s not Buddy, it’s somebody that loves Buddy Rich. And I say it’s Buddy because of some devices that he’s using; the rim shot on the snare, a cross-stick type thing. The technique is very clear. I’d say it was Buddy because of the snap in the technique.
After: [laughter] Well that makes sense because Papa Jo was the father of just about every drummer that came after and how they utilized the hi-hat in jazz. He made the hi-hat more of a lead instrument. And the cut time thing creates this metric illusion that the song is faster than what it really is. That’s really clever. When was this recorded? He was a master of textures and dynamic variation. It was as pure as the American groove can get.
2. Antonio Sanchez
“Did You Get It?” (from Migration, CamJazz). Sanchez, drums; Chris Potter, David Sanchez, tenor saxophone; Scott Colley, bass. Recorded in 2007.
Before: It’s recent. I can hear that in the recording quality and the ideas. There’s a beautiful clarity in the ride pattern. I’d say this is a younger drummer. There’s that on-top-of-the-beat energy in how they interpret the time. Considering this is a chord-less group, this could be Joshua’s recording with Eric Harland. Beautiful resonating quality in the sound of the drums. And you don’t miss the chords cause the bassist is walking though the changes. My gut is telling me it’s Eric Harland, but Eric would be playing more than that by now. I like it. I’m impressed. Wait a minute. Hold it. That’s Chris Potter. This is Antonio Sanchez. Yeah man, I love this record. When you listen to Antonio play in the Metheny group, there’s a lot of cymbal textures and colors. He tends to use a drier, higher pitched cymbal quality. Of the great Latin drummers today, I think Antonio comes closest to identifying the American swing. As far as groove, he’s obviously a great Latin player in traditional Latin music, but he’s also a great jazz player. I love this record, man. Antonio has a beautiful airiness about his playing. He has fabulous time. He can play on top of the beat but you don’t get the feeling that it’s rushing, so it’s very comfortable. He thinks compositionally, too.
3. Buddy Rich & Max Roach
“Figure Eights” (from Buddy Rich Versus Max Roach, Mercury). Rich, Roach, drums. Recorded in 1959.
Before: [laughter] Come on, man. Whew! As a drummer listening to this I hear two of my idols. Max was the first drummer to really deal with composition, not just sitting at the piano and writing songs. He used to think it was odd when everyone stopped for the drum solos. Max was also one of the first to utilize solo drum set composition, to have melody and form and then solo over that particular form. He was probably the most melodic drummer I’ve ever heard. Then there’s that swing thing. Buddy had ridiculous hand technique. I haven’t seen hand technique like that on a drummer, nor have I ever heard a drummer swing a big band as hard as Buddy Rich could swing a big band. He was the most explosive drummer I’ve ever heard in my life. For my personal taste, I would rather listen to Max Roach play the solo. But if I just want to be scared out of my wits, I put on Buddy playing snare drum. There’s not a drummer walking the planet who played snare drum like Buddy Rich. Too often great technique is associated with velocity. Buddy played fast for an effect but he used velocity as the closer in his solo, and he was the best closer in the game. He was one of the greatest showmen ever but he was also a very musical drummer. That 11-minute version of Broadway that he did on that Jazz Compact Collection, that‘s a masterpiece, a thing of beauty. When I listen to this, I don’t hear any one-ups-manship. There’s a sense of respect there. This is one of the greatest drumming records ever recorded. I haven’t listened to it for years. Now you make me want to pull it out again.
4. Paul Motian
“K.T.” (from Time and Time Again, ECM). Motian, drums; Bill Frisell, guitar; Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone. Recorded in 2006.
Before: There’s an ethereal quality to this. The drummer has an Ed Blackwell or Paul Motian kind of vibe. The guitarist could be Bill Frisell or Dave Fiuczynski. It sounds like Frisell. Saxophonist? Has a Joe Lovano feel and texture. It’s weird; without a bass player you really hear the bass drum in a totally different context. I’d say the tenor player and drummer are definitely older players. There’s a beautiful organic flavor that comes out in older players, like Lovano and Motian. It’s not technique driven. It’s peaceful. It’s beautiful. I love that. It was about as pure a piece of music as you could listen to, with just the pure aesthetic beauty of communicating with each other. It’s from the Earth. I’d have to say it was Paul Motian.
After: You’d have a hard time teaching the way Paul plays because he plays life. He plays life better than any drummer I’ve ever heard and it‘s totally unique to him. I’ve got to get this record.
5. Elvin Jones & Steve Lacy
“Evidence” (from That’s The Way I Feel Now/A Tribute To Thelonious Monk, A&M). Jones, drums; Lacy, soprano saxophone. Recorded in 1984.
