The 55 Best Jazz Drummers of All Time: Who Made the Cut?

October 12, 2023

Just like those bass guitarists and lead vocals, drummers are a must-have part of every band. 

From those blues pioneers to rock and pop drummers, they are inevitable band members. Due to their enormous contribution to the music industry, I decided to make a list of the 55 best Jazz drummers of all time!

  • 55. Alvin Queen
  • 54. Greyson Nekrutman 
  • 53. Lewis Nash
  • 52. John Riley
  • 51. Connie Kay
  • 50. Jeff Ballard
  • 49. Rashiel Ali
  • 48. Al Foster
  • 47. Alphonse Mouzon
  • 46. Louis Hayes
  • 45. Albert Heath
  • 44. Tony Oxley
  • 43. Chico Hamilton
  • 42. Dannie Richmond
  • 41. Bill Stewart
  • 40. Terri Lyne Carrington
  • 39. Art Talyor
  • 38. Baby Dodds
  • 37. Sid Catlett
  • 36. Chick Webb
  • 35. Billy Cobham
  • 34. Kenny Clarke
  • 33. Shelly Manne
  • 32. Paul Motian
  • 31. Mel Lewis
  • 30. Billy Higgins
  • 29. Louie Bellson
  • 28. Sonny Payne
  • 27. Mark Guiliana
  • 26. Marcus Gilmore
  • 25. Ralph Peterson Jr.
  • 24. Brian Blade
  • 23. Jimmy Cobb
  • 22. Jeff Watts
  • 21. Cindy Blackman
  • 20. Dennis Chambers
  • 19. Manu Katche
  • 18. Harvey Mason
  • 17. Steve Gadd
  • 16. Philly Joe Jones
  • 15. Tony Williams
  • 14. Roy Haynes
  • 13. Vinnie Colaiuta
  • 12. Dave Weckl
  • 11. Peter Erskine
  • 10. Art Blakey
  • 9. Jack DeJohnette
  • 8. Steve Smith
  • 7. Gene Krupa
  • 6. Max Roach
  • 5. Elvin Jones
  • 4. Jo Jones
  • 3. Joe Morello
  • 2. Jim Chapin
  • 1. Buddy Rich

55. Alvin Queen

Alvin Queen is a very well-known American drummer who started his career by playing for Don Pullen, Ruth Brown, and Wild Bill Davis when he was only 16 and still keeps playing until this very day (March 2023). 

In the ‘80s, he formed record label Nilva Records, which ran for ten full years. 

Alvin is very popular for his triplets off beats, even though he is not the first one who did it. His drumming style is very versatile due to his dynamic and energetic playing. 

He has a reputation for his ability to drive a band with his propulsive rhythms and impeccable timing. 

Queen’s playing is characterized by his use of crisp, sharp snare and hi-hat patterns, thunderous bass drum accents, and his ability to seamlessly transition between tempos and feels.

Alvin played as a lead drummer with many popular artists, including Junior Mance, Dr. Lonnie Smith, and Dusko Goykovich, and as a side man with Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, John Patton, and Pharoah Sanders, among many others.

54. Greyson Nekrutman 

A young prodigy and another extraordinary jazz drum player is Greyson Nekrutman.

While he is still a very young performer, he has already received the title of one of the nation’s “top-performing high school jazz musicians” by non the less but the National Association for Music Education.

He has a distinct and identifiable playing style and method. Greyson is quickly rising on the music scene, having performed with Paul Simon’s bassist, Bakithi Kumalo, at different New York metro area locations.

He is one of the drummers the world gets to hear thanks to social networks. Still, one of the rare young drummers who specializes in old-school jazz.

Thanks to his incredible drumming technique he was recognized by the drumming community. In 2022 he received “The Tony Williams” award at the Drumeo Awards.

53. Lewis Nash

Lewis Nashis, the American jazz drummer, started his professional career in 1982. and is still present to this very day (March 2023). He deserved his spot thanks to a deep sense of musicality and a dedication to serving the needs of the music.

He is known for his impeccable timing, versatility, and musical sensitivity. 

Nash’s style is characterized by a crisp and precise approach to the drum kit, emphasizing swing and groove. His ability to seamlessly blend different styles and genres, incorporating elements of bebop, funk, Latin, and more.

According to Modern Drummer magazine, Lewis has contributed to over 400 albums. Thanks to this, Lewis was named Jazz’s Most Valuable Player in their magazine in May 2009. 

He played as a lead drummer in Evidence, a popular jazz record label, and MCG Jazz, as well as a sideman for Toshiko Akiyoshi, Ron Carter, and Tommy Flanagan, among many others.

52. John Riley

John Bernard Riley is an American jazz drummer and educator as well. 

He started his professional drumming at 12 when he started playing for rock bands first and later witshing on to jazz and making his first jazz recordings. At the age of fourteen, John played his first professional gig.

His drumming style is defined by a strong sense of swing and groove, particularly emphasizing intricate and nuanced cymbal work. 

Riley is also known for his technical proficiency, often incorporating complex rhythms and polyrhythms into his playing.

His discography is on an inevitable level, including his almost decade work with Bob Mintzer, then George Gruntz, and Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, and many other incredible artists. 

He also worked on various publications, including Brazilian Rhythms for Drumset, The Art of Bop Drumming, and The Jazz Drummer’s Workshop.

51. Connie Kay

Conrad Henry Kirnon is another American jazz and R&B drummer who first started his drumming career as a performer in Los Angeles in the mid-1940s.  

Jess is well-known for his dynamic and adaptable performing technique. His drumming is distinguished by a highly interactive style emphasizing ensemble dialogue and improvisation.

His drumming style was characterized by a deep understanding of the connection between music and culture and his ability to infuse his performances with energy and emotion. 

He was able to combine complicated rhythms and unusual time signatures with his aptitude for playing the drums in a variety of tonal hues and sounds.

Unfortunately, he died in 1984. but he left a successful career behind him. He played drums with the Modern Jazz Quartet among many popular drummers and worked with Milt Jackson, John Lewis, and Van Morrison.

50. Jeff Ballard

Jess Ballard, born in southern California, is an American Jazz percussionist and drummer. When he was 19, he started playing drums with both Fly and Brad Mehldau Trio. Soon after, he started the tour with Ray Charles when his career skyrocketed. 

Jess is known for his dynamic and versatile playing style. His drumming is characterized by a highly interactive approach, with a focus on communication and spontaneity within the band. 

Ballard’s playing often features complex rhythms and unconventional time signatures, combined with an ability to create a wide range of tonal colors and textures on the drums.

Aside from Ray Charles, Jeff played with many other popular artists, including Pat Metheny, Avishai Cohen, and Chick Corea. He was a lead drummer on two albums, Time’s Tales from 2013 and Fairgrounds from 2015. 

Jeff was also part of a jazz band, Fly with Mark Turner and Larry Grenadier, and assembled SFJAZZ Collective.

