Play everything you can with the bass drum on every beat, playing it so that you hardly even hear it. If you don't play it there's no bottom. Just touch that bass drum and if you can do all those combinations and play that too, there's no way you're not be going to be a good drummer because you have a foundation for the other musicians to play on and your timing is going to be better


Actually, my feet are always going on four. But for some reason I have a light touch on the bass drum and it doesn't always project―because I don’t want it to project. I don’t think it should, and so that’s probably the reason why you don’t think that I’m playing four on the bass drum all the time. I’m not, of course, but most of the time I am. It’s just subdued and dynamically pulled back.


It is very difficult to make the bass drum kicks and accents yet still keep a 4/4 beat that is light enough in sound so as not to overpower the bass violin, But this technique must be developed in mastering this instrument. All of the great masters, past and present, have this ability. Mr. Dizzy Gillespie said that if he were teaching drums he would not allow students to use their hands for two years - they would work with just bass drum and accompanying hi hat for that long.


He sure knew how to play the bass drum, Papa Jo did. He was a master of feathering the bass drum so you didn’t hear it when the bass was playing. When he played in 4/4, you didn’t hear the boom-boom-boom-boom, because he would be pedaling it, just barely touching the head at all―but you still felt it. The bass drum should be felt and not particularly heard in that way, because you can knock the bass right out of commission. You have to feather the bass drum in a certain way, because if you don’t hit it right, it will stop the note of the bass. You know how long a bass note lasts? Not that long, but all of it is connected. So if you disconnect one note, you’re going to disconnect two notes, then the shit is all discombobulated. You have to handle that with care, and sympathy.


There are a lot of players today, younger drummers, that are what I call "hands" oriented drummers. They never really learned how to use their feet. And of course, that's why their time sucks, because they don't understand that drums are built from the feet up. So, they try to do all this stuff with the ride cymbal and with the hands, which of course is Tony inspired, I mean, that's where they're coming from. But they don't have command of the pulse because their feet don't do anything - as in feathering the bass drum!

I just played with a guy the other night and I couldn't figure out what it was that made this guy uncomfortable to play with. He's a nice guy, we get along great, but I just thought, man I can't get with this guy. And, I tried all these different things, and then we played something like Cherokee, and it was not fast, but it was bright. His bass drum was...I don't know what he was doing with it, in fact more importantly, I don't think he knew what he was doing with it.


When music sounds good, the first thing you do is tap your foot right? Feathering is essentially the same thing. You can do that away from the bass drum. Just practice lightly on the floor, four to the bar. Get used to that motion so that when you play the bass drum pedal, it's not a drastic change. I ALWAYS feather, though you don't always hear it. It helps the bass player; it helps keep the bottom end in the music; it helps make your sound fuller. At all tempos! It's felt more than heard.

MD: What's the distance between the beater and the head when you're feathering?

Gregory: Not too far. Perhaps a finger width between the bass drum head and the beater. Practice feathering at faster tempos without a metronome. Metronomes give you metronomic playing. I always played with records. For jazz, you have to be able to bend and go with the music; you have to be flexible.


I almost always pat the bass drum because that’s the bottom of the drums. I’m from the old school. We used to play with no bass player and you had to pat the bass drum. I am so used to that. Sometimes I get too rambunctious with it but I don’t want to sound like Papa Joe Jones. That’s why I like cats like Vernel Fournier. Nobody played that bass drum like that guy, you can hear it all the time. Some drummers tune their bass drum at too high a pitch and you can hear it but it gets on your nerves. But if it is down and damp, it don’t get in the way of the bass player.


"You mentioned the bass drum and I've found both through experience and helpful hints from some of my elder peers that the bass drum effects the sound of the cymbals as well as the bass violin. The bass drum is very important because it's the sound that is not obvious to most people when they're are listening to an orchestra. The pulse of the bass drum accentuates the rhythm of the cymbal. The cymbal spreads very greatly, if you hear the cymbal you can come back ten minutes later and the cymbal is still vibrating. That doesn't necessarily encourage or help the definition of the rhythm itself.

The playing of the bass drum with the cymbal enhances both the sound qualities of the cymbal and emphasizes the beat upon which you play the cymbal.


