New Orleans is rhythm. It seems like everything that happens in this city is done in rhythm, from the way people strut down the street to the way words bounce out of their mouths. Rhythm is everywhere, and it’s at the center of the city’s incomparably rich musical history.
Celebrating this history in rhythm, the New Orleans Jazz Museum is taking a close look at the development of the tool that has provided bands a core rhythm for more than a hundred years: the drum kit.
“It’s really about the beginnings of the drum set and the evolution of the New Orleans drumming tradition,” says Jazz Museum Director Greg Lambousy. “And showing that through drum sets themselves but also musical examples and images.”
The Jazz Museum comes as a fitting home for the exhibit, as the genesis of what we know as the modern drum set is closely tied to the history of jazz in New Orleans. It was with jazz musicians that the drums stumbled down their Darwinian path to consolidation.
“Drumming in New Orleans has a long history and is important to all the music that we have here,” Lambousy says. “Really the linchpin of the drums itself is the bass drum pedal—when you have that you can add elements, it frees up the hands and feet to play multiple drums and cymbals et cetera.”
One of the earliest bass pedals was conceived by New Orleans drummer Edward “Dee Dee” Chandler, who played alongside the John Robicheaux Orchestra in the Storyville brothels as well as high-society hotels in late nineteenth century. It wasn’t long after that brass bands, society bands and early formations of smaller jazz bands realized they could use the tool to avoid paying three drummers, and rather have one man do all the drumming.
Much like the music that it was optimized to make, the drum set is a combination of various parts from all over the world—European military drum bass and snares, Turkish cymbals, and Chinese toms.
Drawing from the Museum’s archive and elements from the Southern University at New Orleans collection, the exhibit spans from early African and native American drums like Baby Dodds’ drum set, Earl Palmer, James Black, Barbarin brothers, all the way to their contemporaries, with artists like Herlin Riley, Stanton Moore, Shannon Powell and Joe Lastie.
Drumsville!: Evolution of the New Orleans Beat opens November 8 and will run until January 31, 2019. More information can be found on the New Orleans Jazz Museum website.