In this article, we try to list the best jazz drummers of all time. Want to know who we think is part of the cream of the jazz drumming crop? Read below.
Jazz exploded as a genre in the 1920s, and many drummers on our list come from that era. Although jazz is not that popular nowadays, the best drummers today still come from jazz.
You might ask, is jazz drumming the hardest? Jazz has many sub-genres, and only some of them are really hard to play. Many of the jazz standards are pretty straightforward.
So, can jazz drumming be harder to play than rock and are jazz drummers better than rock drummers?
Rock can be harder than jazz, and rock drummers can be way better than jazz drummers. Fantastic jazz drummers might not be able to sound good in rock and vice versa.
The main difference between jazz and rock is that rock is played in quarter notes and is straightforward as most popular music nowadays, while jazz is played swung, in triplets, so it’s a different feel.
Also, the dynamic is different. In rock, bass drum and snare drum are the loudest components, while in jazz, the ride takes the main role.
Initially, rock came out of jazz, and some of the great jazz drummers heavily influenced many rock drummers. For instance, John Bonham and many of his famous triplet licks come from jazz.
Enough said, here is who we believe are the best jazz drummers ever.
The best jazz drummers of the 20s – 60s era
We can’t talk about jazz without mentioning Buddy Rich. If you would ask big names in jazz to name a few of their favorite drummers, I assure you Buddy would be on everybody’s list.
He is one of the first drummers to become a bandleader and the only one who can suffer a heart attack during a drum solo, take a sip of whiskey and go to hospital afterward.
We are not kidding; he was hardcore.
If you want to start with one of the best classical jazz drummers who took this genre of music to a higher level, you should listen to Buddy Rich Big Band or any of the 400 albums that he recorded in the studio with various artists.
The man who breathed and lived “Moeller method.” Chapin was also a jazz pianist, but maybe he is best known for his writings on drumming technique which helped generations of musicians all over the world learn to play drums while at the same time being true to their musicality.
He taught the best jazz drummers such as Max Roach, Elvin Jones and many others.
At the age of 96, Roy is one of the oldest jazz drummers on the face of the earth, and he is still playing, which deserves every respect. He started drumming at the age of 11.
Roy played with Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane and many others.
Sonny Rollins said that “Roy Haynes has a lot to say about jazz music since he recorded more than 500 albums and singles.
It stands to be argued that Max Roach is the 4th most recorded drummer ever, having played on around 580 albums. He was known for soloing on the hi-hat, and many of his hi-hat licks and tricks are still in use today.
Max Roach performed with many famous jazz musicians, including Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Max’s idol Charlie Parker.
If you wanted to learn drums and go to the source in the old days, you would go to Joe Morello. He was a drum teacher for many, including Steve Gadd.
Joe Morello is best known for his drumming with the Dave Brubeck Quartet and had a signature pattern called “the swinging thumb.” He played on the most iconic jazz song like “Take five” in 5/4 time signature.
Gene Krupa was one of the rare drummers who could stand side by side with Buddy Rich. This man played drum battles with Buddy. The ’50s and ’60s have more to offer in terms of jazz.
Many of the jazz drumming licks are from that period. This is the time when jazz enjoyed enormous popularity thanks to the Ed Sullivan show. Drummers like Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich influenced the jazz music we know today.
Louie is also one of the best jazz drummers from the ’50s. By just watching a few seconds of any of his videos, it is easy to notice he is a jazz giant and technically a very advanced drummer.
Unfortunately, many of his materials burned in Universal fire back in 2008, but you can easily find his classic jazz albums such as The Sacred Music of Louie Bellson and the Jazz Ballet.
Philly Joe Jones
Louie Bellson named Joe Jones as one of his biggest influences on drums. He is well known for the use of brushes, which give him an almost orchestral sound on his drums.
Along with Max Roach, he became one of the best jazz drummers from the 50’s era as they both were seen playing alongside Miles Davis in many performances.
It would be hard imagining jazz drumming as we know it today without Elvin Jones. He played with John Coltrane in the 60′. After that, he started his own band known as “Elvin Jones Jazz Machine.”
Elvin Jones was one of the most recorded jazz drummers in history, and he is easily one of the best.
He recorded more than 500 albums, singles and movie scores and reserved his spot in the top 10 most recorded drummers.