49. Rashiel Ali

Robert Patterson, better known as Rashied Ali, was an incredible Jazz drummer from the United States. 

Ali initially started playing the piano, but soon enough, he shifted his love toward drums. Rashiel’s professional career started in the United States Army during the Korean War when he was a member of military bands.

His drumming style was characterized by a highly improvisational approach, with a focus on exploring new sounds and textures on the drums. 

Ali was known for his use of unconventional techniques, such as playing with mallets or using his hands to create unique percussive effects.

He was an avant-garde drummer with a powerful career. He formed a non-jazz band called Purple Trap in the 1980s.  He was a member of Phalanx at the end of the last century, and at the beginning of this, he played with Tisziji Munoz. 

Prior to his death, Ali recorded a live album with Henry Grimes and was a featured drummer on the album Mystic Journey by Azar Lawrence’.

48. Al Foster

Aloysius Tyrone Foster, mostly known as Al Foster, was a professional jazz drummer from America. Hir career escalated when he started playing and recording drums with Blue Mitchell and Illinois Jacquet. 

Even though he is 80 years old (in 2023), he still has a huge passion for drums and occasionally plays them.

He has a very dynamic and versatile drumming style. Al is particularly recognized for his ability to create intricate rhythms and grooves while maintaining a strong sense of swing. 

Foster’s style is heavily influenced by the bebop and post-bop eras of jazz, and he has a strong background in both traditional and modern jazz techniques. He is skilled at improvisation and can seamlessly transition between different rhythms and styles during a performance.

During the 70s, he mostly played with Miles Davis, but once Davis retired, he continued playing with Sonny Rollins and Dexter Gordon. 

He collaborated with many popular artists, playing the drums as a sideman, but as the lead, he was recognized for Mr. Foster, Mixed Roots, Brandyn, Inspirations and Dedications, and many other sessions.

47. Alphonse Mouzon

Alphonse Lee Mouzon, mostly known as an owner of Tenacious Records, was a very popular American jazz fusion drummer. Aside from being a drummer, Mouzon was also a producer, composer, and actor. 

Alphonse Mouzon was a highly innovative jazz drummer known for his use of complex rhythms, dynamic grooves, and fusion of different musical genres. 

His style incorporated jazz, funk, rock, and R&B elements, and in the 1970s he fell in love with jazz fusion and played ever since. Mouzon was known for his technical proficiency, particularly his speed and precision on the drums, as well as his ability to play with great power and intensity.

From 1973 to 1975, Mouzon was a member of guitarist Larry Coryell’s fusion ensemble Eleventh House which gained him big recognition. 

He recorded an album with guitarist Tommy Bolin and four more R&B albums. He also played and performed with many exemplary musicians, including Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, and Carlos Santana.

46. Louis Hayes

Louis Sedell Hayes, born in Michigan, was an American jazz drummer. He was surrounded by a family of musicians, so it was only natural to follow their steps. 

At only ten years of age, Louis received his first drum kit.  At the age of 16, he joined the local band in Michigan when his serious career began. 

Louis Hayes is a highly respected jazz drummer known for his classic, hard-swinging style. His playing is heavily influenced by bebop and post-bop jazz, and he is known for his ability to create a powerful and driving rhythmic foundation for a band. 

Hayes is a master of dynamics, using a variety of cymbals and drum sounds to create intricate and nuanced rhythms. 

In his long career, which still last, despite his age (85 at the moment of writing – March 2023), he worked with many artists, as a sideman as well as a leader and co-leader. 

He played drums on 18 albums as a leader; he also worked as a sideman with Cannonball Adderley on 17 of his albums as well as with John Coltrane, Curtis Fuller, and Sam Jones, among many other worldwide known names. 

45. Albert Heath

Albert Tootie Heath is another amazing jazz hard-bop drummer from the United States of America. He played with John Coltrane back in 1957. 

Later on, his two brothers, Jimmy Health and Percy Health, formed a jazz group named Heath Brothers which Albert joined very soon. However, Albert’s biggest love were workshops and teaching classes as an instructor, so he mainly focused on that. 

Tootie’s drumming style was characterized by his rhythmic precision, sensitivity to the music, and ability to create complex patterns with ease. 

He was known for the use of brushes and his ability to create subtle and intricate textures in his playing. Overall, Tootie Heath was a masterful drummer who brought a unique voice to the world of jazz

Aside from being an amazing teacher and a part of the influential Heath Brothers jazz family, Albert played with many legendary jazz musicians, including Bobby Timmons, Kenny Drew, J. J. Johnson, Sonny Rollins, and Nina Simon. 

44. Tony Oxley

Tony Oxley is an English drummer mainly recognized for his fantastic improvisation and as a member and founder of Incus Records. 

As a kid, he was a self-thought pianist; however, in his teenage years, he revealed his love for drums. He was though by Haydon Cook, and from 1957 to 1960, he played at the Black Watch military band when his drumming career started to take off. 

Oxley’s drumming style is defined by his use of unconventional techniques and using extended techniques like scraping and rubbing the drum heads. 

He is also known for his dynamic and explosive playing, which often incorporates sudden shifts in tempo and rhythm. Overall, Tony Oxley’s drumming style is characterized by his willingness to experiment and his ability to create unique and unpredictable soundscapes on the drums.

Tony played on the John McLaughlin debut album Extrapolation. Soon enough, he formed a quintet with Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, Jeff Clyne, and Kenny Wheeler. 

Around the 1970s, Oxley joined the London Jazz Composers Orchestra and worked with English pianist Howard Riley. He began teaching at the Jazz Summer School in Barry, South Wales, in 1973 and founded the ensemble Angular Apron in 1974. Even though he is 84 years old (in 2023), he remains active in drumming!

43. Chico Hamilton

Foreststorn “Chico” Hamilton was another incredible American jazz drummer. Since his first drumming experience, he has been part of a band with George Duvivier and Howard Roberts. 

His first recorded album was back in ‘55 with George Duvivier and Howard Roberts for Pacific Jazz. Soon after, he formed a quintet, which was recognized as one of the last major West Coast jazz ensembles.

Hamilton’s drumming style was known by his use of brushes and mallets, which gave his playing a softer and more delicate sound. 

He was also known for his ability to create subtle and intricate rhythms that supported the melody and harmony of the music. His elegance, restraint, and sensitivity to the music characterized his unique style.

He was a key figure in the West Coast jazz scene of the 1950s and 1960s and played with many notable jazz musicians throughout his career. His most popular work was as a sideman for Lena Horne, Gerry Mulligan, Lester Young, and Count Basie.

42. Dannie Richmond

Charles Daniel Richmond, better known as Dannie, was an American jazz drummer. He began playing tenor saxophone at the age of 13 and went on to perform R&B with the Paul Williams band in 1955. 

His career took off when he picked up the drums, which he had trained himself to perform in his early twenties, and began a 21-year association with Charles Mingus.

