by Dr. Colleen Clark

installment TWO:
The pattern played with brushes

In this lesson series, Zildjian artist Colleen Clark provides a historiographical and musical analysis examining the jazz ride cymbal pattern, from its inception on woodblock, small accessory cymbals, hand cymbal mechanisms and brushes through what becomes known as the modern-day ride cymbal pattern. This research examines a wide array of drummers and bandleaders, with the objective of identifying the earliest recordings of this important addition to jazz drumming, and popular music history while analyzing the ride cymbal pattern’s evolution through definitive recordings.

The Pattern with Brushes, 1927-1933

One of the first patents for a flyswatter with the potential to become what drummers would call brushes is from 1912. The application for a “fly killer” was created in 1912 and patented on March 18, 1913. One of the later patents for what would become the brushes used on the drumset was created in 1921. This was called a “combined fly-swatter and brush.”

The impact that the brushes had on the pattern was immense. For the first time in drumset history, drummers could play exactly what they wanted using a tool that had a softer attack than the drumstick. Drummers could also play legato or long notes. Instead of the one-note attack that the drumstick utilizes, drummers could play long notes with their left hand by sweeping over the drum head. While this occurred, the drummer could play rhythms with the right hand. The pattern can be heard as the main rhythmic component to numerous examples of brush playing from the early recordings of drummers playing with brushes.

Alongside this new tool, the use of the pattern was beginning to dominant in the later 1920s. Some of the earlier sonic examples that demonstrate brush playing show that it was typical to play the pattern for certain sections of a tune or behind certain soloists or instruments. Not only were drummers using the pattern with their brush playing, but I argue that playing brushes encouraged the use of the pattern over a longer duration of the tune. Playing “time” with the pattern is much more present through the use of brush playing.

I also argue that the use of the brushes was a bridge to playing the pattern on the hi-hat and the cymbal. I present examples of tracks that demonstrate drummers using not only brushes to play the pattern, but more surfaces of the drumset to play the pattern. This is a more integrated style of playing the pattern on different components of the drumset. By presenting different recordings, I demonstrate when this transition happened, and which drummers were integral in performing this style.

Jelly Roll Morton, Baby Dodds and Zutty Singleton

Not only did Baby Dodds and Zutty Singleton work with the same riverboat bandleader in New Orleans but would later work with Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong in Chicago as well. Dodds beat Singleton to the punch of recording the pattern with brushes. On three tracks from two different recording sessions that were six days apart, Dodds’s playing behind Jelly Roll Morton on “Hyena Stomp” and “Wolverine Blues”were among the earliest representation of brushes playing pattern throughout entire sections of tunes.

On “Wolverine Blues” Baby Dodds employs brushes behind the clarinet solo from 2:09-2:23, 2:25-2:38. Dodds also played pattern on a small cymbal from 2:59-3:12.

Jelly Roll Morton and His Red Hot Peppers “Wolverine Blues” 1927: Baby Dodds, Drummer

Another important example can be heard on the track entitled “Funny Feathers,” which is basically the Louis Armstrong Hot Seven plus singer Victoria Spivey. Singleton begins playing brushes at 0:00-0:09 and 0:13-1:26. He again plays brushes from 2:26-3:15.

“Funny Feathers” was recorded on July 10, 1929. Zutty Singleton played brushes on this track and it is evident that he could have been influenced by Dodds by the way he played the brushes with the heavy backbeat.

Victoria Spivey “Funny Feathers” 1929: Zutty Singleton, Drummer


I consider a bridge track the transition from the pattern solely being played on the snare drum with brushes to the pattern being played with brushes on the snare drum and the cymbals.

“Mournful Serenade” is another Jelly Roll Morton track, in which Tommy Benford is solely dedicated to playing the pattern and does not alter the pattern at all. Benford employs the pattern with the brushes on the snare drum and with the brush on the choked splash cymbal. This is the first complete track that I consider to be a “bridge” to the migration of the pattern towards the hi-hat and cymbal. The total time playing pattern with the brushes is the entire track because Benford uses the brushes to play the pattern on the cymbal.

