by Dr. Colleen Clark

installment SEVEN:
transition to bebop – THE INFLUENCE OF KENNY CLARK

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.

transition to bebop – THE INFLUENCE OF KENNY CLARK, 1940

The goal of this chapter is to help understand Kenny Clarke’s innovative approach to the drumset. It is possible to clearly trace how Clarke altered the pattern, aiding in the understanding of Clarke’s approach to the drumset. This chapter is investigated in a different manner than the previous chapters.

Using a historical approach, I argue that Clarke was influenced not only by his own curiosity, but by the encouraging colleagues that told him to follow his intuition regarding the direction of the music. This culminating curiosity and experimentation would help Clarke become one of the founding fathers of bebop. Clarke’s influential playing guided the new approach to drumming while simultaneously affecting the overall trajectory of jazz. His curiosity was supported by Dizzy Gillespie, among other musicians that were part of the Minton’s jam sessions. This is why I argue that it is important to understand that Clarke’s influences were not only drummers, but other musicians that supported his playing and new approach. It is clear that Clarke’s unique approach to playing the drumset altered the pattern in the process.

This chapter confirms that the duration of the ride cymbal pattern played within a tune decreased during this time because of the alteration of the pattern. This new way of playing, coming mostly from Kenny Clarke, embraced using the pattern as a base, but played rhythms other than the pure pattern. This meant that there was more use of quarter notes and the shuffle. By adding this innovative way of playing into the overall timeline, there will be a drop-off in duration of pattern played throughout a tune. Therefore, this becomes the end of this research project.

The Importance of Kenny Clarke’s Influences

Kenny Clarke, a native of Pittsburgh, PA, moved to New York City in 1935. Clarke’s work in bands from the mid-1930s until he was drafted shaped his musical ideas on the drumset. Some of the bands he worked with included Lonnie Simmons, Edgar Hayes, Teddy Hill and Claude Hopkins. Tracing Clarke’s influences on the drums is relatively easy because of his openness.

Clarke, unlike Jo Jones, was very open about who he was listening to in this time period. Before getting deeper into that topic, it is necessary to get a more general understanding of the effect Clarke was about to have on the drumming community. Here is a clear and succinct account:

“In the area of drums, Kenny Clarke, as early as 1935, began involving himself in rhythmic counterpoint in the Lonnie Simmons band in New York’s Greenwich Village. He played rhythmic patterns against basic time, where it was two or four beats to the bar. He continued to experiment through the 1930s, ultimately getting fired from the Teddy Hill band in 1940 for his unusual ideas. While Krupa and Webb reigned as kings of the drums, Clarke was developing a new concept that would soon dominate jazz rhythm.” – Korall, “Drummin’ Men”

As a starting point, it is true that Clarke was more interested in his “new concept” that would “dominate jazz rhythm.” What is interesting and helpful for this research is where the new concept was coming from. One of Clarke’s first gigs was with Teddy Hill. Dizzy Gillespie was also a member of this band and this is where a lot of the new concepts began. Clarke explained how he first began experimenting with his ideas.

There were two important instrumentalists that played key roles in the early stages of Clarke’s experiments. The first encouraging instrumentalist was saxophonist Joe Garland in Teddy Hill’s band. Clarke talks about his experience and collaboration with Joe Garland in the Edgar Hayes Band:


KENNY CLARKE: Right. Like when Joe Garland used to give me the trumpet parts, and he would say, ‘Well, you play along with the brass where you think the emphasis is needed.’ And so that way that gave me another dimension, you know, as far as reading and backing, you know, back up brass, because I knew exactly what they were playing, because I saw it on the music, and then I would put what I thought was a good support for them, a special passage.

HOD: Yeah.

KC: So all those things were just crowded in my mind.

HOD: Yeah.

KC: That’s why I say the Edgar Hayes Band was really my university.

This passage not only shows the new dimension that Clarke was entering by collaborating with the composer and figuring out how the drumset could become the supportive instrument but also that he was reading charts. This is important in the alteration of the pattern because having to read the chart and set up the band is an added concept. This is not to say that the swing era drummers were not setting the band up, because they were. Many were not reading charts. Clarke was not only a drummer but also a composer, pianist and marimbist. He had reading skills that perhaps other drummers of this era and the previous one did not have. I think this is an important factor in his innovations towards what would become the alteration of the pattern. Clarke explains that a similar situation to the previous excerpt, happened to him and Dizzy Gillespie in the Teddy Hill band.