Richmond’s playing can be described as powerful and assertive. He was known for using explosive fills and his ability to create complex and dynamic rhythms that drove the music forward. Richmond also had a strong sense of swing and could play with great energy and intensity without sacrificing the groove.

As we mentioned above, Dnannie was mostly known for his long work with Charles Mingus, but he also worked with many other artists, including George Adams and Don Pullen. Joe Cocker, Elton John, and Mark Almond.

41. Bill Stewart

William Harris Stewart is a still active jazz drummer (in 2023), born and raised in the USA. He was raised in a family of musicians, mainly jazz-focused, which led him to be a self-thought jazz drummer. 

Throughout his education, Bill was always involved in music and drums. Once he started college, he joined jazz and marching bands. His first recordings were while he was still in school with saxophonist Scott Kreitzer and pianist Armen Donelian.

Stewart’s style as a drummer is defined by his ability to make rhythms that are both very technical and musical. 

He has a deep understanding of different styles of music, including swing, bebop, and fusion, and is able to blend these styles together in his playing seamlessly. 

Stewart is also known for his use of odd meters and his ability to create fluid and seamless transitions between different time signatures.

Bill has done some great work with Franck Amsallem, Bill Carrothers, Larry Goldings, and John Scofield during his long career. He was a lead drummer for 11 different albums in the period from 1990 to 2018. 

40. Terri Lyne Carrington

Terri Lyne Carrington is an incredible American-born jazz drummer but also a producer and composer. She was born and raised in a musical family, and at the age of seven, she received her first drum set when she fell in love with the instrument. 

She was going to private drum classes for three years, and only at the age of 11, she received a full scholarship to Berklee College of Music when everything started for young Terri. 

Carrington’s drumming style is characterized by its fluidity, precision, and versatility. 

Her playing is rooted in jazz traditions but incorporates a wide range of influences, including funk, soul, and R&B. She is known for her ability to create intricate rhythms and grooves while leaving space for improvisation and interaction with other musicians. 

Terri is also a master of dynamics, using accents and ghost notes to add color and texture to her playing. 

Her career was and still is very successful. She worked with many artists and received tons of awards, including 4 Grammy Awards in 2012 for Best Jazz Vocal Album, in 2014 for Best Jazz Instrumental Album, in 2015 for Best Jazz Vocal Album, and in 2023 for Best Jazz Instrumental Album. 

Aside from many other awards, Terri played with some amazon artists like Clark Terry, Joe Sample, and Yellowjackets.

39. Art Talyor

Arthur S. Taylor Jr. was a famous modern jazz drummer born in the United States of America. When he was young, Jackie McLean, Kenny Drew, and Sonny Rollins all played in the same band with him. Later on, he started his own group.

Taylor had a powerful and precise touch on the drums, highlighting the ride cymbal and high hat. He was known for his ability to create complex, interlocking rhythms, and his sense of swing was considered unparalleled. 

Taylor was also a master of the drum solo, building tension and intensity through his use of dynamics and a wide range of textures and timbres. He was particularly adept at using the snare drum to create crisp, staccato accents and syncopated rhythms.

He played in many bands during his career, including working with Howard McGhee, Coleman Hawkins, Buddy DeFranco, and Bud Powell. Until ‘63, he toured with Donald Byrd and collaborated on recordings with Miles Davis, Gene Ammons, and John Coltrane.

38. Baby Dodds

Warren “Baby” Dodds is a jazz drummer from New Orleans, is considered one of the first and most important early jazz drummers. 

During his early years of drumming, Dodds had a few drumming teachers but received his first drum set when he was 16. He began performing in street marches around New Orleans with Bunk Johnson and his band and later joined Willie Hightower’s ensemble called the American Stars.

Dodds’ drumming was characterized by its use of syncopation and improvisation. He was known for his ability to create complex, polyrhythmic patterns that interacted with and complemented the melodies and harmonies of the other musicians in the band. 

Dodds was also a master of dynamics, using a wide range of strokes and accents to create a sense of tension and release. He was particularly skilled at using the bass and snare drums to create a driving, propulsive rhythm propelling the music forward.

Some of his most notable collaborations include King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Johnny Dodds, and Bunk Johnson. Of course, these are just a couple of artists that Baby worked with, among many others. 

37. Sid Catlett

Sidney “Big Sid” Catlett was a jazz drummer born in Evansville, Indiana, who was categorized as one of the most versatile drummers in his ear. 

He was taught the fundamentals of the piano and percussion at a very young age. Soon enough, when his family moved to Chicago, Catlett got his first drum set, and he engaged himself in the various styles and methods that Zutty Singleton and Baby” Dodds used. 

Sid Catlett was a highly influential jazz drummer of the swing era, known for his powerful and dynamic style that combined technical proficiency with musicality and groove. 

His playing featured a strong sense of swing, with a deep, driving feel that propelled the music forward. 

His style influenced countless drummers who followed in his footsteps, and his legacy continues to be felt in jazz and other forms of music to this day.

Sid started his collaborations working with Darnell Howard, and soon enough, he performed with many other musicians, including Fletcher Henderson, Don Redman, and Benny Carter. His most prominent work was four years long collaboration with Louis Armstrong. 

Catlett was one of the few drummers who transitioned into bebop over time, featuring on Dizzy Gillespie’s progressive albums. Sid also appeared in some of the movies about jazz drummers like Jammin’ the Blues, Boy! What a Girl! And Sepia Cinderella.

36. Chick Webb

William Henry Webb, better known as Chick Webb, was another great American swing and jazz drummer. 

Henry did have a lot of luck in his childhood when he fell down the stairs crushing several vertebrae, which caused him never fully to recover his mobility. 

As a result, his doctor recommended Webb begin playing the drums in order to “loosen up” his bones. He fell in love with the instrument and started playing professionally at the age of 11.

Despite being physically small and hunchbacked, Webb possessed a powerful and commanding presence on the drums. His playing was characterized by a tight and focused sound, with a strong sense of rhythm and keen attention to dynamics. 

Webb was also a master of the high-speed ride cymbal pattern, which became a hallmark of his style and a major influence on other drummers of the era.

Unfortunately, due to his short lifespan, Webb didn’t get the chance to collaborate with many artists. He died at only 36 years of age. 

However, he did leave a huge fingerprint on jazz music. In 1926, Webb formed his band; he often even competed in a battle of the bands and even started showcasing an adolescent named Ella Fitzgerald as a vocalist in 1935. Webb and Fitzgerald sang songs like “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.”

35. Billy Cobham

William Emanuel Cobham Jr. or widely known as Billy, is Panamanian–American jazz drummer. Cobham began playing the drums at the age of four and followed his father four years later. 

After being admitted to The High School of Music & Art in New York City, he received his first drum set as a present when he was fourteen. He was conscripted in 1965 and spent the next three years playing in a US Army band.

