Osie Johnson [mostly] forgotten drummer

mtarrani

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I was rewatching some old clips on YouTube and Osie Johnson was in a few of them. I was aware of him and often wondered why he was not as well known as I thought that he should be. I did a little research and discovered that he passed in early 1966. Here are some articles on a drummer that, surprisingly, was almost as prolific in the studio as Art Taylor and a handful of others: Steve Cerra's Jazz Profiles article: http://jazzprofiles.blogspot.com/2017/08/osie-johnson-undistinguished.html and Steve Wallace's well written article: https://wallacebass.com/the-strange-case-of-osie-johnson/

Here is a relatively famous clip of Johnson (with Monk and Ahmed Abdul Malik:
Johnson has faded into obscurity, but I am hoping that my post will at least make folks aware of who he was (or remind my jazz brothers and sisters.)
 

Griener

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When I think about which (jazz) drummers are still well known these days, the common factor is that most of them played with a band and probably on top if hat played on a ground-breaking record.
Elvin Jones is know because he played with Coltrane, but nobody knows Edgar Bateman.
Both had very advanced and ground breaking concepts for drum set playing, but only Elvin gets the recognition because people are still listening to the recordings.
Shelly Manne was one of the most popular drummers in his days and rightfully so; now my students never heard of him before I introduce them to his playing.
When you listen to Specs Wright's playing on Red Garland's "At the Prelude" he's right there on Philly Joe's level, but he never recorded with Miles and died rather young, so nobody talks about him now.
Osie Johnson in his days made probably more money as a studio drummer (and singer!) than most of his contemporaries, but he's not on the recording that keep his fame alive.
I could go on for hours about forgotten, but great musicians (especially drummers), and I even haven't been there. Just discovered Peter Littman from his playing with Dick Twardzick. There is very little recorded evidence of his playing, but Daniel Humair who heard him live raves about him and he should know.
 

Griener

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Dick Twardzick was a monster pianist who is also sadly forgotten. I have some of his recordings with Chet Baker and he was on the same level as Bud Powell in the genius department!
Listen to his trio recordings with Littman, especially his own compositions "Yellow Tango", "Albuquerque Social Swim" and "A Crutch For The Crab". I certainly wish he wouldn't have died at age 23. Would have helped with his fame as well.
 
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Mike,
Hope you are well.

I hear you on Osie, he's one of my "go to's" for solid professional jazz drumming. Check out Hal Singer's "Blue Stompin," and Coleman Hawkins's "Soul." Unfortunately Osie's fantastic (and only) solo CD (comp. of 2 LP's I think?) was mastered a little slow (unforgivable!) so his sound is very floppy and unrepresentative, but it's a really good record.

It should also be known that the rhythm section of Osie, Milt Hinton, Hank Jones, and (sometimes) Barry Galbraith, was THE NYC rhythm section for a LONG time. Studio work, commercials, singers, horn players, etc. They were IT! And (of course) they always sounded great.

Griener,
I am going to check out some Peter Littman stuff. I did run into his name a while back, but other drummers were taking priority at the time. Which recordings would you suggest?

I did a deep dive into Specs Wright a while back, I am also from Philly, he's one of my faves. And Philly Joe LOVED his playing too. Sometimes it's tough to tell where some ideas originated, because Specs (not Philly Joe) was THE top drummer in and around Philly for a while, and Philly Joe really looked up to him. Fortunately with older Philly cats he's not as "unknown" as he is elsewhere.

The same could be said about "Bate." I saw Edgar Bateman play many times around Philly, and have really tried to internalize some of the things he told me. GREAT drummer!!!!! Thanks for mentioning him.

The "popularity" issue is a complex one. Where a drummer lived, how long he lived, work with a popular band, personality, etc... This subject could require it's own thread, because it's an interesting one.

Listing your "favorite unsung greats" is always interesting and fun (IMHO MUCH more interesting than listing your favorite drummers, sorry) and Osie is always among mine. I think of him along with Joe Chambers, Freddie Waits, Lex Humphries, Mickey Roker, Grady Tate, and Al Harewood, etc... as "the most popular unsung greats" (ha, as weird as that phrase is,) because they are the jazz drummers who are most often mentioned in this specific context.

But...

There are always a few new (to me) "unsung greats" from the Jazz world that are at the front of my radar screen for about six months at a time. Most recently they have been: Jeff Williams (his solo stuff and Lookout Farm,) Carl Burnett (Three Sounds, Freddie, and Art Pepper) Frankie Dunlop's playing with early Maynard (we all know the Monk stuff, but the Maynard stuff is AMAZING!!!) I love Daniel Humair's work with Franco Ambrosetti. Paul Humphries (the blueprint of a PROFESSIONAL drummer, Jimmy Smith, Etta James, Jerry Garcia.) Eddie Moore (played with Jackie Mac and Hutch, that's good enough for me.) Lawrence Marable (the West coast Philly Joe.) Dave Bailey, swinging' drummer that NEVER gets mentioned. Tootie Heath (I had always loved his drumming, and he's a very nice man. But JDA hipped me to an AMAZING series of recordings that he did with Dexter, Kenny Drew and NHOP, and I am still wearing them out! Thanks Joe.)

