BY PHIL HOOD
Freddie Gruber would have turned 92 years old this year on May 27. Freddie was a legendary teacher in the drum industry—an obscure legend, but a legend nonetheless.
That obscurity is based partly on his paucity of output. Freddie played with a few big names in his youth, and received praise in Downbeat and other publications for his talents, but he left behind no great recordings. Long struggles with heroin, and an acerbic, take-it-or-leave-it personality probably made him a terrible bandmate, even in his youth. But he had insight into music on a deep level and that eventually made him an inspiring, if somewhat cryptic teacher.
That talent attracted many drummer/seekers to him over four decades, including DW founder Don Lombardi, Neil Peart, Dave Weckl, Steve Smith, Peter Erskine, Mark Schulman, Daniel Glass, Burleigh Drummond, and dozens more. He died at age 84, on October 11, 2011.
What I loved about Freddie was Freddie. His bombast and vinegar, his friendship and knowledge. Occasionally on trips to Los Angeles, I’d stop by his house in late afternoon, mostly so he could regale me with some tales of far-off jazz heroes of mine: Lee Konitz, Zoot Sims, Philly Joe Jones, and more. Many of the stories were true; some were no doubt embellished. But I loved it all.
In celebration of his birthday I sat down with Bruce Becker to discuss his recollections of Freddie the man—warts and all—and Freddie the teacher. Check it out in the video above. Becker was a former student and close friend of Freddie’s over three decades. And, more than anyone, he absorbed and codified some of Freddie’s ideas into his own teaching. We recorded this on May 25, 2019.