Cobham’s drumming style is characterized by his use of complex and intricate rhythms, often played at high speeds. 

He combines jazz, funk, and rock elements to create a unique sound that has influenced many other drummers. He is also known for his use of polyrhythms, which involves playing multiple rhythms simultaneously. 

In addition to his technical prowess, Cobham is also known for his musicality and sensitivity to the other musicians he plays with. 

He rose to fame in the 1970s as the drummer for the Mahavishnu Orchestra, where he recorded three albums; one live and two studio albums. 

He was also very well-known for his work with Miles David prior to forming the Mahavishnu band. He recorded many albums as a drum leader, including the last one names Drum & Voice – Vol. 5, published in 2022.

34. Kenny Clarke

Kenneth “Kenny” Clarke Spearman was American-born and raised bandleader and drummer. Kenny was an orphan child at the age of five years. 

A bit later, at the age of eight,  started playing the drums at the prompting of an instructor at his orphanage. 

At the age of seventeen, precisely in 1931, he started his professional career, and four years later, in 1935, he relocated to New York City, where he established his drumming technique and notoriety.

Cobham’s drumming style is characterized by his use of complex and intricate rhythms, often played at high speeds. He combines jazz, funk, and rock elements to create a unique sound that has influenced many drummers. 

He is also known for his use of polyrhythms, which involves playing multiple patterns simultaneously.

Kenny was a member of the Modern Jazz Quartet and appeared on early Miles Davis albums. Between 1961 and 1972, he lived in Paris, played and recorded with European and visiting American artists, and co-leading the Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland Big Band. 

He worked with many notable artists, including Eddie Bert, Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Jackson, and Hank Jones.

33. Shelly Manne

Sheldon “Shelly” Manne was a very-versatile jazz drummer born in New York. He got his talent from his father and his uncle and was introduced to music and drumming in his childhood days. 

When he was only a child Billy Gladstone, a very well-known drummer, inventor, and teacher, encouraged and helped Shelly whit his drumming.

Manne’s drumming style was defined by his impeccable sense of time and his ability to play with great sensitivity and musicality. Manne was probably most associated with his specific drumming, known as West Coast jazz. 

However, he also incorporated bebop, fusion, and avant-garde jazz into his playing. One of Manne’s signature techniques was his use of brushes, which he used to create a distinctive and delicate sound on the drums. 

Earl Hines, Maynard Ferguson, Clifford Brown, Benny Carter, Ben Webster,  Jimmy Giuffre, Wardell Gray, Zoot Sims, and Stan Getz are just among some artists who have played with Manne.

 Probably, one of Manne’s most daring partnerships in the 1960s was with Jack Marshall as well.

32. Paul Motian

Stephen Paul Motian was another great jazz drummer but also a composer and percussionist. 

Motian started playing drums at the age of 12, after growing up playing the guitar and ultimately touring New England in a swing ensemble. The peaks of his career were mostly during the 50s and 60s when he played with Bill Evans. 

Motian was known for his use of space and texture, creating an atmospheric and ethereal sound that was highly distinctive. He often played with brushes, creating a delicate and intricate sound on the drums. 

He was not bound by traditional jazz rhythms and instead created his own unique patterns and phrases that were highly expressive and unpredictable.

After Paul turned pro, he was part of a trio with Bill Evans. After leaving the group, he played with pianists Paul Bley for a year and Keith Jarrett for almost a decade. 

The early period of Motian’s career also included performances and recordings with Lee Konitz, Bill Frisell, Joe Castro, Lennie Tristano, Don Cherry, Frank Kimbrough, Joe Lovan, Bill McHenry, Stéphan Oliva, and many more.

31. Mel Lewis

Melvin Mel Sokoloff was many things, including a session musician, jazz drummer, and  professor, born in the United States. 

He was introduced to drums very young and turned pro when he was only a teenager. Soon after, in 1954, he joined Stan Kenton, the popular American jazz artist.

Lewis’s drumming style was recognizable by his precision and his ability to create a strong, steady groove. He had a powerful sound on the drums and was known for his skillful use of cymbals and other percussion instruments. 

One of Lewis’s signature techniques was his use of polyrhythms, which involved playing multiple patterns at the same time. 

He was also known for his ability to create complex and intricate drum solos that were highly musical and expressive.

Aside from playing with Stan Kenton, in 1966, he led the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra with Thad Jones, which lasted until the day of Lewis’s death. 

Their album Live in Munich won a Grammy in 1979. Aside from their life-long work, Mel worked as a sideman with Bob Brookmeyer, Benny Carter, Stan Kenton, Gerry Mulligan, and many more. 

30. Billy Higgins

Billy Higgins was a popular hard-bop jazz drummer born in the USA. Even though he fell in love with jazz music, he eventually turned into the subgenre of hard bop. When he was 22 years old, in 1958, he played on Ornette Coleman’s first records.

Billy’s drumming technique was distinguished by a light touch on the drums, and he was well-known for his ability to maintain a powerful, constant rhythm while allowing other players to solo. 

His trademark method was the use of brushes to produce a delicate and intricate tone on the drums. Aside from that, he was also renowned for his ability to improvise freely, frequently integrating African and Latin sounds into his music.

He was mostly known for his freelance style with hard bop and other post-bop players, like Milt Jackson, Thelonious Monk, Hank Mobley, Pat Metheny, Donald Byrd, and Sonny Rollins among many other musicians.

29. Louie Bellson

Luigi Paolino Alfredo Francesco Antonio Balassoni, or shortly Louie Bellson, was an American jazz drummer and educator, composer, and bandleader. 

He started playing drums when he was only three, and when he turned 15, he was already a major influence.

While he was in high school, he invented a technique where he played two bass drums simultaneously. After high school, his career skyrocketed, and he played with many bands as a leader and as a sideman as well.

Bellson’s drumming style was very specific and easily recognized by his incredible speed, precision, and control. 

He was known for his powerful double bass drumming, as mentioned above, which involved playing two bass drums simultaneously with incredible speed and accuracy. 

He also developed a unique approach to playing cymbals, incorporating a “suspended cymbal” technique where the cymbal is allowed to resonate longer to create a more sustained and expressive sound.

Throughout his long career, he worked with many bands and artists, including Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman; he was also a sideman for Blue Mitchell, Nat Pierce, Chuck Findley,  John Heard, Ray Brown, and many more. 

Aside from that, he was also very-well known drum teacher for high schools, colleges, and music stores. He was really devoted drummer with over 100 albums and more than 300 compositions.

28. Sonny Payne

Sonny Payne was also another great jazz drummer from the USA. Unfortunately, he died young, but he left a big mark in the drumming industry. 

Raised in a musical family, Sonny turned professional as early as 20 years of age when he started collaborating with big artists and bands. 

Payne was particularly known for his use of the ride cymbal, which he played with a distinctive, crisp attack that drove the band forward. 

He also incorporated Latin percussion elements into his playing, including cowbells and other percussion instruments. 