KC: Well, I used to write out little things, and Dizzy was right behind me, you know. I would write out a little thing and I would hand them back to him, you know. I’d say, ‘Hey, Diz, how do you think this would sound? He’d say, ‘Well, try it.’ So I began to play, you know, with my foot and left hand, and with the cymbal, because everyone says why don’t you play the sock cymbal like this, and I say there has to be a better way, because if I play the sock cymbal then I can’t use my left hand, you know?

HOD: Yeah.

KC: So I have to find a way to use it.

HOD: So what did you do?

KC: So I changed – everyone wanted me to play like Jo Jones. But I didn’t want to play like that.

HOD: No.

KC: And I changed over to the top cymbal, which gave me the freedom of my left hand.

HOD: Yeah.

KC: See, because Jo, he was cramped.

HOD: Yeah.

KC: And I used to watch him. I used to follow Basie all over, to find out the advantage of playing the sock cymbal with the right hand like that, and I travelled all over the country with Basie, and sometimes would play in Jo’s place, you know, to try to understand exactly –

HOD: Yeah.

KC: But, Jo I guess he had played that way so long that he had it quite undercover, exactly what he wanted to do.

HOD: No.

KC: I wanted to do something completely different.

HOD: Yeah.

KC: And so I started playing this way, and freeing my left hand.

HOD: Yeah. So you became more ambidextrous.

KC: That’s right.

HOD: Yeah.

KC: Because sometimes I would play and my idea was to never leave your left hand idle.

HOD: Yeah

KC: Because if people look up and they see my playing with one hand and this hand isn’t doing anything, it’s like a one-handed piano player. So I said, well, I can’t be one handed. I have to learn to play with this other hand.

HOD: Yeah

KC: So I began to work on it, to coordinate with my right foot.

HOD: Your left hand and right foot?

KC: And right foot. And my right hand with my left foot.

HOD: Gee.

Dizzy Gillespie Big Band

This example is important because Clarke explains why he began experimenting with different ways to play. He did not want to feel cramped like Jo Jones. When he points out that he “changed over to the top cymbal,” meaning the ride cymbal, it gave his left hand “freedom.” The freedom to comp in the left hand is examined and heard in the examples below. This example is also important because Clarke explains that he studied Jones. Clarke was well studied and knew exactly what he wanted to do with the drumset and the music. Every move he made was calculated and this is why this excerpt is especially important. When Clarke explains his coordination, the big picture comes into focus. He knew exactly what he was doing and what he was trying to do. Clarke had a plan.

One more important note that was mentioned above is this: Clarke was open about his influences. In another portion of this same interview he mentions that “used to copy Ray McKinley.” McKinley played with the Tommy Dorsey band. Clarke also mentions that Chick Webb was a mentor to him. Clarke would go hear him play often and Webb would return the favor.

HOD: Chick dug what you were doing, didn’t he?

KC: Oh, he always told me. He would come out to the fair (World’s Fair 1939) and say, “Kid you’re making great progress. You’re doing fine, kid. Keep it up.” He would always encourage me.

Minton’s Playhouse

It seemed to be that Clarke’s progress was not only infectious to Webb, but to all of the drummers that would watch him at Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem. The final example that I deem necessary from the JOHP is the one where Clarke talks about which drummers were coming to hear the “new music” at Minton’s. After an endorsement made by Big Sid Catlett, the reason Clarke played with Armstrong, many drummers began to stop by the club to hear Clarke. This final JOHP project excerpt is Clarke explaining the beginning of his bebop career:

KC: So we began to play our things. So everybody began to listen.

HOD: Yeah.

KC: Said, “What is that little drummer up there doing?” So Big Sid said, “Man, that little cat is modern, if you listen to him.” So that was the biggest sendoff. That was the stamp I needed.

HOD: Yeah. Isn’t that beautiful.

KC: So ever since then the more the drummers became interested the more I tried to develop it, you know. Not to the point where they couldn’t understand it.

Once Sid Catlett endorsed Clarke, the scene became populated with drummers trying to learn the new language.

HOD: Well, who were the drummers? (hanging at the club)

KC: Oh, my God. Every drummer you can think of.

HOD: Well –

KC: Art Blakey. Max Roach. Big Sid Catlett. Don Lamond. Tiny Kahn. Every drummer in New York. Because it was after Big Sid had told everyone how wonderful it was, how much had to be done, and how it could be developed into something fantastic, then everyone came to learn the base.