We played the bass drum, but the engineers would cover it up because it would cause distortion due to the technology at the time. There were never any mic's near our feet; they would have one mic' above the drumset, and that was all. It was funny to me that when I would hear a recording, I didn't hear the bass drum, because in those days the bass drum was always prevalent. You could not get a job unless the bandleader could hear that 4/4 on the bass drum. I remember standing in front of Chick Webb's drumset. His bass drum was so strong and constant I could hear it in my stomach: BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM constantly. Then on 52nd Street, we learned how to play the bass drum softly. It was always there, underneath the bass fiddle. But you never heard it on the recordings. I’ve heard people say that, historically,I introduced the technique of not playing the bass drum and concentrating on the ride cymbal, which was not the case. You didn't carry a bass drum around on the subways of New York—like we used to—and then not use it.


I tell drummers all the time " Put your god damn hands in your pockets and play your bass drum and foot cymbals. You can't swing the band without playing those very well!"


Davey was unbelievable. Take charge. As small as he was, he knew just how to do it. When I played a note his bass drum would go through the note and amplify it. He had a way of playing the bass drum so it would not cover — the tonality was right or whatever. The way the pedal struck the drum, it was just absolutely perfect. Most drummers didn’t really understand about the bass drum, they weren’t really listening to the bass.


You know playing with a big band, you didn’t skate on top of the time, like guys can do now with amplified bass. You were the carpet. They used to call it, “Laying it Down.” Particularly in a big band but even in a small group. Even listening to Philly Joe when he played with Bill Evans or with Miles. He played a big bass drum and he played four-four on it. A very audible four-four. Not feather footing. He really played it. In a big band, that’s the way you really had to play it. When playing fast tempos, back then you couldn’t skate over the time. When playing in a huge dance hall or theater the horn players certainly could not hear a two and four on a high-hat or sometimes even a cymbal beat.

The bass players were largely un-amplified. The bass drum was the bottom of everything. And you really had to play a cymbal beat. You had to really go “Ding Dinga Ding Dinga Ding.” When the tempos got faster, you had to keep it all going. It is really some work.


EI: I guess probably a lot of these older drummers anyway do feather the bass drum, do play quarter notes down there quite a lot.

RC: I like that. Gives the bass a bottom as if he’d been on the E string all night, man.


“One thing that really makes me angry is these guys who write these jazz history books and come out with these ridiculous statements. The one that kills me is that Kenny Clarke revolutionized jazz drumming because he quit playing the bass drum on all four beats. That is absolutely false; he played soft four on the floor and accented within that, same way Max Roach did, same way Blakey did. I’ve got some recordings of Tony Williams with Miles where, if you have a good amplifier, and can switch channels, you can hear him playing soft four on the bass drum.


And then Jo Jones, who is still a good friend of mine. He’s still here. Boy, that guy taught me a lot, because I played opposite him for about six or seven weeks at the Embers. He was working with Tyree Glenn and Hank Jones. He use to play his bass drum open, see. He had a little 20-inch bass drum, and a snare drum, cymbal, and a hi-hat cymbal. That’s all he had. Oh, and he had one little floor tom. And he’d get up on the drums with brushes and he’d get that bass drum going. [JM taps drum stick on leather sofa cushion, imitating the sound Jo Jones’ would get from this bass drum at the Embers].

SKF: When you say “open,” you mean he had no felt strips at all?

JM: Not at all. [Keeps tapping stick on couch] and he’d get a sound just like that. A good sound.

I’d get up there and I’d play something and it would go BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM. And I’d say to him, “Jo, how do you do…?” And he wouldn’t talk to me for the first two or three days. He just sort of flugged me off, you see.

But I sat down and I watched that f***in’ bass drum, and I said, “I’m doing something wrong.” ‘Cause he sounds tap tap tap tap, and when I hit it, it goes BOOM BOOM. I couldn’t play it.

The only way you could play it, I found out, was by pressing the beater into the head. He’d play up on his foot like that, but he’s been playing it like that for so long that he can control it, see. Jo was always playing….

SKF: Toes down.

JM: Yeah. With his heels up.


I sat right behind Mel Lewis at a casual gig he did in 1985 or so. His feathering technique was incredible- the beater only came off the head by about an inch with each stroke. The consistency was mind bending! His whole foot didn’t move; only his toes. In experimenting with that, I’ve found that the range of motion a shoe allows lets the beater come about an inch off the head.

If memory serves me correctly, his foot position was close to the front of the pedal, but to the right of center.

CREDIT: This information was put together by Andrew Dickeson.