Drummers are overlooked due to the more discerning musicians – quite literally. But without a drummer, the other instruments would struggle to stay together. A great drummer keeps everyone on the beat and can elevate a set into a work of art.
A drummer not only provides the backbone for a band or band; They pulse with the music and inspire listeners to move along with the sound.
You probably already know some of the famous jazz drummers on this list, and even if you don’t know them, you won’t regret swinging things off with these great musicians.
1 – Buddy Rich (1917-1987)
Buddy Rich is high on the list because he is arguably one of the greatest drummers of all time.
He started playing drums when he was two years old and never stopped. He loved jazz as a child, so his drumming style was heavily influenced by what he was listening to.
By the time Rich was four, he was playing drums like Baby Taps on Broadway and began touring the United States as a teenager.
In his later life, he played with orchestras and supported artists such as the Andrew Sisters, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.
2 – Art Blackie (1919-1990)
Art Blackie grew up without his parents, and a family friend gave him piano lessons when Blackie was living in her house.
By the time he was a teenager, Blackie was playing music full time and enduring his lifestyle by playing the piano for money.
According to his family, Blackie only started playing drums because a nightclub owner forced him at gunpoint.
Despite the scary start, Blackie was a natural at the drums. He learned from the famous Chick Webb before forming the jazz band The Jazz Messengers.
This band became the first American jazz band to play in Japan, and it was a huge success. The band continued to play until Blackie’s death in 1990.
3 – Jane Krupa (1909-1973)
Jane Krupa was born in Chicago and went to school to become a priest. But, fortunately for the music world, he changed his priorities and started playing drums professionally.
Krupa recorded with bands in Chicago before playing with Benny Goodman’s band. During this time, Krupa became a well-known drummer as he always recorded with a full drum kit and incorporated drum solos into songs.
Prior to this time, drums were the backbone of the band, but Krupa made sure it stood out.
In the 1950s, Krupa started a music school which was attended by many well-known rock musicians, such as the drummers of the New York Dolls and KISS.
Together with fellow talented drummer Buddy Rich, Krupa recorded a popular live album called Battle of the drum.
4. Brian Blade (1970-)
Brian Blade was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, which has an active jazz scene. But Bled’s first musical experiences took place in the church, where his father was a priest.
Blade started singing gospel songs and playing the violin at school. His older brother was a church drummer, which inspired Blade to learn the instrument himself.
Blade attended Loyola University and learned drums from countless jazz masters in New Orleans.
After college, he founded the band Brian Blade Fellowship which recorded five albums.
Since then, Blade has also recorded solo and music albums with artists such as Joni Mitchell, Emilio Harris, and Bob Dylan.
5. Max Roach (1924-2007)
Max Roach was born in North Carolina but grew up in Brooklyn.
His mother loved to sing gospel music, and Roach learned to play the trumpet at an early age. He also started playing drums and was active in gospel bands at the age of ten.
After graduating from high school, Roach played with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. He frequented jazz clubs, which changed his overall style of drumming.
Roach became known for his fast-paced bebop style. With his friends, Roach founded Debut Records and recorded with many famous musicians.
Later in his life, he gave solo concerts, playing all kinds of percussion instruments alone on stage. By the early 2000s, Roach was too ill to perform and died soon after.
6. Tony Williams (1945-1997)
Tony Williams studied drums with Alan Dawson in his childhood and was playing professionally in his early teen years.
When he was seventeen, he played in the second great quintet Miles Davis. He also recorded two albums in this period before continuing to form his own jazz trio.
Williams has gone on to record over 20 albums on his own, and nearly 100 more albums with artists such as Yoko Ono, Carlos Santana, and Herbie Hancock.
Modern Drummer Williams was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986.
He died of complications from gallbladder surgery at the age of 51.
7. Jacques DeJonnet (1942-)
Jack DeJohnette has been a pianist since the age of four and played the instrument professionally as a teenager. He later turned to drums when he heard a neighbor’s jazz technique.
Although he loved the sound of jazz, DeJohnette initially played drums for R&B groups in Chicago.
After playing with John Coltrane in the 1960s, DeJohnette began playing more jazz and eventually joined Miles Davis’ band.
By the 1970s, DeJohnette went solo and recorded albums either on his own or with the bands he started.
In the early 2000s, DeJohnette earned a Grammy nomination for his work on the Keith Jarrett album.
He later left this group and returned to solo work, although he currently plays with the Jack DeJohnette Group, a quintet.
8. Elvin Jones (1927-2004)
The circus parades he saw as a child drew Elvin Jones to drums. His older brothers were jazz musicians, playing piano and trumpet, so it’s only natural that he would follow in their footsteps.
He started joining the band in his high school. Discharged from the army, Jones bought his first drum set and became a professional playing for Detroit clubs.
He played with Miles David and then moved to New York City to make a name for himself.
In town, Jones became a member of the Quartet of John Coltrane before forming the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine, which he led until his death.