A few recent deeper dives have given me: Older Chicago cat Dorel Anderson, Phily Avant Garde drummer JR Mitchell, and Michael diPasqua (from Boston I think? One great record with Jan G. and some great work with Double Image, Gary Burton too, I think?)

I have also jumped into the deep end with the English jazz drumming history as well: Phil Seaman, Alan Jackson, John Marshall, Tony Oxley, Clive Thacker, (and although not from the UK) Stu Martin. This dive is only 4 months old, so I'm still "treading water" with a few of those guys.

The rock -studio-fusion drummers that I have been REALLY digging into recently are: Jimmy Copely, Dave Mattacks (the English Steve Gadd,) Jerry Marotta (I have always loved brother Rick's playing, and had loved Jerry's playing with Gabriel. But he is SO much more than his Gabriel work! His own band The Security Project is cool, as is his playing with Tony Levin, but I really love his slightly left of center drumming with the Indigo Girls!) Stan Lynch 's drumming with Henley is so perfect to me, and (of course) the Heartbreakers stuff has always (for me) set the bar for "modern" rock-pop drumming tradition. I have always loved Mark Brzezicki's drumming (both with and without Big Country. His work with Procol Harum is really good too.) BJ Wilson (the original Procol Harum drummer) is rarely mentioned with the great English rock drummers, but he was a GREAT drummer and deserved to be mentioned in the company of Bonham, Moon, Barlow, Watts, Ringo, etc. I have always loved Larrie Londin and Eddie Bayers, and younger studio drummer Brian Macleod (Toy Matinee, John Hiatt, Tears for Fears, Sheryl Crow) reminds me of them. He always seems to play the "right thing" and plays on some GREAT records.

Sure sometimes these drummers are six month learning obsessions. But if you are lucky you'll find one that will permanently change EVERYTHING for you. That happened with me with Canadian drummer Terry Clarke. I had heard his name for years, and just never got around to listening to him. Then, a chance meeting in NYC, led me to really investigating his playing. Additionally, (at the same time) David Gilmore (the gtr player in my band at the time) really pushed me to check him out, so I finally did. I got obsessed with his playing about 15 years ago, and have been ever since. His playing changed my life!

I interviewed him later for the PAS, and today the 4 volumes of Jim Hall "Live" are (to me) the guitar trio version of Bill Evans Trio At the Vanguard (with Lafaro and Motian) in their musical importance, and listening pleasure. They are never too far from my musical conscience.

Ok guys, get listening, you have the time!
Comments?
MSG
 
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mtarrani

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Thank you for the insights and wealth of additional information. Actually, that goes to both of you!
 

Way Out Wardell

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So glad to see Peter Littman get mentioned here!
Littman and Twardzik went on tour with Chet Baker in '55. Not long before Twardzik died on that tour, they recorded a few tunes written by Bob Zieff which were pretty great. They're cooking on 'Mid Fort E', for example.
 

studrum

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Mike,
Hope you are well.

I hear you on Osie, he's one of my "go to's" for solid professional jazz drumming. Check out Hal Singer's "Blue Stompin," and Coleman Hawkins's "Soul." Unfortunately Osie's fantastic (and only) solo CD (comp. of 2 LP's I think?) was mastered a little slow (unforgivable!) so his sound is very floppy and unrepresentative, but it's a really good record.

It should also be known that the rhythm section of Osie, Milt Hinton, Hank Jones, and (sometimes) Barry Galbraith, was THE NYC rhythm section for a LONG time. Studio work, commercials, singers, horn players, etc. They were IT! And (of course) they always sounded great.

Griener,
I am going to check out some Peter Littman stuff. I did run into his name a while back, but other drummers were taking priority at the time. Which recordings would you suggest?

I did a deep dive into Specs Wright a while back, I am also from Philly, he's one of my faves. And Philly Joe LOVED his playing too. Sometimes it's tough to tell where some ideas originated, because Specs (not Philly Joe) was THE top drummer in and around Philly for a while, and Philly Joe really looked up to him. Fortunately with older Philly cats he's not as "unknown" as he is elsewhere.

The same could be said about "Bate." I saw Edgar Bateman play many times around Philly, and have really tried to internalize some of the things he told me. GREAT drummer!!!!! Thanks for mentioning him.

The "popularity" issue is a complex one. Where a drummer lived, how long he lived, work with a popular band, personality, etc... This subject could require it's own thread, because it's an interesting one.

