The Boilermaker Jazz Band came back to The Jam Cellar last night, this time fielding a smaller group of Paul Cosentino on clarinet and saxophone, Mark Kotision on piano, and Rich Strong on drums. Betsy Kipperman also made a brief appearance with the band singing “Me, Myself, and I” and “I Can’t Give You Anything, but Love.” One of these days I’m going to do a larger feature about the Boilermakers, but today I just want to talk about drummer, Rich Strong.
I once asked Paul if he was ever interested in doing more big band type projects, and he said that he preferred the freedom of working with a small combo. With only three pieces last night, this freedom was particularly evident. It allowed me to really appreciate what makes Rich one of the best vintage jazz drummers playing in our scene today.
The thing that’s always struck me about his playing is the way he makes use of his entire drum kit. It’s impressive because there isn’t a whole lot of it. It’s a pretty minimalist set up: A bass, a snare drum, a tom tom, a couple of cymbals, along with the obligatory wood block and cow bell.
Betsy, who is a music teacher and also sings regularly with The Tom Cunningham Orchestra, noted that a lot of drummers tend to have more elaborate set ups, but usually just sit on the ride cymbal to keep time.
By contrast, Rich is a whirlwind of activity behind his kit, rattling out a myriad of sounds and syncopations, rarely playing any one part of his kit, other than the bass, for more than a bar of music. Not content to sticking to the regular playing surfaces of his drums, he’ll often tap out sounds on the rims, sides, and even the metal stands holding everything up. I remember sitting next to him at a crowded DCLX late night and watching him bang out riffs on the music stands, chairs, instrument cases and just about anything else that was within reach of his drumsticks.
I think another drummer playing like that would sound too chaotic, but Rich manages to anchor everything to a pounding 4/4 rhythm with his bass drum. The result is a complex sound that experienced dancers can play with, but solid enough for anyone to tap their toe to.
Check out this video of a jam at last year’s International Lindy Hop Championships. Some ignorant douche in the comments section of that video says that the cameraman misses the best parts of the jam, but that’s because he’s turns his attention to the band who are the jam. He makes the rare effort to get up close and personal with the band including a few tight shots of Rich going to town in this version of “All God’s Chillun’ Got Rhythm” Pay attention especially around 5:02.