Before: [laughter] That’s Elvin. It’s a Monk tune, Evidence. The cymbal has that K. Zildjian sound. If it’s not Elvin, it’s somebody who definitely loves Elvin Jones. The sound, the soloing ideas, everything is Elvin. The only thing I’m missing is Elvin’s grunt [laughter]. Playing the tune, it didn’t sound as much like Elvin as the solo did. So, that confused me a little. Plus I didn’t hear those rolling 8th and 16th note triplets. So, part of me says Elvin and part of me says Tain [Jeff Watts]. The saxophone player, I didn’t have a clue cause I was listening so hard to the drums. He focused on the melody. Let me hear that again. No, that’s not Elvin. Elvin wouldn’t play it like that. That’s definitely not Elvin. If it’s soprano, it’s one of the oddest soprano saxophone, tone-wise, that I’ve ever heard. But I don’t hear the changes. And this leads me to believe it’s the drummer’s date.
After: So it was Elvin! Oh my god. Part of it was so much Elvin, but it’s strange the way he played the melody. It’s almost as if Elvin was uncomfortable playing and phrasing with the melody. I don’t think that Elvin knew that song that well. That’s what it sounded like to me. Now, once the time started with the solo, that’s a different story. And Lacy’s another one of these saxophone players, that sound is so totally unique to him.
You got me on that one [laughter].
6. Tony Williams
“Tomorrow Afternoon” (from Life Time, Blue Note). Williams, drums; Sam Rivers, tenor saxophone; Gary Peacock, bass. Recorded in 1964.
Before: The ideas from the drummer tend to make me believe it’s one of the younger players. It almost has a Van Gelder analog sound to it. I love the time to the rubato. I don’t think they’re so much worried about a tonal center, that’s not the point of the piece. Beautiful tone on the bass. I’m not getting the story on this song. I’m not exactly sure what they’re trying to tell me. I hear ideas. When I heard that piece with Lovano and Motion, I heard a little family. I hear these musicians playing, they’re just playing. They obviously understand the lineage. These are great jazz players, but I’m lost on this one. The saxophonist has an understanding of bop. They all do. I admired the musicianship, I admired their sound. I don’t hear enough of the individual sound to be able to right away tell you who that is. But they’re obviously great players. I just didn’t get that story on that particular piece.
After: Oh my god, that didn’t sound like Tony. Are you kidding me? I have this record, too. That must have been Sam Rivers. When was this recorded? Man, you know, I kick myself because Tony is one of my heroes. Talking about the ride cymbal, in my opinion there’s not a player in modern jazz that played the ride pattern like Tony did. I mean, Live at the Plugged Nickel is a masterpiece for that rhythm section. On this record he just didn’t sound like he did when he played with Miles or when he did Out To Lunch. [laughter] Out of all people, I missed Tillmon! That’s alright. He’s in that pantheon up there and he knows I love him.
7. Jeff “Tain” Watts
“Seed of Blakzilla” (from Folk’s Songs, Dark Key). Watts, drums; Marcus Strickland, tenor saxophone; Christian McBride, bass; David Kikoski, piano. Recorded in 2006.
Before: Listen to the beautiful bass sound. It’s an interesting way to interpret 6/4. I hear the aggressiveness of a Jeff “Tain” Watts. The drummer sounds like Tain to me. I hear so many influences in that drummer. I hear Latin, but more like what the modern Latin guys are doing. The drums have that Sonar sound. Whoever this drummer is is thinking polyrhythmic, and Tain thinks very polyrhythmic. He’s not dependent on the downbeat, so he can flow. It doesn’t matter the time signature. He can play over the bar line, as we say. Now that they’re walking, Tain has that way of pushing and pulling and driving. He doesn’t have a lot of sustain in his main ride cymbal. You have a lot of clear cut articulation. It could be Branford. But that’s Tain, that has to be Tain. That explosive energy. I like the groove. There’s a thick, Africano kind of groove to this, which is appealing to me. It doesn’t do much for me melodically. It’s really a rhythmic statement. It’s a drum feature.
After: Tain has his sound. Plus, Tain tunes his drums a little lower than most of the jazz players that you hear playing this music these days. He has a unique approach to time. That was Chris? No wonder that bass sounded like that. Another underrated thing about Jeff, he’s a great writer. [sees the song title and laughs] The Tainish one.
8. Han Bennink & Dave Douglas
“Cherokee” (from Serpentine, Songlines). Bennink, drums; Douglas, trumpet. Recorded in 1996.
Before: Right away, I hear New Orleans. The first 8 bars. It actually sounds like the drummer is tapping on the floor. Whoooo! Could just be snare drum and nothing else. The trumpet player; my first thought is that it could have been Wynton, but then Wynton’s articulation is clearer than that, and I would have heard the changes. They’re playing Cherokee, right? It sounds like the trumpeter is rooted and has a good foundation in traditional New Orleans music. And the drummer, too. If anything else, it was a fun piece. The spirit of it was cool. The brush player obviously has great hand technique and a good understanding of the brush tradition, which is a lost art these days. I thought it was a unique approach to substitute feet on the floor, versus using the hi hat and the bass drum, so it brings that tap dance element to it, which is kind of cool, clever and fresh. So, I liked the spirit of the piece. And it sounded like they were listening to each other. I could have heard more connection to the harmony from the trumpet player. I liked the fact that I could hear history in what they were doing. Whether these guys are from New Orleans, I don’t know. But they definitely have studied that tradition. As far as who it is, I don’t have a clue.
