by Dr. Colleen Clark

installment THREE:

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 on Hand-held Cymbals and Hi-Hats, 1928-1936

It is helpful to understand the transition from the hand cymbals to the hi-hat by tracing back to the beginning of hi-hat playing. The drummers involved in hi-hat history are Zutty Singleton, Willie McWashington, Walter Johnson and Jo Jones. Freddie Crump and Chick Webb are two additional drummers important to hi-hat playing. Although much of the focus in the chapter is on the former grouping of drummers, the latter provides insights into the popularity and importance of the evolution of the hi- hat and the consequences it had for the music.

Prior to examining the use of the pattern on the hand sock cymbals and the hi- hat, it is imperative to understand the progression of the new technology. There were some precursors to what would become the modern day hi-hat.

The Precursor to the Hi-Hat

The patent below shows the William Gladstone “operating device for cymbals.” This was filed on September 27, 1927 and a similar contraption can be heard on “A Monday Date.” Louis Armstrong instructed Zutty Singleton to “whip them cymbals Pops.” The ability to open and close two cymbals with one limb and play with a stick using the other hand was an important moment in history. From this point forward, drummers had the ability to use the hand-held contraption and play the pattern on them.

Louis Armstrong “A Monday Date” 1928: Zutty Singleton, Drums

The hand-held invention became the pre-cursor to the invention of the sock cymbal and the hi-hat. In this photo, Chick Webb can be seen holding the hand cymbal contraption above his head. Webb did not have a hi-hat as part of his kit. This can be seen in the photograph, hence the use of the hand cymbal device. Webb eventually became an avid user of the hi-hat (as evidenced in his 1936 recording of “A Little Bit Later On”).

The development of the modern hi-hats went through many iterations. The first iteration was called the “snow shoe” pedal, which was a much simpler wooden pedal with a strap where the drummer could slip their foot underneath it, so that it would not slip off of the pedal. There was also something called the “Charleston pedal” which was also a similar pedal to the low-boy.

The low-boy was first designed as a short pedal with two cymbals, merely six inches from the ground. As time progressed, the evolution of the low-boy was a taller stand so that drummers could simultaneously play the cymbals while opening and closing the cymbals with their foot. This photo shows an advertisement from a Walberg & Auge catalogue in 1929. The two items listed next to each other show the different heights of the two instruments.

The High Hat Sock Cymbal is on the left while the sock cymbal pedal is on the right. Notice the sock cymbal’s closeness to the floor whereas the perfection High Hat Sock Cymbal Pedal was high enough for drummers to sit behind the drumset and play the cymbals with their sticks.

Freddie Crump was a drummer and entertainer that was featured with the Norman Thomas Quintette in Harlem-Mania from 1929. This is important film footage that displayed the new technology that was the hi-hat. Although there are additional performance elements in the film the focus is on Crump’s playing of the pattern. Crump not only played the pattern on the hi- hat but used the hi-hat with the pedal function as well, opening the hi-hat on beats two and four.

Beginning at 3:25-3:45 Crump plays the hi-hat with his foot. From 3:45 to 3:54, Crump can be seen playing the pattern. The hi-hat opens and closes. Crump does not solely play the pattern, but much of what he plays is the pattern. He adds a couple of shuffle-oriented notes in between the pattern itself.

The film representation is the clearest I have found. The camera is not only overhead, there is also a front angle that provides a view from the front of the stage. It is easy to see Crump playing with his foot on beats two and four behind the dancers from the first section that was mentioned, 3:36-3:40.

Crump is not an anomaly of an example, because of the fact that he was not only a drummer, but a variety entertainer. Crump was not on many recordings, but this is a moment that displays that by 1929 the hi-hat was becoming a staple on the drum-set.

Jump to 2:21 to see the entertaining style and hi-hat playing of Freddie Crump

A good example of early hi-hat pattern playing is on the very first track of Fletcher Henderson’s “Chinatown, My Chinatown,” where Walter Johnson played the pattern on the closed hi-hat cymbals. There is a very clear opening and closing of the hi-hats during the first head of the tune.