In addition to his powerful swing feel, Payne was also known for his impeccable timing and sense of dynamics. He was able to control the intensity and volume of his playing with precision, creating dramatic and exciting drum solos.

He started drumming in a band with Dud and Paul Bascomb and a bit later with many other bands like Tiny Grimes, Hot Lips Page, Lucille Dixon, and Erskine Hawkins. 

For over ten years, Sonny drummed with American jazz pianist Count Basie, and he also worked with Al Grey and Joe Newman.

27. Mark Guiliana

Mark Guiliana is a young, American-born jazz drummer and a bandleader of the popular band Beat Music. 

Aside from that, he is also a composer and drum educator. He graduated from William Paterson University with a Jazz Studies and Performance degree.

Guiliana also incorporates elements of hip-hop and funk into his playing, often utilizing a “broken beat” style that features irregular patterns and syncopated rhythms. 

He is also known for his creativity and improvisational skills. He is a master of “free improvisation,” a style of playing that allows musicians to create music at the moment without predetermined structures or melodies.

As a leader and co-leader, he played on many albums with artists like: Avishai Cohen, Dave Douglas, Donny McCaslin, and Brad Shepik.

26. Marcus Gilmore

Marcus Gilmore is a jazz drummer from the United States and also a grandson of popular and incredible jazz drummer Roy Haynes. 

Marcus’es grandad was the culprit for developing love in Marcus towards drums. He gave him his first drum kit when he was ten years old, and he immediately fell in love. He was and still is a very talented musician. 

He graduated from Music & Art and Performing Arts and was offered a full scholarship to the Juilliard School of Music and Manhattan School of Music.

Gilmore is known for his use of intricate footwork and ghost notes, which allow him to create complex and highly syncopated rhythms. 

He often utilizes a combination of ride cymbal patterns, snare drum accents, and bass drum hits to create a highly nuanced and dynamic sound. 

He often experiments with different drumheads and tunings to achieve unique and innovative sounds. 

Marcus received a few awards in Latin Grammy Award ceremony in 2016. he was in DownBeat magazine as a part of “25 for the Future”. As a sideman, he played with Steve Coleman, Gilad Hekselman, Vijay Iyer, and Ambrose Akinmusire.

25. Ralph Peterson Jr.

Ralph Peterson Jr. was a great American jazz drummer that left us just two years ago at the only age of 62. He was a child that grew up with drummers, including his grandfather and his four uncles. 

He attempted to study drums at Rutgers University and Livingston College, but he failed the percussion entry test and enrolled as a trumpeter instead.

He was particularly skilled in polyrhythmic drumming, which involves playing multiple rhythms simultaneously. 

Peterson also had a strong sense of swing and groove, and his playing often featured explosive energy and technical prowess. 

One of Peterson’s signature techniques was his use of the ride cymbal, which he would often play in unorthodox ways to create new sounds and textures.

Ralph worked with many artists during his career, including 26 albums as a lead drummer, and played with over 30 musicians, among which are Uri Caine, Wayne Escoffery, and Orrin Evans. 

He also worked with David Murray, and he drummed on 9 of his albums, including New Life from 1987, Ballads from 1990, and Tenors from 1993.

24. Brian Blade

Brian Blade was another jazz drummer born in the USA. Aside from drumming, he was also a songwriter, singer, and composer. He appreciated music since the beginning, and when he was nine years he started playing the violin. 

However, through middle school, Brian looked upon his older brother Brady Blade Jr., who was a drummer, and young Brian shifted his love towards that instrument. 

Blade often utilizes a combination of cymbal swells, intricate snare drum patterns, and highly melodic tom and bass drum playing to create a highly textured and harmonically rich sound. 

He is known for his highly expressive playing style, which emphasizes melody and harmony as much as rhythm. Brian is also known for his highly collaborative and empathetic approach to playing. 

He is a master of “listening” to his fellow musicians and responding to their musical ideas in real-time, creating a highly interactive and collaborative musical experience.

When he was a teenager, he moved to New Orleans and started drumming with many professional musicians, including Steve Masakowski, Johnny Vidacovich, Alvin Red Tyler, and Germaine Bazzle. 

He was also in a band with pianist Jon Cowherd named The Fellowship Band, where he released five albums during the period from 1998. until 2017. In 2013, he won two awards; the first was ECHO Jazz Award, and the second and most important one was an incredible Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Album for Trilogy.

23. Jimmy Cobb

Wilbur James “Jimmy” Cobb was an incredible jazz drummer born in the USA. As a child, he was always amused by jazz music and knew he would one day be a musician. 

His professional career started in 1950. As soon as he stepped into the jazz world, he was highly cherished and known for his elegant and understated playing style

He was a master of subtle dynamics and swinging rhythms, and his drumming provided a supportive foundation for some of the most famous jazz recordings of all time, including Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue.” 

Cobb’s style emphasized precision and economy of motion, and he was respected for his ability to play in a wide variety of settings and with many different musicians.

He passed away in 2020 at the age of 91, leaving behind a rich legacy as one of the best jazz drummers of the modern era.

As he was a drummer for 70 years, imagine how successful his career was. However, he was mostly recognized alongside Miles Davis since those two played in the First Great Sextet band. 

He won National Endowment for the Arts NEA Jazz Masters award in 2009 and Don Redman Heritage Award in 2008. Aside from Miles Davis and their longtime work, Jimmy also worked with Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Ricky Ford, Wynton Kelly, and many, many more admired artists.

22. Jeff Watts

Jeff “Tain” Watts is another active jazz drummer born in Easton, Pennsylvania, U.S. Unfortunately, there is very little to no information about his background but we know that he went to Berklee College of Music, which claims his enormous talent. 

He is also widely regarded as one of the most influential and technically skilled drummers in the modern jazz era.

Watts has a strong sense of rhythm and is known for his complex and intricate drum patterns. Watts’ style emphasizes a blend of tradition and innovation, drawing on a wide range of influences from jazz, funk, and world music. 

He is known for his powerful and explosive playing, as well as his ability to create dynamic and intricate textures on the drum kit.

Jeff collaborated with Paul Bollenback, Conrad Herwig, David Kikoski, and Branford Marsalis, and many others. 

He won 6 Grammys, including the first one back in 1985. as Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Group for Black Codes From the Underground, and the last one, now, in 2010 as Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album for Mingus Big Band Live at the Jazz Standard.

21. Cindy Blackman

Cindy Blackman Santana is an unbelievable rock and jazz drummer and one of the best female drummers of today. She was raised in a very musical family surrounded by professionals. 

Cindy fell in love with drums when she was only seven, and when she was 11, she enrolled at the Hartt School of Music in Hartford, Connecticut. Soon enough, at age 14, Cindy received her first professional drum kit when everything started.

She is a highly versatile drummer known for her energetic and innovative playing style. Cindy has a strong sense of groove and is influenced by a variety of genres, including jazz, rock, and funk. 

