The Engine Room: The History of Jazz Drumming

The Engine Room: The History of Jazz Drumming is a fantastic 4 CD box set released by Proper Records that covers the eras “from Storyville to 52nd Street” and includes 95 tracks recorded between 1923 and 1948.

I’m always surprised when I meet a jazz drummer who doesn’t know about this set of discs, so I decided it’s time to write a quick post about it.

The Engine Room: The History of Jazz Drumming

I first heard about this set during an interview with Kenny Washington on the Drummer’s Resource Podcast (a fantastic interview worth checking out). Kenny mentioned that Engine Room is out of print, so I got obsessed with finding a copy. Luckily, it’s still pretty easy to find, though the price of used copies can vary a bit. I’ve purchased a couple of copies off of Amazon and I’ve seen them range from $30 to $200, though I paid about $50 for each of my copies.

The booklet included with the set is around 50 pages and includes wonderful liner notes by Joop Visser. This alone makes it worth finding a physical copy.

The eras represented:

Disc 1: New Orleans & Chicago styles
Disc 2: Swing
Disc 3: Big Band
Disc 4: Modernism

It’s worth noting that there are two different versions of the packaging. The differences are trivial, but here’s a list if you’re curious:

  • The earlier 1999 set was thicker overall due to the use of plastic jewel cases
  • The latter 2005 release was thin and used cardboard sleeves
  • The UPC code is the same on both sets
  • The booklet is essentially the same in both sets, containing the same information and liner notes. One is a few pages longer than the other, but it’s just because there were added pages for record label promotion.
  • The 2005 set is listed as digitally re-mastered, though I’m unable to hear a difference between the two sets.

Finally, here are some photos of the two sets:

Glass Bead Games by Clifford Jordan

I’ve loved Billy Higgins’ playing since I first heard him in high school. He plays with such depth and lively soul.

I was lucky enough to see him play with Sonny Rollins back in 1993 / 1994 when I was at college in Boston. We couldn’t afford tickets at the time, but a kind usher was nice enough to let us stand quietly in the back of the room.

Every so often I go back through Higgins’ discography and look for something I haven’t heard before. This time it was Clifford Jordan’s Glass Bead Games.

It turns out that this was out of print for a long time and came back into circulation with a reissue in 2006. As good as this is, I can’t believe it took me so many years to discover. I can’t recommend this highly enough. Billy Higgins’ timekeeping is wonderful throughout and his soloing as musical as ever.

Fortunately, this cd is now easy to find and for reasons I’ll explain below, I strongly suggest purchasing a download and not spending money on the overpriced CD.

Buy this as a download and don’t overpay for the CD.

One thing I haven’t seen addressed in the many reviews of this reissue are the audio problems, specifically seeming to affect the cymbals dropping out of the right channel intermittently on a few songs, which is distracting, especially with headphones on.

You can hear an example of what I’m talking about at around 1:40 in the tune Bridgework, which also happens to be the sample snippet from that song featured on Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby.

At first I thought I got a bad download, so I fired up Spotify and YouTube. The same issue was present. I decided to spring $26(!) for the compact disc to finally get a clean copy of the album. I was surprised that it has the same bad audio.

It’s a shame that this is the best copy currently available. Despite the audio problems on the reissue, I still recommend it, though I’m hoping for a better reissue of this album some day.

I’ve since tracked down a copy of Clifford Jordan – The Complete Strata-East Sessions box set on Mosaic. Disc 6 is the entire Glass Bead Games album and there are no audio issues. The bad news is that this set very hard to find and very expensive.

Pete LaRoca

I got a little obsessed with Pete LaRoca the other day after seeing this video of him with Art Farmer. I really dig his playing.

Eventually I made my way to his Wikipedia page and found this fascinating bit:

“In 1968 he stopped taking side-man gigs, and only accepted work as a band leader/drummer. La Roca began earning a living by driving a taxi cab in New York City, and later attended law school at New York University. When his second album as leader, Turkish Women at the Bath, was released under Chick Corea’s name without La Roca’s consent, La Roca filed and argued a lawsuit against Douglas Records, and the erroneously-labeled records were recalled.

He returned to jazz in 1979, and recorded one new album as a leader, Swing Time (Blue Note, 1997).”

REFLEXX Practice Pad

REFLEXX practice pad

I’ve used a lot of practice pads over the years, but the REFLEXX is hands down my favorite. I was lucky enough to get one before the first run sold out and have had it for a few months. This practice pad not only feels great, but it sounds great. It’s much quieter than any other pad I own.

I go back and forth between the new REFLEXX and the ProLogix Blue Lightning depending on how much bounce I want. I’ll also defer to the REFLEXX if it’s later at night and I don’t want to wake up my girlfriend in the other room.

A new batch is for sale and shipping soon.

Highly recommended as an addition to any practice pad collection.

Happy New Year!

Note: This is not an advertisement.

Smalls Jazz Club Live

I want to give some love to Smalls Jazz Club. If you’re in New York, it’s a great place to see live jazz for an affordable cover charge. On any given week you can see some of the best musicians in the world in this intimate space. If you can’t get there, you can stream shows live from their website for free. The quality is superb.

Smalls Jazz ClubI first discovered the live stream this summer and was blown away. Over the last several months I’ve got to see and hear Ari Hoenig, Ralph Peterson, Eric Harland, Victor Lewis, Marvin “Bugalu” Smith and so many more amazing players from the comfort of my studio in Minneapolis. This week alone Ulysses Owens Jr. and Eric McPherson are playing there. Next week you can catch Ari Hoenig with Chris Potter. Crazy!

And it gets even better. For only $10 a month you can have access to their archives. If you can, do this not only as a way to access live music, but to support a wonderful club.

I’d recommend checking out Ralph Peterson’s recent sets and also studying the Teodross Avery set.

I met Teodross at Berklee in 1993 and have reconnected with him since, so I wanted to check out what he’s up to. His set at Smalls in October 2016 is burning! Every single member of the band is on fire and Marvin “Bugalu” Smith blew my mind. How had I not heard him before? His playing that night grabbed a strong hold on me, even through the internet. I highly recommend checking out his playing. He’s deep. I still watch or listen to that set about once a week.

Thank you, Smalls!