Listing your "favorite unsung greats" is always interesting and fun (IMHO MUCH more interesting than listing your favorite drummers, sorry) and Osie is always among mine. I think of him along with Joe Chambers, Freddie Waits, Lex Humphries, Mickey Roker, Grady Tate, and Al Harewood, etc... as "the most popular unsung greats" (ha, as weird as that phrase is,) because they are the jazz drummers who are most often mentioned in this specific context.

But...

There are always a few new (to me) "unsung greats" from the Jazz world that are at the front of my radar screen for about six months at a time. Most recently they have been: Jeff Williams (his solo stuff and Lookout Farm,) Carl Burnett (Three Sounds, Freddie, and Art Pepper) Frankie Dunlop's playing with early Maynard (we all know the Monk stuff, but the Maynard stuff is AMAZING!!!) I love Daniel Humair's work with Franco Ambrosetti. Paul Humphries (the blueprint of a PROFESSIONAL drummer, Jimmy Smith, Etta James, Jerry Garcia.) Eddie Moore (played with Jackie Mac and Hutch, that's good enough for me.) Lawrence Marable (the West coast Philly Joe.) Dave Bailey, swinging' drummer that NEVER gets mentioned. Tootie Heath (I had always loved his drumming, and he's a very nice man. But JDA hipped me to an AMAZING series of recordings that he did with Dexter, Kenny Drew and NHOP, and I am still wearing them out! Thanks Joe.)

A few recent deeper dives have given me: Older Chicago cat Dorel Anderson, Phily Avant Garde drummer JR Mitchell, and Michael diPasqua (from Boston I think? One great record with Jan G. and some great work with Double Image, Gary Burton too, I think?)

I have also jumped into the deep end with the English jazz drumming history as well: Phil Seaman, Alan Jackson, John Marshall, Tony Oxley, Clive Thacker, (and although not from the UK) Stu Martin. This dive is only 4 months old, so I'm still "treading water" with a few of those guys.

The rock -studio-fusion drummers that I have been REALLY digging into recently are: Jimmy Copely, Dave Mattacks (the English Steve Gadd,) Jerry Marotta (I have always loved brother Rick's playing, and had loved Jerry's playing with Gabriel. But he is SO much more than his Gabriel work! His own band The Security Project is cool, as is his playing with Tony Levin, but I really love his slightly left of center drumming with the Indigo Girls!) Stan Lynch 's drumming with Henley is so perfect to me, and (of course) the Heartbreakers stuff has always (for me) set the bar for "modern" rock-pop drumming tradition. I have always loved Mark Brzezicki's drumming (both with and without Big Country. His work with Procol Harum is really good too.) BJ Wilson (the original Procol Harum drummer) is rarely mentioned with the great English rock drummers, but he was a GREAT drummer and deserved to be mentioned in the company of Bonham, Moon, Barlow, Watts, Ringo, etc. I have always loved Larrie Londin and Eddie Bayers, and younger studio drummer Brian Macleod (Toy Matinee, John Hiatt, Tears for Fears, Sheryl Crow) reminds me of them. He always seems to play the "right thing" and plays on some GREAT records.

Sure sometimes these drummers are six month learning obsessions. But if you are lucky you'll find one that will permanently change EVERYTHING for you. That happened with me with Canadian drummer Terry Clarke. I had heard his name for years, and just never got around to listening to him. Then, a chance meeting in NYC, led me to really investigating his playing. Additionally, (at the same time) David Gilmore (the gtr player in my band at the time) really pushed me to check him out, so I finally did. I got obsessed with his playing about 15 years ago, and have been ever since. His playing changed my life!

I interviewed him later for the PAS, and today the 4 volumes of Jim Hall "Live" are (to me) the guitar trio version of Bill Evans Trio At the Vanguard (with Lafaro and Motian) in their musical importance, and listening pleasure. They are never too far from my musical conscience.

Ok guys, get listening, you have the time!
Comments?
MSG
This is a great list that could help a large range of drummers, from beginners, to teachers, to veteran players who need to "expand their minds." It should almost be a published pamphlet, "What You May Have Missed," hanging up in drum stores around the world, reflecting as it does the great deal of listening, research, and reflection that nomsmusic has done. That's a lot of work, my man!

I knew of many of these drummers and their work (but not all!), but let's start with the first, Osie Johnson. I have some jazz records with Osie, for sure, but I really knew of him as a studio-quality drummer on blues recordings. Great to hear more about him. Then to the end: Terry Clarke changed my life regarding drumming and more, too. The original Jim Hall Live album was the starting point. Throughout his career, Terry's drumming is brilliant and beautiful.

I am a long-time PAS member and want to seek out your interview with Terry. I was (am - always?) a student of his teacher, the late, great Jim Blackley. If we ever get out of this health crisis, I need to get it together and try and get some studies in with Mr. Clarke.