Sid Catlett

Sitting Down and Listening

The pattern was manipulated by Kenny Clarke because of many musical factors. However, a large non-musical factor to consider is the shift in audience. Audiences were evolving with bebop. The creation of the innovative music and the impact that the war had on big bands made for a different type of experience. Bebop was not the same type of danceable music that audiences were used to in the swing era. It is possible that the correlation between the decline in dancers and increase in listeners directly affected the use of the pattern and the pattern’s evolution.

Audiences were curious about bebop and they were sitting down and listening to bebop at Minton’s Playhouse. As previously discussed, it was not just patrons that were interested in bebop, but fellow musicians. Instrumentalists and vocalists were checking out the new music. There were several drummers that were going to hear Clarke and his innovations on the drumset. There was an evolution of players that occurred as well. For this reason, certain bandmates of Teddy Hill’s Orchestra were not so quick to innovate and disliked the new ideas Clarke was formulating. For this reason, Clarke was asked to leave the band.

The complex melodies and harmonies of bebop had to be equaled with complex drumming. In order to do that, Kenny Clarke had to innovate. Clarke had to alter his playing so that it differed from drummers of the past. Clarke did this by manipulating the pattern and comping with his bass drum and snare drum. As discussed earlier, Clarke did not want to play like Jo Jones anymore. He did not want to feel “cramped by having his right hand play the pattern on the hi-hat, having his arm across his body.” In order to do this, Clarke had to move the pattern from the hi-hat to the ride cymbal so that he could coordinate his left hand and right foot. By adding more elements of coordination, by comping with the bass drum and snare drum, Clarke altered the pattern. The unaltered pattern, pre-manipulation that Clarke does in the bebop era, that could be connected back to the African bell pattern, was no longer the most important factor in producing the same type of swing feeling because Clarke was not playing for dancers, he was playing for listeners with his fellow bebop creators.

This is important because it strengthens the argument that the pattern was necessary for the swing as it formed a foundation for the players and dancers. The decline in the use of the pattern as primarily a timekeeping element to something more complex emerges with the bebop era.

Billie Holiday, Life Magazine (1930s)
Billie Holiday “I Hear Music” 1940: Kenny Clarke, Drums

Definitive Recordings of Clarke

The coordination aspect of playing the drums was not being explored with this mind set prior to Kenny Clarke, so it is important to explore a few examples of his innovative approach. Three examples are shared. A reiteration of “I Hear Music” is visited along with “Topsy” and “Indiana.”

I think one of the clearest examples of Clarke flexing his newly cultivated coordination is on “I Hear Music.” Most of the time that Clarke comps with his left hand, the pattern is altered. Clarke does not comp in the same way every time either. He experimented with different orchestrations of comping, using the snare drum, bass drum and the ride cymbal. This orchestration of the comping becomes a skillset that would be necessary in the birth of bebop. Another notable treatment that Clarke employs is the use of the quarter note. At 1:06, Clarke comps on the “and” of three. Because of this, Clarke does not play the final two eighth notes of the measure and plays the quarter note instead. It is easy to hear Clarke comping behind Holiday on the snare drum, which is a slightly louder volume than the playing on the ride cymbal. At 0:43, Clarke complements Holiday with his snare drum comping on the “and” of beat three. This comping exposes the sound of the ride cymbal.

Lastly, Clarke plays the hi-hat on the introduction to the tune. This makes it easy to hear the discernable difference between the open and closed hi-hat playing in the introduction and the mostly closed hi-hat playing behind Holiday’s singing of the melodies on both the head in and out.

Clarke plays the ride cymbal pattern behind the trumpet and tenor solos prior to the entrance of Holiday at 1:44. He also “kicks” the ensemble by playing right before the entrance of Holiday. When placing this track on the table of duration of pattern played throughout the tune, I only count the places in which Clarke plays purely the ride cymbal pattern.

Clarke embellished the pattern momentarily in most instances. This is due to the fact that he tended to add a comping note on the “and” of one or the “and” of three, therefore he sacrifices the pattern in the right hand in order to keep the time flowing.This is the beginning of what would become the new normal for drummers moving into the bebop era. Clarke was the front-runner in this new type of playing and with encouragement from his peers, most notably from Dizzy Gillespie, this became the beginning of bebop drumming.

It is necessary to visit the club where bebop was born, Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem. The next two tracks were live recordings from Minton’s, so the players on the tracks were invested in the experimentation of the new language. “Topsy,” recorded in 1941, featured Charlie Christian on the guitar along with Clarke on drums. Although Clarke played brushes throughout the track, it is possible to hear the deviations in the pattern as it typically happened around a comping figure.