Beginning at 0:13, Johnson demonstrates what became an important sound of the swing era, which was the use of the pattern on the hi-hats, but in combination with opening and closing them. The hi-hats were opened on beats two and four and closed on beats one and three.

Fletcher Henderson Orchestra “Chinatown, My Chinatown” 1930: Walter Johnson, Drummer

On “Clarinet Marmalade,” recorded in March of 1931, Johnson uses the closed hi-hat throughout most of the track.

Throughout most of the rest of the track, Johnson uses a closed hi-hat behind the soloists. After the guitar solo, Johnson opens and closes the hi-hats behind the soli that begins at 2:39.

The comping that Johnson uses on the hi-hats to accent different eighth notes surrounding the pattern later becomes an important tactic for the bebop drummers. This approach to comping would be played with the left hand on the snare drum, while the pattern was mostly being played on what would become the ride cymbal.

Fletcher Henderson Orchestra “Clarinet Marmalade” 1931: Water Johnson, Drummer

The next track, “The Blue Room,” is from a recording session with Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra, the final session with that band and the final session that Willie McWashington recorded.

Beginning at 2:07, McWashington can be heard getting his coordination together regarding opening and closing the mechanism while simultaneously playing the pattern with the stick. Although this recording was much later than when the machinery was invented, this recording is a good representation of what drummers had to learn. This was after other recordings of prominent drummers that were also beginning to understand hi-hat.

Bennie Moten’s KC Orchestra “The Blue Room” 1932: Willie McWashington, Drummer

“Shoe Shine Boy” is one of the most representative recordings of Jo Jones’s hi-hat playing. The track was recorded with Count Basie, Lester Young, Carl Smith and Walter Page, under the name Jones-Smith Incorporated. “Shoe Shine Boy” is an excellent example of the smooth and controlled hi-hat playing that Jo Jones mastered.

Throughout most of the track, Jones solely played the hi-hats and four-on-the- floor bass drum with the exceptions of the introduction that featured Basie and the four- bar trading that occurs near the end of the tune. From 0:14-0:44, Jones can be heard playing the pattern on the hi-hat, opening and closing it.

Jones continues playing the pattern behind Lester Young’s solo from 0:44-1:44. The muted trumpet solo by Carl Smith is also accompanied by Jones playing the pattern with very little manipulation from 1:44-2:15. From 2:15-2:24, Jones drops out while the band trades. 2:31-2:38 is a solo break over the B section of the tune. In the final A section of the tune, 2:39-2:46, Jones again plays time and the tune ends with trading that includes Jones.

This clear recording is a solid representation of Jones’s approach to hi-hat playing and to the sound that he was known for: smooth, legato and light. Jones continued this type of playing for the rest of his career with the Basie band and in other ensembles throughout his lifetime. Jones also furthered the evolution of hi-hat playing by instituting the role of the hi-hat as an equally important voice within the drumset.

Jones-Smith Incorporated “Shoe Shine Boy” 1936: Jo Jones, Drummer

By using it as a voice and not only a time keeper, Jones opened up the possibilities for more color, soloing and the use of accents in ways that furthered the evolution of the way drummers continue to approach playing the drum-set.


This chapter strengthened the argument that the pattern’s evolution continued with the invention of the hi-hat. There is an understanding about how the drummers adapted to the new technology once the lineage of the hand sock cymbals to the low boy then to the hi-hat was examined.

I argued that this evolution of pattern playing on the hi-hat can be most easily heard through the connection between Marshall, Johnson, McWashington and Jones. The film footage of entertainer Freddie Crump confirms that by 1929 the hi-hat was becoming a staple addition to the drumset and drummers were integrating it into their playing.

Finally, by showing the duration of seconds that pattern was played either on the hand sock cymbals or hi-hats, I have shown that the use of the pattern was increasing as time moved forward, except for the case of Willie McWashington. In his case, this was the longest duration of pattern playing on the hi-hat that I found.

This chapter continues to support that the evolution of the pattern migrated to the hi-hat from the small hand cymbals and badock cymbals beginning in 1927. The next chapter continues to discuss the evolution of the pattern by tracking the pattern playing from the small cymbal to the ride cymbal.

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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