5/4/2018 1:45:00 PM Musician - scholar says drummers played an important role
When professional drummer Kelli Rae Tubbs was forming a jazz band a few years ago, she went in search of sheet music and arrangements she knew the band would need. She lucked-out obtaining a collection from a musician’s estate sale, including 1,100 arrangements.
Paging through books of music in her new-found treasure she grew perplexed. These vintage drum parts were unlike any she had commonly seen in her career as a professional drummer.
“I could read it but it made no sense,” she said.
Motivated by necessity and curiosity, she went down the rabbit hole looking for an explanation of what happened to drum music that she felt “was lost to time.” And, she hasn’t truly emerged from that rabbit hole yet.
Starting in the 1800s --to around the post world war era of the Big Bands-- Tubbs, of Chisago City, now happily reports her research along with others’ brought insight in the course of tracking down “tribal knowledge” the lore that drummers either casually absorbed over generations or let go of.
Drum history was not comprehensively recorded or preserved anywhere, although she found some invaluable resources.
Tubbs’ goal has expanded beyond understanding drum arrangement and music applications to understanding drumming as a field all its own and putting it all together. But, more on that later.
Drums were used by early people to communicate, applied as an alert or summons. The formal military complex adopted drums to keep marching soldiers moving along. Orchestral uses became popular and elevated the role of the drum. Of course, drum equipment was re-imagined to fit every new use. And, some equipment alterations facilitated the new drum uses, she explained.
Alot of consolidating percussion into a “drum set” called for creating pedals, mounts and fasteners. The reason for this was to keep costs down. You could have one musician on the payroll playing cymbals, snare drum and bass drum all at once.
Going through catalogs and patent records for drum equipment provided much information for documentation and an equipment timeline. Tubbs also collects items to feed her desire for hands-on learning.
She has 12 drum sets now, and a bushel basket full of old accessories, plus antique sheet and bound music, and photos/postcards featuring vintage drum groups and individual drummers.
Grants from local arts organizations have also provided Tubbs with some financial support and she’s been able to travel, access databases to study and interview legendary drummers. She recalls speaking with one who was an idol of hers since she picked up drumsticks at age 12; and thinking ‘this is unreal’ as she was putting his phone number into her cellphone.
She has even interviewed a professional lady drummer 105 years old.
“I am having a blast,” she remarked. “I am so grateful to the East Central Regional Arts Council for funding research and helping me find somebody who has the answers.” The rabbit-hole allowed her to meet with respected drummer and educator, Daniel Glass. Glass has five books to his name and has contributed historic pieces to music periodicals. He was voted one of the top five R & B drummers in the world by readers of DRUM and Drummer magazines. He gives master classes and clinics, and since 2011 he has been house drummer at the jazz club, Birdland, in New York.
Tubbs and Glass are working on a book that promises to be, as the book subtitle states: A snapshot in drum history 1900 to 1939. They get together in person periodically and also confer by Skype.
Tubbs says it’s uncanny how advances in drums and adaptations in the musical personality of the drum correlate to certain periods in history.
Immigrant populations of the late 1800s had a direct impact on the use and quality of cymbals, for example. Turkey and China design and manufacturing influences are spotted easily and the most-desired cymbal-maker to this day is of Turkish origin.
With the advent of traveling entertainers -- the minstrel groups and tented chautauquas -- so too were drums and drum sets changing to fit these applications. And, what circus would be complete without its band... “drum roll please.”
Moving pictures, or “movies” gave drummers an expanded role accenting the audience’s experience. Minus soundtracks; drummers were expected to be skilled in using accessories as sound effects and to move the story along.
Tubbs explained how moving pictures needed background music that evoked feelings of “Oriental” or “hurried drama.”
Tubbs sat herself at a table covered with sound effects devices, and accompanied a scene from a Chaplin short and a Mickey Mouse silent cartoon projected nearby, while giving a talk at Chisago Lakes Library last week.
Tubbs can be viewed on You Tube, in a series of videos produced through local studio North Homes Productions and released in March 2017.
Posting these videos was another experience Tubbs describes as “...very cool.” She was monitoring the You Tube channel overnight as the videos started to be viewed. Literally as daylight dawned at Tubbs’ home; Internet addresses had shown up for thousands of people, first in Indonesia, Australia, then Europe and Great Britain. Internet users on the U.S. side of the Atlantic then logged in and she realized her videos had just travelled around the globe.