“St. Louis Blues” Drum Transcription — Joe Morello with the Dave Brubeck Quartet

Posted on July 10, 2024

 st louis blues

It sure is challenging to feel patriotic these days, but let’s belatedly commemorate the fourth and one of America’s great cultural exports with a jazz transcription: Joe Morello playing “St. Louis Blues” with Dave Brubeck. 

This particular recording comes from the live At Carnegie Hall album, recorded and released in 1963. It’s a pretty great album if you’ve never checked it out — the text spiel on the artwork states that the concert “was the night the Dave Brubeck Quartet had reached swinging heights few of us had ever heard it obtain before.” 

The real famous track amongst drummers is the ten minute beast “Castilian Drums”, a song that pretty much inspired every extended classic rock drum solo to come in the later in the 60s and 70s. I’m not sure I’ll ever work up the courage to tackle that one in any capacity. (It’s another 5/4 drum solo, and while “Take Five” is on this album, the drum solo there is much shorter.)

The drum solo today is a charming one–minute feature towards the end of the tune. As far as I know, the quartet never released a studio recording of “St. Louis Blues”, but the song was a common part of the band’s repertoire in the early/mid 60s, typically played as an opener. 

I found another transcription for sale of “St Louis Blues”, taken from a concert film of a Belgian gig in 1964. It’s this film that gave the internet a famous video of “Take Five”. (The full concert is currently on Facebook — you can still buy the DVD if you happen to own a disc drive, which I know are going extinct.)

Anyway, “St. Louis Blues” is a pretty old tune, written by trumpeter WC Handy in 1914. The chart is unsurprisingly built around blues progressions, but the head starts out with an interesting Latin flair before moving to a swing feel. None of my fake books seems to have this chart but you can check out a lead sheet here. Doesn’t really matter since the solo is totally unaccompanied.

Things start out with a discernible motif with snare drags, toms hits, and some cymbal fills:

The some of the drags are played as discrete 16th notes, while others are more of a buzzed variety, which I have notated as grace notes with a slur. The ride cymbal hits sound like they’re played with one hand muting the cymbal — it is possible to muscle these out as quadruple strokes. Easy enough for a guy like Joe I reckon. 

Things really get cooking with this 3 beat motif, creating a cool polymetric thing starting on beat 4 with the fortissimo marking:

Note the extensive use of drags before accented swung notes.

Next comes some short rolls into kick drum hits:

They way Joe fills around the toms is so smooth — it’s one of the things about the “Take Five” solo that really left an impression on me when I first heard that tune. 

The final movement starts with another 3 beat motif, again starting at the fortissimo marking:

The climax comes with some blistering 16ths and big accents:

It’s nice to talk about the kind of jazz drumming I like after talking about Buddy Rich (a.k.a. the kind of jazz drumming that just doesn’t click with me). Joe is very clearly a total drum set player and he’s got such a good rhythmic sense. His drumming also sounds huge despite being from the 1960s… although this is a much smaller ensemble than a big band.

Just like last time, I did write the kick drum as a separate rhythm when Joe is stomping out quarters. It does get a little messy a times but if I’m going to use separate voices I want to avoid switching between one voice and two voices as much as a I can. 

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