After: Not familiar with Han Bennink. Dave Douglas? I love Dave’s vision as a musician. He’s always forward thinking, always looking for his way of doing something. And that’s what this art should be about.
9. Dafnis Prieto
“Renew The Elephant” (from Absolute Quintet, Zoho). Prieto, drums; Yosvany Terry, tenor saxophone; Christian Howes, violin; Dana Leong, cello. Recorded in 2005.
Before: They obviously have a good understanding, a deep understanding of Latin rhythms. Doesn’t sound like an American drummer to me. Sounds Caribbean, maybe. Interesting textures. Am I hearing a violin in there? It’s like, part of the song the drummer wants to play a groove, but it’s not in the American groove concept. When he plays the Latin thing, I feel him. Beautiful textures in the writing. Very interesting. If that’s an American drummer, they have not had time to study the history of the American groove, because I don’t feel that at all. What I hear are traditional Cuban elements. The drummer is an extraordinary technician. I hear wonderful technique, but I’m not getting the story of this particular composition. This reminds me of Negro Hernandez, but I would have heard the left foot with the clave by now. This almost sounds like Dafnis Prieto. I know he’s a great composer and this sounds like a drummer wrote this.
After: That makes sense because he’s Cuban. What I love about the guy is that he works hard, his work ethic is magnificent. I think one of the things he’s doing though is that he’s doing his records too close together. I don’t think he’s giving himself enough time between his dates, like, the second record sounds a little bit like the first. The first one is my favorite. As a composer, there’s more influence here than just jazz. He’s found a beautiful way of incorporating the drums within the composition. He’s one of the great ones playing today, and he’s a great guy too.
10. Charles Lloyd & Billy Higgins
“A Wild and Holy Band” (from Which Way Is East, ECM). Lloyd, alto saxophone; Higgins, drums, whistle. Recorded in 2001.
Before: It has an Ornette Coleman-Billy Higgins vibe to it. I love the ambience of the room, it sounds very open. There’s a level of soul in that saxophone playing that touches home with me. And there’s a level of swing in the drummer, you know, they’re not necessarily playing in that bop tradition, but they obviously have bop roots. It doesn’t sound like an old recording. The drummer had a Billy Higgins vibe to it until he did that press roll. The press roll was a lot more aggressive than what I’d hear Billy Higgins play. It almost had that Ed Blackwell march kind of thing to it, that bounce, that happy Ed Blackwell bounce. But I don’t think it was Ed Blackwell. The saxophonist really likes Ornette Coleman. I love when they tapped into the swing.
After: You threw me with Charles Lloyd on alto. Interesting press roll with Billy. He swung like crazy. Billy is like the dancer on the drums; his groove, his cymbal beat. I know he was smiling when he was playing this. Charles is one of the greats, too. He’s another one of these organic players. I just get something soulful from him. I go back to that quartet of his with Keith and Jack-I was listening to Dream Weaver the other day and he has this unique way of floating through the composition. He’s a great leader. Both these guys are special. I love Charles Lloyd. I have to get this.
12. Roy Haynes
“Long Wharf” (from A Life In Time: The Roy Haynes Story, Dreyfus Jazz). Haynes, drums; Roland Kirk, tenor saxophone; Tommy Flanagan, piano; Henry Grimes, bass. Recorded in 1962.
Before: [laughter] There’s touch, and then there’s touch. When I hear somebody say “they did it,” and then they didit and didit and didit and didit again, you can only associate that with one cat. And to hear Haynes play today in his 80s is just extraordinary. Roy was one of the first drummers to get away from the 2 and the 4 on the hi-hat. The thing that impresses me about Roy is how he spaces what he does. He has this unique ability for you to really hear everything he’s playing . There’s such extraordinary clarity in his playing. And I’m talking space between hands, space between feet, not just space in the composition. It draws the listener in. But when you hear the figures that Roy plays, he probably has the best method. In this whole solo he hasn’t touched the cymbal one time. Listen to that snap, that crackle, that pop. That’s Haynes. There’s so much tradition in him. He plays just like his personality. He’s the best dressed jazz musician who ever walked the planet. He’s the personification of cool. Then you listen to Rahsaan. Oh, man. I’m drawn to the visionary. Roy Haynes is a visionary. Rahsaan was a visionary. Elvin Jones, Charles Lloyd, Billy Higgins; that only comes with time when you have enough life underneath you.
This B&A originally appeared in JazzTimes in 2008.