Jelly Roll Morton “Mournful Serenade” 1928: Tommy Benford, Drums

Another bridge example comes from Stan King and his playing in the Frankie Trumbauer Orchestra. “Futuristic Rhythm” begins with brushes on the snare drum at 0:10-:45 and 0:47-1:33. The pattern stops at 1:33 for a piano solo break. King reenters with the pattern on the cymbal.

Although there are ensemble shout sections, King plays the pattern throughout much of the track. He begins the track playing ensemble hits and then once the tune begins he plays the pattern with brushes on the snare drum.

King plays the final portion of the track with pattern on the cymbal. The pattern then continues on the cymbal from 1:35-2:12, 2:34-2:44 and 2:45-2:55.

Frankie Trumbauer Orchestra “Futuristic Rhythm” 1929: Stan King, Drums

The pinnacle example of the transition of the pattern played with brushes, integrated with the cymbal, is Oliver Tines’s playing behind Louis Armstrong in 1933. Tines spent little time on the bandstand with Armstrong other than the performances in Europe.

Prior to touring with Armstrong, the Armstrong, drummers other than Tines, had clearly been playing the pattern in ways that would lead to the eventual use of it throughout the duration of a tune, as can be heard in “Dinah.” Tines plays the pattern from 0:10-0:54, 0:56-1:17, 1:18-1:20, 1:23-1:40, 1:42-1:48 with the brushes. He plays press rolls for the first chorus behind Armstrong. Tines then plays pattern on a choked splash cymbal from 2:15-2:16, 2:17-2:34, 2:36-2:41.

Louis Armstrong, Live in Copenhagen “Dinah” 1933 – Oliver Tines, Drums

Watch Louis Armstrong perform “I Cover The Waterfront”, “Dinah” and “Tiger Rag” IN COPENHAGEN, 1933


This chapter demonstrated the importance of the pattern in the following ways: I argue that playing brushes encouraged the use of the pattern over a longer duration of the tune and that playing “time” with the pattern is much more present through the use of the brush playing.

I also argue that the use of brushes was a bridge to playing the pattern on other surfaces. The deeper importance of the bridge track is what I believe led to the eventual “ride out” of the big band in the swing era. Playing the pattern with the brushes prior to playing the pattern with sticks creates a forward motion as the energy was surging higher, volume was getting louder and the pitches were also getting higher.

As can be heard in all of the bridge examples but particularly “Dinah,” this transition of brushes to sticks within the tune has clear connections to what would become a normal musical decision for drummers in the swing era. This transition is necessary in the swing era as big bands are playing for ballrooms full of dancers. The necessity for the pattern played on a higher-pitched instrument with a stick versus a brush would help the increase the volume of the pattern, making it easier for dancers to hear and was perhaps incentive for the dancers to be more inspired. The harder the music swung, the better time the dancers would have. This is possibly another reason for the drummers to transition from brushes to sticks from throughout the swing era.

Interested in learning more?

You can view or download a copy of Colleen Clarks’ Doctoral Dissertation from U. North Texas HERE!

Drummer, composer and educator Colleen Clark is vibrant on the scenes in NYC and the southeastern United States. Clark has guest performed with the 8G Band on NBC’s Late Night with Seth Meyers and can most recently be heard playing on the co-led project with Sharel Cassity, ALLIANCE, which received a 4-star DOWNBEAT review, Michael Dease’s “The Other Shoe” (Origin), and upcoming releases by CC+ The Adelitas, The Southern Pines, Michael Dease and Matt White.

She has shared the stage with jazz luminaries including: Branford Marsalis, Rodney Whitaker, Catherine Russell, Camille Thurman, Rudresh Mahanthappa, and Mimi Jones. Clark has been featured in DOWNBEAT magazine and is also an ASCAP winning composer. Clark was invited by the ASCAP Foundation to lead her band at the Kennedy Center. She is also the Founder and Artistic Director of the University of South Carolina’s Jazz Girls Day. Dr. Clark is the first woman and only drummer to earn a doctoral degree in jazz from the University of North Texas. 

Connect with Colleen!
IG @ colleendrums

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