Just the other day, a friend of mine posted a track of music from the great saxophonist Sonny Stitt. The tune was called "Donny Brook" and the drumming was great! A nice clean cymbal beat, and a snare drum "bark" that was reminiscent of some of Joe Chambers' work. The drummer, I found out, was Billy James. Another great player I'd never heard about! Here's some brief biographical information about Mr. James....
Billy James's career began at the tender age of 15 when he began to gig with the Lionel Hampton band. The Pittsburgh-based drummer is best known for his collaborations with keyboardist Don Patterson and Sonny Stitt as well as his flawless technique at rapid tempos that was complemented by his signature shuffle.
Billy was part of the Prestige label's house rhythm section during the 1960s and 1970s, earning him many record credits as a sideman, although his longstanding collaborations with Don, Sonny, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Eddie Harris, and Houston Person are his greatest legacy.
So I started checking out some recordings. Sonny's Stitt's aforementioned "Brothers Four" and Sonny Stitt/Gene Ammons "Boss Tenors in Orbit" are particularly strong. Here is Mr. James doing a great job on a straight 8th backbeat thing. Playing just what the music needs!
Another thing to note about Billy James is that he evidently didn't particularly like soloing and preferred the team effort of creating time with the rhythm section. This was of great interest to me as the day before, I started watching a documentary about a drum "camp" and I could only get about 10 minutes in before I had to shut it off because I was getting so depressed. It really was the same old story, the celebration of chops, no musical context, and circus style visuals. Now, I'm no stranger to soloing, and I think it's an important part of playing any instrument. But I think if that's your main love, drums probably aren't the instrument for you. I think of players of the past such as Billy James, who dedicated their whole lives to playing time, and I think that puts into perspective what's really important.
Now, I'd promise I won't play any fills or solos on my gig tonight, but I'm only human!!!