I once had the immense pleasure of seeing Max Roach play a solo show—just him and his drums. Watching and listening was worth more than a hundred drum lessons.
At one point, he recalled a battle of the drummers held in Central Park. He and other legends took turns wowing each other and the crowd with their solos around the kit. And then came Papa Jo Jones, longtime drummer for Count Basie. Jones, something of an elder statesman among the drummers that day, walked out on stage and sat down with nothing other than his sticks and a hi-hat. According to Roach, the solo Jones played blew away his competition.
After telling the story, Roach recreated Jones’s hi-hat solo for the audience. It was something like what he does in this video.
Jones had laid bare an assumption his fellow drummers had made: a drum solo uses the entire kit. Not for Jones. There are tradeoffs of soloing only with hi-hat, but the counter tradeoffs apply when using the full kit. The constraint "hi-hat only" allowed Jones to go deep. Until that day in Central Park, Roach and his fellow legends may not have considered such an approach.
And until hearing Roach tell the story and reproduce Jones’s solo, neither had I.
Thank you for reading.