9- Louis Bilson (1924-2009)
Louis Bilson was an American jazz drummer who started playing drums when he was just three years old.
His father owned a music store in Illinois, so Bilson had access to drum sets. He created his own drum using two bass drums, which was an innovative sound at the time.
After he finished school, Bilson played with big names like Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman. He even married a jazz singer, Pearl Bailey, and kept music in the family.
Talking Drummer inducted Bilson into the Hall of Fame in 1985. Another honor that Bilson received was a little less solid: he often performed in the White House; Only Bob Hope led there more.
10- Billy Cobham (1944-)
Billy Cobham was born in Panama but grew up in Brooklyn. At the age of four, Cobham began playing the drums. He sang with his father, a pianist, shortly after he turned eight.
Cobham attended High School of Music and Arts until he joined the army, but even there he played in the band.
After his discharge, he became the house drummer for Atlantic Records and recorded with several of their bands.
As a member of Miles Davis and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Cobham has recorded several albums.
He eventually branched out on his own, and in 2011 started the Billy Cobham School of Drums.
11. Peter Erskine (1954-)
Peter Erskine was born in New Jersey and began playing the drums when he was four years old.
He went to a high school for the arts before studying percussion at Indiana University. After graduation, he joined the Stan Kenton Orchestra.
Erskine later played on the teams Weather Report, Steps Ahead, and Chick Corea.
He is currently a professor at the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California. He also continues to play music, most notably working with Kate Bush on an album.
12 – Terry Lynn Carrington (1965-)
Terri Lyne Carrington is the only woman on this list, but she totally stands out. Born in Massachusetts, she began playing drums at the age of seven, inspired by her grandfather.
She received a scholarship to Berklee College of Music at the age of eleven.
After graduation, Carrington moved to New York for a short time, then moved to Los Angeles to play drums at the Arsenio Hall Show.
She recorded several albums and received several Grammy nominations, winning three. She is the first woman to win a Grammy for Best Jazz Album.
13. Mark Guiliana (1980-)
Mark Gilliana was born in New Jersey and studied jazz at William Paterson University.
In his own musical experiences, Guiliana often turns away from jazz to experiment with electronic music.
This flexibility has led to collaborations with many big names. He was the drummer in particular on David Bowie’s last album.
Guiliana has toured the world with many artists, including Gretchen Parlato, Matisyahu, Beat Music and Heernt.
He is a contemporary jazz drummer as well as a future jazz drummer.
14. Roy Haynes (1925-)
Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Roy Haynes began playing drums in 1942.
By 1945, he was a professional drummer supporting Lester Young, Charlie Parker, and Stan Getz.
His career spanned over 80 years, and he still plays with such recent acts as the Allman Brothers Band and Phish.
Haynes is not just a drummer. He’s a voice actor that you can hear in Grand Theft Auto IV as a DJ.
If you’re not a fan of video games, you can listen to Haynes playing on over 100 albums, either as a lead or as a side player.
15. Willy Joe Jones (1923-1985)
Philly Jo Jones was a child star who was best known for her dancing before joining the military as an adult. By 1947, he was playing drums in New York City.
Known for his bebop style, Jones quickly became Miles Davis’ favorite drummer and they played together for several years.
In his forties, Jones moved to Europe and taught at a school in London. He played in international business until his death.
16. Bill Stewart (1966-)
Bill Stewart’s father played the trombone and named Stewart after jazz player Bill Harris.
Stewart grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, and did not have access to live music, so he listened to his father’s jazz recordings.
When he was seven, he was teaching himself to play the drums. Through high school and college, Stewart played in bands and jazz bands.
When he graduated, he moved to New York and recorded albums with other musicians.
Despite his jazz roots, Stewart occasionally plays in a funk band, once playing with James Brown.
17. Joe Jones (1911-1985)
Many people confuse Joe Jones with Philly Joe Jones, so he was often called Papa Joe Jones since he was much older.
Jones was born in Chicago and raised in Alabama before moving to New York to become a regular in jazz clubs.
Jones’ signature style included using the high-hat in a way that did not overpower the drum group or the rest of the band.
The brilliant sound of the hi-hat gives his music a fast paced tempo.
18. Joe Morello (1928-2011)
Finally, the last drummer on our list is Joe Morello who was born with vision problems, but that didn’t stop his love for music.
He played the violin from the age of 6 to 15 and had a solo performance with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He turned to drums as a teenager and moved to New York to play jazz quartets.
Morello has taught many contemporary drummers, such as Max Weinberg, Tico Torres, and John Fishman.
He was famous for his unusual time signatures, which gave his drum work a funk sound.
Summing up our list of the greatest jazz drummers
Drummers should always pay attention to what they are doing because other musicians depend on them so much.
But famous jazz drummers have more at stake because they don’t just keep the beat. They are great musicians in their own right.
If you have any doubts, check out some of the performances by the famous jazz drummers on this list.
In case we left out any of the greats, let us know in the comments.