Thank you for your post.
 

BlackPearl

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The Toronto jazz scene produced many great players (not just drummers) who remain under appreciated outside Canada. For instance, you could switch out Jim Hall for the wonderful guitarist Ed Bickert, and get another contender for greatest guitar trio (also with Terry Clarke and Don Thompson) :
 
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This is a great list that could help a large range of drummers, from beginners, to teachers, to veteran players who need to "expand their minds." It should almost be a published pamphlet, "What You May Have Missed," hanging up in drum stores around the world, reflecting as it does the great deal of listening, research, and reflection that nomsmusic has done. That's a lot of work, my man!

I knew of many of these drummers and their work (but not all!), but let's start with the first, Osie Johnson. I have some jazz records with Osie, for sure, but I really knew of him as a studio-quality drummer on blues recordings. Great to hear more about him. Then to the end: Terry Clarke changed my life regarding drumming and more, too. The original Jim Hall Live album was the starting point. Throughout his career, Terry's drumming is brilliant and beautiful.

I am a long-time PAS member and want to seek out your interview with Terry. I was (am - always?) a student of his teacher, the late, great Jim Blackley. If we ever get out of this health crisis, I need to get it together and try and get some studies in with Mr. Clarke.

Thank you for your post.
Thanks Studrum, I'm glad you liked my little contribution to the forum. We have ALL have missed a lot, no one can know everything and everyone.

I am one of the lucky ones, when I am not playing, teaching, or practicing, I am listening and researching the history of this wonderful instrument. I try to have one foot in the past and one foot in the future, straddling the fence if you will. But in my humble opinion, it's more fun and educational to look back (with the aide or the lens of historical significance) than try to look forward for the newest, bestest, greatest, thang.

Truthfully, I even find those terms (best, greatest...) rather boring. None of those musicians that I listed were or are "the greatest," but they all made important and significant contributions to what we ALL do on the drums and in music.

Sure the present and the future are where we live and are moving into (obviously.) But that is the endless rabbit hole of life, and I don't want to try to be a psychic and tell the "musical future." We are all part of the present. I'm happy letting today happen and let the lens of history tell me what-who was important (in music) and look back and study it-them.

And hey if you really look at it, there isn't much that's new under the sun. And everything that happens today, has it's roots in yesterday, so it's all really the same thing anyway. (You'll have to excuse me, I just read Steven Hawking's "A Brief History of Time." And I understood about every third word, but still learned a ton!)

So what blues recordings did Osie do that you dig? I really never investigated that side of his playing.

Blackpearl,
Yes the Canadian contribution to modern jazz is woefully overlooked, and Ed was a wonderful guitarist, I have several recordings that he's on. Just like I am doing a dive into The English jazz drumming tradition now. A while back I dove into the Canadian Jazz drumming tradition (on Terry's urging.) And listened to (discovered) Claude Ranger, Jerry Fuller, and of course more Terry Clarke, and a few others. All are GREAT players in their own rights. Do you have any more great Canadian drummers for me?

I also correspond with a few of Jim's students to help me along with his wonderful books, and work on his stuff a great deal. I was in the process of trying to arrange an interview with him when he passed away.

Always learning!!!!!
Thanks,
MSG
 

A.TomicMorganic

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My whole approach to drum solos was formed by Osie's work with Colman Hawkins back in the early 60s. So simple and melodic.
 

BlackPearl

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Blackpearl,
Yes the Canadian contribution to modern jazz is woefully overlooked, and Ed was a wonderful guitarist, I have several recordings that he's on. Just like I am doing a dive into The English jazz drumming tradition now. A while back I dove into the Canadian Jazz drumming tradition (on Terry's urging.) And listened to (discovered) Claude Ranger, Jerry Fuller, and of course more Terry Clarke, and a few others. All are GREAT players in their own rights. Do you have any more great Canadian drummers for me?

I also correspond with a few of Jim's students to help me along with his wonderful books, and work on his stuff a great deal. I was in the process of trying to arrange an interview with him when he passed away.

Always learning!!!!!9
Thanks,
MSG
I certainly can't claim to be an expert, but one drummer you should definitely check out is Barry Elms. He was playing with Ed Bickert the only time I got to see him play. I thinkk it was Barry's quintet, though I'm not sure , it was back in the early 90s. Great player in any case. He also wrote a university thesis on Elvin Jones which was really good.
 

Scott K Fish

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I certainly never forgot Osie Johnson. In my earlier years of buying albums, seeing Osie Johnson on drums always gave me confidence to buy the album, even when I knew nothing about the music, and very little or nothing about the main artist.

Johnson's records with the Clark Terry/Bob Brookmeyer bands are among my favorites.

Best,
skf
 

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