Blackman’s style emphasizes creative and unconventional rhythm and timbre approaches, often incorporating African and Latin percussion elements into her playing. 

She is also known for her use of electronics and effects, which she integrates seamlessly into her drumming.

Cindy had an 18-year-long run with Leny Kravitz and simultaneously worked with many other musicians, including Wallace Roney, Joss Stone, and Eddie Allen. 

She is also the drummer on many albums, among which are Code Red with Steve Coleman, The Oracle with Gary Bratz, and Works on Canvas with J. D. Allen III.

20. Dennis Chambers

Dennis Milton Chambers is an American jazz drummer born in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S. 

He started drumming very young, to be precise, at the age of four and when he was only six, he started drumming at Baltimore-area nightclubs. His professional career started at the age of 18 with Parliament/Funkadelic.

Dennis is a highly acclaimed and influential drummer known for his technical proficiency, speed, and power. His drumming style emphasizes a deep groove, complex and intricate rhythms, and a strong sense of dynamics. 

Chambers is also known for his ability to blend a wide range of musical genres into his playing, including jazz, funk, rock, and fusion. He is particularly noted for his ability to play in odd time signatures, as well as his use of ghost notes and intricate hi-hat work. 

Chambers’ discography is highly successful, including 50 albums, lives, and recordings, including Return of the Brecker Brothers with Brecker Brothers, Let’s Set The Record Straight and Forbidden Zone with Tom Coster,  CAB, CAB 2, and CAB 4 with the CAB, his own album Planet Earth featuring Dean Bro, and many other musicians.

19. Manu Katche

Manu Katche is a French-born drummer, mainly popular as a jazz fusion drummer and a songwriter. He was most popular in the mid-80s and 90s. Throughout his career, he has worked with numerous artists and bands, from pop to rock to world music

Katché is known for using cymbals, often utilizing a range of tones and textures to create a rich, layered sound. One of the defining features of Katché’s drumming style is his use of space and restraint. 

He is not one to overplay or show off, preferring instead to focus on the overall feel and groove of a song. His playing is often described as “elegant” and “musical,” with a focus on serving the song rather than simply showcasing his own technical abilities.

Manu has published incredible nine albums from 1992 to 2019, including Playground in 2007, Touchstone for Manu from 2014, and the last one, now, The Scope in 2019. He played with many musicians, including Peter Gabriel, Jan Garbarek, Joni Mitchell, and the incredible Sting. 

18. Harvey Mason

Harvey Mason is a highly respected smooth jazz drummer; he is also a producer member of a band called Foruplay. Harvey has an incredible musical background. 

He started playing drums when he was only four years old and was influenced a lot by his father, who was also a drummer back in the army. Later, in the 60s, Mason attended Berklee College of Music, and after that, his professional career started. 

A combination of technical skill, groove, and creativity characterizes Harvey Mason’s drumming style. Mason’s drumming is known for its precision and accuracy, focusing on clean and crisp playing. 

He is skilled in complex rhythms, polyrhythms, and syncopation. He is also known for his ability to blend different styles of music, including jazz, funk, and rock, into his playing.

His playing is highly regarded by both musicians and fans, and he has made a significant impact on the world of jazz and fusion music over the course of his career. 

Mason played on 11 albums as a lead drummer, including Earth Mover, Stone Mason, and With All My Heart. He also played with Fourplay, a jazz quartet, for over 24 years and with many artists as a side man like George Benson, Donald Byrd, and Lee Ritenour.

17. Steve Gadd

Stephen “Steve” Kendall Gadd is another incredible drummer and percussionist. A highly regarded session and studio drummer, Gadd is one of the best in the drumming industry

He started drumming very early, and at the age of 11, he won the Mickey Mouse National Talent Round Up contest.

Gadd is known for his linear playing and his ghost notes that involve playing very soft, subtle notes between a rhythm’s main beats. 

This gives his drumming a unique sense of groove and swing. Gadd is also known for his use of various drumming techniques, including the use of brushes, mallets, and other percussion instruments. 

He is skilled in various genres, including jazz, rock, and fusion, and has worked with some of the biggest names in music.

Steve has worked with many artists as well as bands and received many awards, including the first one back in 2005 for an Honorary Doctor of Music degree at Berklee College of Music, one Grammy back in 2018 for the Best Contemporary Instrumental Album, Steve Gadd Band, and two additional Grammy nominations in 2017. 

16. Philly Joe Jones

Joseph Rudolph “Philly Joe” Jones was a jazz drummer born in the USA. He was mostly known in the 60s and 70s since Joe was in the USA army and in World War II. 

His career started in 1947 when he started playing in NYC in a local cafe Café Society alongside Tadd Dameron.

Jones was known for his incredible sense of swing and his ability to push and pull the rhythm, creating a sense of tension and release that gave his playing a unique and exciting feel. 

He was also a master of the ride cymbal, using it to anchor the rhythm and create a smooth, flowing groove. 

Jones was also known for his creativity and improvisational skills. He was never afraid to take risks and try new things, making his playing unpredictable and exciting.

Philly was skilled in various genres, including jazz, rock, and fusion, and has worked with some of the biggest names in music. 

From 1958 to 1983, he played on various albums, including the first in 1958, Blues for Dracula, and the last in 1983, Look Stop Listen. He also worked as a sideman with Miles Davis. He worked with Bill Evans, Elmo Hope, and Hank Mobley, among many others.  

15. Tony Williams

Anthony Tillmon “Tony” Williams is a jazz drummer born in Chicago, USA. When he was only 13 years old, he started playing professionally. 

He played with Sam Rivers, the American jazz saxophonist, and a bit later, to be precise, three years later, when Tony was 16, saxophonist Jackie McLean hired him. 

Williams’ drumming style was a combination of power, speed, and precision. He had an incredible sense of timing and was able to execute complex polyrhythms and odd time signatures with ease. 

He was also known for his use of the ride cymbal as a primary instrument for expressing melody and improvisation, as well as his dynamic use of the drum set as a whole. 

He recorded over 20 albums as a lead drummer, including two posthumous releases, Live at The Village Gate from 2017 and Live Tokyo 1978 from 2018. 

He also recorded 12 albums with the band The Great Jazz Trio and two more albums with the band Arcana back in 1995 and 1997. He also worked as a side man with Miles Davis on many of his albums and recordings.

14. Roy Haynes

Roy Owen Haynes is an incredible 98 years old (in 2023) jazz drummer born in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. He is considered a pioneer in jazz drumming, having played swing, bebop, jazz fusion, and avant-garde jazz during his over 80-year career. 

The Boston native made his professional debut in 1942, and his full-time career began in 1945.

Haynes’ drumming style is characterized by his exceptional sense of swing and his ability to blend different styles and genres seamlessly. 

He is a master of the ride cymbal and often incorporates subtle accents and syncopated rhythms into his playing, creating a sense of forward momentum and drive. 