Art Blakey is also one of the drum icons from the 50’s He played with many jazz legends like Bud Powell, Sonny Rollins and Coleman Hawkins.
He was most known for his work with The Jazz Messengers, which created a new sound in jazz music that would be crucial to developing hard bop styles and post-bop styles.
Still, many jazz drummers mention Art Blakey as one of the biggest influences.
Modern jazz era drummers
Vinnie is the drummer’s drummer and the most versatile drummer of today.
Vinnie Colaiuta can’t be classified as a jazz drummer because he is a category for himself. Over the years, he recorded more than 600 albums, singles and movie scores.
He played with two of the greatest jazz pianists of our time, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea.
If you want to start by listening to some classical jazz drummers, then I suggest you leave Vinnie for later. If you want to learn how to be a chameleon behind the drums, then definitely check out some of Vinnie’s work.
He is best known for metric modulations and playing odd time signatures in the most natural way possible. Check out: Attack Of The 20lb Pizza – I’m Tweaked
Dave Weckl recorded over 160 albums, singles and movie scores. Similar to Vinnie, Dave is more than a versatile drummer, but most of his work, at least in the last 15 years, is in jazz.
He played in one of the best fusion jazz bands of our time, Chick Corea Elektric Band. Dave has a lot of free material on his Youtube channel so go check it out.
Colaiuta, Weckl and Gadd are so versatile that you could put them in any musical situation, and they would make it sound authentic.
Steve Gadd is most known for being one of the most recorded studio drummers of all time. He is the 2nd most recorded drummer, right behind Jim Keltner with 663 studio albums, singles and movie scores.
If you are into linear drumming, this should be your go-to drummer.
Erskine’s famous quote is: “It’s a good thing to have enough confidence in yourself to play simple.” It is a hard thing to overcome, and he knows it.
He recorded almost 500 albums and movie scores and played everything from fusion jazz to funk. He is most known for his work with the late Jaco Pastorius and the Weather Report.
Still, up to this day, his approach to playing ride cymbals it’s been studied. Tony Williams played with Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Sonny Rollins. He recorded more than 400 studio albums and singles.
Steve Smith was known for being a drummer for the rock band Journey. However, Steve made an incredible switch to becoming one of the greatest jazz drummers of today.
As drummers, we like his work with his band Vital Information and piano virtuoso Hiromi Uehara.
He recorded more than 300 studio albums and singles. To learn more about jazz drumming, check out Steve’s Drumset Technique and history of the U.S. beat DVD.
Let’s step out of the technical part of jazz drumming and talk about how being unique is important.
Brian Blade is the perfect example of a drummer with a unique style. He is not too technical, but his approach to drumming is very distinctive and unique.
If you like the sound of true jazz drummers, then you should check out Brian. He is one of the most “jazziest” drummers on this list.
He recorded more than 150 albums and singles and played with artists like John Mayer, Bobby McFerrin and Van Morrison.
Jimmy was a very influential drummer since he played with many jazz legends like Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley.
He helped create a new sound labeled as the “Miles Davis Quintet Sound,” characterized by their use of space in compositions and improvisations.
He made drum history by playing on some classical jazz albums like Kind of Blue, Milestones and Sketches of Spain.
Again one of the best classic jazz drummers with a unique style. Jack is the personification of a jazz drummer. He won Grammy awards in 1976, 1987 and 2007 for the best jazz album.
Jack Dejohnette worked with Herbie Hancock, Sonny Rollins and Pat Metheny, to name a few of the artists he performed alongside.
By the way, Jack’s signature drumsticks are one of the best-selling models; you should check them out.
Young jazz drummers we love
We intentionally left Mark for the very end because, with Mark, jazz is in safe hands. Mark is interesting not just from a jazz perspective but from the drummers too.
We have never seen someone playing that clean and precise with such a small hand movement. Mark is a drummer that will end up in the books.
He recorded albums with artists such as Brad Mehldau, Meshell Ndegeocello and Taylor McFerrin.
Take this list as a starting point and be ready to go further in exploring fusion jazz, classical jazz and the best jazz drummers who have ever walked the earth.
Of course, the list doesn’t end here, so let us know who you think should make the list of the greatest jazz drummers in the comments below.