by Dr. Colleen Clark

installment six:

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 difference between what would become the ride cymbal or riding on the cymbal is that there is no choking of the cymbal sound at all. It is possible that this was when the pattern received the name that it is called today, the ride cymbal pattern.

Playing the ride cymbal pattern is exactly the same as playing the pattern on the small cymbal, but on a surface that is allowed to ring and is not stifled by the left hand. The cymbal itself became a larger instrument and was named the ride cymbal by Avedis Zildjian.

Examples of the Ride Cymbal Pattern

There are a handful of examples of clear ride cymbal playing presented in this portion of the research. Theses tracks were chosen because of either their audible or visual clarity. There are examples with lesser-known drummers available and they are just as important to the argument that the pattern was becoming more and more popular to use.

Two of these examples were brought to my attention by Louis Armstrong archivist Ricky Riccardi. These recordings are important because of their recording quality and because of the drummers playing on them. The two examples are Abe Lyman’s “Varsity Drag” and Benny Goodman’s “Room 1411.”

Lyman can be seen playing the tune “Varsity Drag” on a film of Lyman and his band recorded on March 31, 1928 in Chicago (below). Lyman clearly plays the pattern on a ride cymbal that is attached to his bass drum (2:29-2:46). Lyman was a California- based drummer and bandleader, but could have been influenced by Chicago drummers.

Avedis Zildjian

Ben Pollack’s playing on “Room 1411” exemplifies the earliest audio recording of the pattern that this research has discovered, played on the ride cymbal. This was recorded on June 4, 1928, in Chicago, as Pollack was a Chicago-based drummer and bandleader.

Pollack can be heard playing the ride cymbal pattern on a china cymbal in these instances: 1:11-1:26, 1:44-1:50, 1:53-1:58. Pollack clearly played the pattern. It is also easy to hear Pollack comp in the way that bebop drummers would in the future.

Benny Goodman and his Boys “Room 1411” 1928: Ben Pollack, Drums
Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five “Skip the Gutter” 1928: Zutty Singleton, Drums

Another clear example of the pattern being played on the ride cymbal comes from Zutty Singleton on Louis Armstrong’s “Skip the Gutter.” Beginning at 1:45, Singleton played the ride cymbal pattern behind the clarinet. Singleton’s playing on the ride cymbal was addressed by T. Brown in “A History and Analysis of Jazz Drumming to 1942”:

“At this time, (1953) Singleton’s playing style remained as it had been in the late 1920s, although he did adopt some of the techniques used by swing drummers in the 1930s. For example, Singleton frequently employs the ride-cymbal pattern on records he made at this time.”

This account refers to 1953, but it suggests that Singleton had been using the pattern on the ride cymbal from the 1930s.

Singleton did play differently. His drum set, as we have seen, was simpler than most, and had been for some time. He did not use the high hat, but he did play long passages, whole choruses on occasion, with his right hand striking the single ride cymbal. A modern drummer might use a slightly different beat, but the technique is similar to the one Singleton used in the 1920s. Sometimes he plays the ride cymbal dampened by holding his left-hand drumstick under it while he struck it with his right. And sometimes he played it untrammeled. It provided a new and high pitched sound to carry the basic beat on a cymbal this way.

This excerpt is helpful on many levels. It described that Singleton not only played the ride cymbal with one hand but also used the dampening technique with the left hand. Also, the excerpt is helpful when it says that Singleton used a beat that modern drummers would use but they would alter the beat slightly. I understand the “beat” from this excerpt as the pattern because this term can sometimes be used to signify certain beats or patterns that are played on the drums. The basic beat that is referred to can also be understood as the pattern. Basic means that little or no alterations were made by the player. The player sticks to the “basics” of the structure of the beat, meaning the pattern.

Gene Krupa played the ride cymbal on “I’ll Be a Friend (With Pleasure),” a tune recorded by Bix Biederbecke. In some traditional jazz circles, this is sometimes notoriously mislabeled the “first” example of the pattern being played on a ride cymbal. This research shows that this is not the case, but it is a quality example that is clearly audible. Krupa plays the ride cymbal pattern from 1:58-2:24.