Haynes is also known for his creative use of the drum set as a whole, often incorporating elements of Latin, funk, and other styles into his playing. 

He is a virtuoso at improvisation and is known for his ability to play with a wide range of dynamics, from whisper-soft brushes to thunderous crashes.

With such a successful career, can you even imagine what he has done? Let’s start with winning incredible 3 Grammy awards in 1989, 2000, and 2012. 

Aside from wins, he was nominated for Grammys 5 more times. He also won 10 DownBeat Critics Polls and 3 DownBeat Readers Polls. At the 28th Annual Loft Party, Haynes received the Jazz Foundation of America’s Lifetime Achievement Award. 

He recorded over 30 albums as a lead drummer, three compilations, and over 130 albums as a sideman. Incredible, right?

13. Vinnie Colaiuta

Vincent Peter Colaiuta, better known as Vinnie, is an American-born jazz drummer who gains popularity from drumming for many genres. 

He received his first drum kit when he was seven and started playing them totally naturally. When he was in high school, his music teacher helped him to learn the basics. Vinnie studied at Berklee College of Music when his serious drumming career started. 

Colaiuta’s drumming style is distinguished by his technical precision, musical sensitivity, and creative approach. He is known for his mastery of complex rhythms, odd time signatures, and intricate drum fills. 

Vinnie has a highly developed sense of groove and can play with both power and finesse. Aside from that, he is also known for using a wide range of drumming techniques, including traditional grip, matched grip, and finger drumming.

Vinnie worked with an incredible number of artists. However, the longest collaboration was probably with Frank Zappa, with whom he played on albums like Joe’s Garage, Guitar, The Man From Utopia, and Strictly Commercial. 

He also collaborated with Sting on some of his albums, including Ten Summoner’s Tales from 1993 and 57th & 9th from 2016. 

12. Dave Weckl

Dave Weckl, born in St. Louis, Missouri, is one of the best jazz drummers today. He started playing drums when he was eight, alongside his father, who played piano. In the 80s, when Dave was around 20, he started playing with many popular artists.

Weckl’s drumming style is characterized by his impeccable timing, precise execution, and dynamic range. He has a highly developed sense of groove and is able to seamlessly blend different styles and techniques, including jazz, rock, and Latin rhythms. 

Weckl is also known for his use of advanced techniques such as polyrhythms, odd time signatures, and metric modulation. 

Dave has published four of his album, including the first one back in 1990 named Master Plan, and drummed on seven albums with his own band named Dave Weckl Band. 

He also played drums as a sideman with Bill Connors, Gerry Niewood, and Chris Minh Doky. Weckl also published several drum books and released videos that become important among drummers such as “Back to basics”, Natural evolution” and more.

11. Peter Erskine

Peter Erskine is one of the best jazz drummers ever. Erskine started playing drums when he was only four. He graduated from the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan. 

When Peter was only 18 years old, he joined Stan Kenton Orchestra, and at that time, Peter’s professional career started. 

Erskine’s drumming style is characterized by his highly melodic approach and ability to create complex and intricate drum parts supporting the overall musical composition. 

He has a highly developed sense of dynamics and can use various textures and colors to create a rich and diverse musical palette. Erskine also uses advanced techniques such as polyrhythms, odd time signatures, and metric modulation. 

Peter has an incredible discography, both as a lead drummer and a sideman for: Jaco Pastorius, Bob Mintzer, and Stan Kenton, to name a few. 

Erskine was also awarded back in 1992 with an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Berklee College of Music. Aside from incredible discography, Peter published incredible books, including The Erskine Method for Drumset and Drum Concepts and Techniques.

10. Art Blakey

Abdullah Ibn Buhaina, mostly known as Arthur Blakey, was a jazz drummer born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When he was in primary school, Art received some piano lessons, and that’s when he started showing a passion for music. 

Since life hasn’t been the nicest for Blakey, he soon learned how to play piano to earn money. In the early 1930s, Art shifted his love from piano to drums. 

Blakey’s drumming is popular with a propulsive swing, heavily emphasizing the ride cymbal and snare drum. He had a strong sense of time and was known for his ability to drive a band forward with his rhythm section. 

Blakey was also known for using explosive drum fills and soloing, often incorporating Latin and African rhythms into his playing.

He played with jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams for almost five years and toured with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra. He also worked with Billy Eckstine’s big band and toured with Buddy DeFranco.

9. Jack DeJohnette

Jack DeJohnette, born in Chicago, Illinois, is an American jazz drummer, composer, and pianist. Even though Jack started his musical career as a pianist, he switched to drums around his teenage years. 

He studied piano since he was four and became a professional at the age of 14 when a bit later he directed his love to drums as well. 

DeJohnette’s drumming style is defined by a strong emphasis on the use of cymbals, particularly the hi-hat, and his use of polyrhythms and odd time signatures. 

He has a keen sense of dynamics and is known for creating tension and releasing it through his playing. DeJohnette also frequently incorporates electronic drums and percussion into his music, which has helped expand jazz’s sonic palette.

He has played with many of the great jazz artists of the 20th century, including Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Keith Jarrett, and he continues to be an active performer and recording artist to this day. 

He was nominated seven times for Grammys, of which he won twice, for Best New Age Album in 2009 and the latest in 2022 for Best Jazz Instrumental Album. He also won the NEA Jazz Master award in 2012, and he has made collaboration as a lead drummer to over 30 albums and recordings!

8. Steve Smith

Steven “Steve”  Bruce Smith is a very prominent drummer born in the USA. He is probably the first drummer who started drumming so early – he received his first drum kit at only the age of two, and he has never dropped his drumstick ever since. 

At the age of 9, he took formal drumming lessons, and at the age of 12, he received his first professional drum kit when his professional career started to develop.

Smith plays the drums with a strong sense of groove and a deep understanding of different rhythmic patterns and time signatures. 

He is known for his technical virtuosity, his use of advanced drumming techniques such as linear playing and odd time signatures, and his ability to create complex polyrhythms. 

Steve also has a keen sense of dynamics and is able to create a wide range of sounds and textures on the drums.

Steve loved playing with bands and groups, so he was a co-leader of Journey rock band, where he played on several albums, including the last one published in 2017, titled Escape & Frontiers Live in Japan. 

He is also part of a jazz fusion group Vital Information since 1983. Aside from that, he worked with many artists as a sideman, like Frank Gambale and Neal Schon, and has become a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 2017. 

7. Gene Krupa

Eugene “Gene” Bertram Krupa was an incredible American-born Polish decent drummer and a showman. In the mid-1920s, Krupa went to Saint Joseph’s College, and at the same time, he started playing drums professionally. 

He played in the bend, and soon enough, in 1927, he was hired as a lead drummer to Thelma Terry and Her Playboys band. 

Krupa was known for his innovative use of the bass drum, which he played with great power and precision. He also popularized the use of the high-pitched snare drum sound, which became a signature element of his style. 