A good example of comping that created deviation in the pattern can be heard from 1:00-1:05. Clarke complements Charlie Christian’s repeated phrases, which are steady streams of eighth notes, and ends up playing them with Christian. This is heard from 1:03-1:05. By doing this, Clarke removes his right hand from the pattern playing role. In this particular instance, Clarke breaks from the common usage of the right hand and splits the eighth notes between the hands. This can be heard because he no longer plays the pattern. He also does it at a volume that would be difficult to perform one- handed. The loud dynamics Clarke uses also help the momentum that Christian creates to give the line energy. Once Clarke joins the rhythm, Christian successfully ends the phrase and begins a new idea at 1:06.

Charlie Christian “Topsy” 1941: Kenny Clarke Drums

The final example is also live from Minton’s in 1941. “Indiana” features Joe Guy, Don Byas, Thelonious Monk, an unknown bassist and Kenny Clarke. Luckily for this project, the drums are very easily heard, unlike the piano. The comping behind the tenor solo that begins at 3:51 is a perfect example of how Clarke was expanding the language that was being used on the cymbal and drums. I analyzed two moments inside of the first sixteen measures of the Byas solo as an example of the type of comping that was happening which directly affected the pattern.

Don Byas “Indiana” 1941: Kenny Clarke, Drums

Beginning at 4:00-4:01, Clarke plays the rhythm shown in this example. Notice that the pattern is still outlined in the rhythm that he played, but what he played is closer to the shuffle pattern in the first measure, which is the constant flow of eighth notes.

The next example can be heard from 4:02-4:03, which sounds as if it was prompted the eighth note run by Byas in the next measure. It is the same exact treatment as the previous example, playing a continuous flow of eighth notes from beat two into the down beat of the next measure.

The last example can be heard at the turnaround in the last measure of the sixteen bars, from 4:05-4:06. Again, Clarke uses the shuffle approach, but begins the shuffle pattern with the constant flow of eighth notes on the downbeat of the last measure of the phrase. Connecting this with the previous two eighth notes from the end of the pattern in the prior measure has Clarke playing five complete beats or ten eighth notes in a row. This gave in the music momentum as the band ended a phrase and started a new one.

These notated examples are very much exact replicas of the types of treatment that Clarke was giving to the pattern on “I Hear Music.” The comping on the “and” of three, combined with the shuffle addition to the pattern, was the approach that Clarke used while trying to integrate his limbs in order to more fully complement the music.

The following is a great video example of where Kenny takes the bebop style into the next era.


This chapter has demonstrated that the sanctity of the pure pattern, the pattern played strictly as it has been defended throughout this thesis, evolved through the experimentation of Kenny Clarke. The comping with the left hand and right foot that Clarke was experimenting with directly affected the pattern and the purity of the pattern. Because of the innovative comping techniques that Clarke was working out, the pattern was being used a base but was no longer being played without alteration. There was a more improvisatory approach regarding the pattern as well. Because of this, there were more iterations of the pattern that were being created.

Its evolution, meaning its combination with the newly coordinated comping limbs that Clarke integrated into his playing, was no longer a strictly solitary event. The right hand combined with the coordination with all of the limbs was becoming the new normal. The pattern was going through a change. At this point, it was no longer the sole determining factor of what the drummer should play.

The audiences were changing with the beboppers. The Savoy Ballroom was no longer the main stage for dancers and listeners. The big change that was occurring was the listening that was being done by audiences. Minton’s Playhouse was a listening room where audience members could hear Dizzy Gillespie and friends create bebop. Clarke was integral in this bebop era as well because he was actively bringing the drums the forefront. The drums were no longer a background instrument. Clarke was actively trying to make an equal voice for the drums. In order to do this, he had to change the way that drummers had been playing for a decade prior. He had to comp in order to interject and become part of the bebop language. This was when he altered the way drummers played.

Through the examination of three representative recordings, I have demonstrated that the main reason for the pattern being altered had to do with Clarke’s approach to comping. This highly coordinated approach brought the ride cymbal pattern and the other limbs to the same level of importance. The coordination of the limbs changed drumset history and helped change jazz history with the advent of bebop.

It was the collaborations that Clarke had with other musicians that encouraged and convinced him that he should continue on the path that he began in the mid to late 1930s. His experimentations got him fired from the Teddy Hill band, but it got him hired with long-time collaborator and friend, Dizzy Gillespie. It was Clarke’s approach to the drumset that altered the pattern and the music from 1936 forward. Clarke’s innovative ideas were important in the birth of bebop. This was due to his innovative and progressive outlook on how the drumset could become an equally important instrument in the music.

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

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