Krupa’s experience and playing style came from watching a lot of the drummers that moved from New Orleans to Chicago. The importance of the influence that Ben Pollack, Zutty Singleton and other drummers had on young Krupa is described by T. Brown:

“In addition to playing in a variety of musical situations, Krupa had the opportunity to see and hear many of the great jazz drummers of this period, including Ben Pollack, Baby Dodds, Zutty Singleton and a host of young Chicago drummers who, like himself, flocked to the jazz clubs to learn and listen. It is a tribute to his talent that he synthesized from these many sources his own playing style.”

Bix Biederbecke “I’ll Be a Friend (With Pleasure)” 1930: Gene Krupa, Drums
Artie Shaw and His Orchestra “Back Bay Shuffle” 1938: Cliff Leeman, Drums

The penultimate example necessary in this evidentiary support is not only an important recording of the ride cymbal pattern, but an important narrative as well. Artie Shaw’s “Back Bay Shuffle” was recorded on July 24, 1938. It featured a four-bar introduction of just drummer Cliff Leeman “playing time” or playing the ride cymbal pattern on a china cymbal, something that Chick Webb would often do.

“Ella Fitzgerald, who was tight with Billie, used to come over and listen to us perform. And we returned the compliment and jumped over to dig Chick and Ella. Artie was very impressed with Chick and what he did. He really liked the way he established a rhythmic feel of a tune, playing time on this big ride cymbal right at the start, before the band came in. Artie suggested it would be a good idea for me. And we got it on record. Remember ‘Back Bay Shuffle?’ I played time on a Chinese cymbal for four bars, at the beginning, before the band stormed in.”

Burt Korall, “Drummin’ Men: The Heartbeat of Jazz: The Swing Years” (New York: Oxford University Press)

This account not only demonstrates the influence that other bandleaders had on each other, but how other instrumentalists influenced and supported each other as well. Shaw liked how Webb set the tunes up by playing time or the pattern prior to the tune. That said, I was unable to uncover a Webb recording that had the same treatment as “Back Bay Shuffle. It is possible that Webb played four bars on the live stage only, without transferring it to the studio. The Leeman eyewitness account verifies that this was a regular treatment of tunes by Webb. Leeman plays the pattern on the china cymbal for four measures before the tune begins.

I first heard the track “I Hear Music” by Billie Holiday on Phil Schaap’s “Traditions in Swing: Earliest Kenny Clarke” episode. The ride cymbal pattern played by Kenny Clarke is one of the clearest examples in this category. The clarity of the track could be due to recording technologies having advanced from the 1927 recordings previously discussed in this chapter.

Billie Holiday also employed Cozy Cole and Jo Jones. Both Cole and Jones can be heard on multiple recording dates, but I found the Clarke example to be the clearest to hear. It is also a great transition into the final chapter which focuses on the innovative practices of Clarke’s approach to the ride cymbal pattern.

Clarke played the ride cymbal pattern on “I Hear Music” immediately following Holiday’s singing of the head. The pattern can faintly be heard behind Holiday’s singing of the head on hi-hat, as Clarke plays softly behind Holiday from 0:06-0:55. The ride cymbal pattern continued through the muted trumpet solo.

At the beginning of the solo, Clarke was already playing “around” the pattern. He adds notes that were not solely the ride cymbal pattern anymore. This can most notably be heard from 0:57-0:58 where he adds all of the eighth notes in the measure, playing a shuffle pattern. The rhythmic alteration of the ride cymbal pattern did not occur many times throughout the track but that combined with the type of comping that Clarke did with his snare drum and bass drum, this new concept was about to boil over. This was a new way of thinking.

Moving from the swing era into the bebop experimentation at Minton’s meant that the use of the pattern was a base which had been used for years prior. The Holiday example is used for this because it is an example of Clarke altering the pattern, which decreased the overall amount of time that the pattern is played in its pure form.

Billie Holiday and Her Orchestra “I Hear Music” 1940: Kenny Clarke, Drums


There were audio and visual examples, for both kinds of cymbal playing, that confirm that the pattern was being played in these ways behind many different bandleaders. This alone confirms that the pattern was becoming more prevalent in the music and that playing the ride cymbal pattern would become a normal approach for drummers to take by the mid to late thirties. The drummers that were used as examples in this chapter offered a diverse outlook on how the music was changing. The shift from where a drummer was born to how the drummers were influencing each other was becoming more important regarding the use of the pattern.

Interested in learning more about the evolution of the ride pattern?

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

Scroll to Top