Krupa was also a master of brushwork, and he helped to elevate the use of brushes as a rhythmic and tonal element in jazz music.

Krupa was drummer to almost 30 albums where he was a lead drummer and also played with Benny Goodman as a side man for 5 of his albums. 

But his contributions were not stopping there. Krupa was the first endorser of Slingerland drums in the 1930s. 

At Krupa’s request, Slingerland created tom-toms with tuneable top and bottom heads, quickly becoming essential drum kit components. 

He also worked with Zildjian, resulting in the development of contemporary hi-hat cymbals as well as the standardization of the names and uses of the ride cymbal, crash cymbal, and splash cymbal. 

6. Max Roach

Maxwell “Max” Lemuel Roach was a pioneer of bebop, jazz drummer, and a bandleader born in Pasquotank County, North Carolina. 

Aside from bebop and jazz, Max experimented with many styles of music, thus why he was considered to be one of the most important drummers in the history of music. 

Roach was raised in a musical family; he began playing the bugle in marches at an early age while playing drums in religious ensembles at the age of ten.

Roach was known for the use of complex polyrhythms and his ability to create intricate, layered patterns on the drums. He was a master of dynamics, and a keen sense of nuance and subtlety defined his playing. 

Roach was also a gifted composer, and his music often featured complex structures and unconventional forms. 

Max received many awards, including MacArthur Genius Grant in 1988 and two awards for the French Grand Prix du Disque. Max has a park in London, Brixton, named after him as well, and in 2009, Max was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. 

He was a lead drummer to almost 50 albums and recordings and on 12 albums with Clifford Brown!

5. Elvin Jones

Elvin Ray Jones was another American jazz drummer also recognized as a drummer of the post-bop era. He grew up with very musical older brothers, a pianist, and a trumpet player, while Elvin was very much in love with drums by age two! 

As a teenager, Elvin joined high school’s black marching band, and after that, he joined the United States Army until 1949. After that, he started his professional drumming career.

Jones’ drumming style was characterized by his use of complex polyrhythms and his ability to create a driving, propulsive pulse that pushed the music forward. 

He often played with a loose, fluid style, using a variety of cymbals and drums to create a rich and textured sound. Jones was also known for his use of the “ride” cymbal, which he would play continuously with his right hand, creating a constant stream of rhythm and texture underneath the music. 

After he played for a while in a local Detroit club, he went to play with Billy Mitchell and Wardell Gray. Soon after, Jones joined Miles Davis on his second studio album Blue Moods, and in the later 50s, he joined the Sonny Rollins trio.

4. Jo Jones

Jonathan David Samuel Jones, mostly known as Jo Jones, was born in Chicago, Illinois, and was an impeccable jazz drummer, percussionist, and bandleader. 

Even though he was born in Chicago, his family moved to Alamba when he developed a love for music. He learned how to play saxophone, piano, and drums. Before he knew it, in the late 1920s, he was in Walter Page’s band.

Jo’s drumming style was characterized by his ability to swing and keep time with precision while adding creative and innovative touches. 

He was known for his use of the hi-hat cymbal, which he played distinctively, that became known as “hi-hatting.” 

This technique involved playing rapid, syncopated patterns on the hi-hat with one hand while keeping time on the snare drum with the other.

He played as a lead drummer on 11 albums, including Jo Jones Trio from 1959 and The Main Man from 1976. Jo also worked with other great musicians like Buck Clayton, Paul Quinichette, and Teddy Wilson. 

He also appeared in 6 movies about jazz musicians, including Jammin’ the Blues from 1944 and The Last of the Blue Devils from 1979.

3. Joe Morello

Joseph Albert “Jo” Morello was a jazz durmeer born in the USA. He first started playing the violin at the age of three and played in Boston Symphony Orchestra. 

At 15, he started playing drums when he realized he could never be good as the popular violinist Jascha Heifetz. 

Morello’s playing was defined by his use of odd time signatures and polyrhythms, which added a level of complexity and sophistication to his playing. 

He was also known for his ability to execute incredibly fast and precise drum fills, often incorporating techniques such as finger control and mallet work. 

Despite his technical prowess, Morello was always focused on serving the music and creating a solid rhythmic foundation for the other musicians to build upon.

Morello had a very rich discography as well as videography. He recorded 7 albums as lead drummer and many more with the Dave Brubeck quartet.

He also recorded 6 of his drum tapes, some of which are titled Joe Morello – Drum Method, which has five parts.


2. Jim Chapin

James “Jim” Forbes Chapin was a jazz drummer born in New York. Believe it or not, Jim didn’t start playing drums until he was 18 years old boy inspired by the work of Gene Krupa.  

Within two years, Chapin performed alongside Krupa at the New York World’s Fair in 1939.

Chapin was a master of the Moeller technique, a drumming technique that combines wrist and finger strokes to produce a powerful, fluid drum sound. He was also known for his intricate footwork on the bass drum pedal. 

Chapin was a gifted educator and author, and his books and instructional materials continue to be used by drummers around the world. 

For almost 20 years, from 1940 to 1960, Jim played with a variety of groups and bands, including the Casa Loma Orchestra as well as alongside Woody Herman, Tommy Dorse, and Mike Riley. 

Chapin was honored with two awards for his services to music and education: the American Eagle recognition from the National Music Council in Washington and a lifetime achievement recognition from Berklee College of Music in Boston.

1. Buddy Rich

The first on our list of 55 best jazz drummers but also a songwriter, bandleader, and conductor is the incredible Bernard “Buddy” Rich. Born and raised in New York, Rich developed a love for jazz music very early. 

He started drumming at the age of two, and when he looked old enough, he would sneak into bars so he could sit on the drum set. At only age 15, he became the second most wanted and most paid child entertainer. 

Buddy was an amazing drummer. His unique style was characterized by his use of a powerful, driving swing feel and his ability to play incredibly fast and complex drum solos.

He was a master of the rudiments and could execute them with incredible precision and speed, often incorporating them into his solos and fills. He was a versatile drummer who could play in various musical styles, from swing and bebop to Latin jazz and rock.

He was a drum leader on almost 50 albums, including Krupa and Rich from 1956 and The Roar of ’74, nine posthumous releases, and 13 compilation albums.

From 1953 to 1966, he worked with Harry James on 21 of his albums, but with Count Basie, Harry James, and Benny Carter as well. His incredible work remains unbeatable, which is why it’s deservedly first on this best jazz drummer list.

Wrap Up

My plan is to expand this list over time but this is it for now.

Let me know in the comments who would you like me to include.

Denis Loncaric
Denis Loncaric

My name is Denis. I am a drummer, percussionist, music enthusiast, and blogger. Drums have been my passion for 15 years now. My idea is to write about the things I like and I am interested in. I want to share my drum passion with fellow musicians who walk, talk, and breathe drums.

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