“Swanee River” Drum Transcription — Joe Morello with the Dave Brubeck Quartet

Posted on April 16, 2023

 Swanee River

Since I’ve talked about Joe Morello the author, today, let’s talk about Joe Morello the drummer with the track “Swanee River”. It’s about time — I often credit Joe and the Dave Brubeck Quartet for getting me into jazz. 

While doing some research for Master Studies, I came across another Joe Morello book called Off the Record. It’s a collection of Joe Morello drum solos, transcribed by Marvin Dahlgren (one of the authors behind 4–Way Coordination).

According to Drum Book History, Off the Record has eight songs:

  • “Swanee River”
  • “Fatha Time”
  • “Mother Time”
  • “Sounds of the Loop”
  • “Short’nin’ Bread”
  • “Shim Wha”
  • “Far More Drums
  • “Watusi Drums”

Drum Book History

Unfortunately, it looks like the book has been out of print for decades, but I found three of the songs (“Sounds of the Loop”, “Far More Drums”, and “Watusi Drums”) on some guy’s website. I went ahead and combined these scans into a single PDF for redundancy.

It seemed like recreating one of the lost transcriptions would be a fun project, since the songs are clearly worth looking into. But despite the fact that the book is subtitled “A Collection of Famous Drum Solos”, some of the songs here are pretty damn obscure. One of the transcriptions I found, “Watusi Drums”, is actually a solo from a live album called The Dave Brubeck Quartet In Europe

That makes sense since the studio take from Time In actually has no drum solo. The only problem is that I can’t find the Live In Europe album. At least, you can’t stream it in the US, although I’m not convinced you can stream it anywhere

The songs “Fatha Time” and “Mother Time” are from an equally rare Joe Morello solo album called It’s About Time (this one is at least on YouTube). The other two songs can be found together on the album Gone With the Wind, although who can say that the solos in the book are from the studio cuts?

To that end, “Swanee River” also shows up on a live album called Live From Vienna; if “Short’nin’ Bread” is also on a live record, I haven’t found it. 

Although my gut tells me that the solo from Off the Record is the live version, today I decided to do the recording from Gone With the Wind. Unsurprisingly, the whole album pays tribute to the South. I guess the band was ready to track Time Out (the LP that would have “Take Five”), but the record label wanted to make some money on a more traditional jazz release first, so the quartet whipped this one together in two days. 

(Funny enough, the subsequent Time Out would become a far more successful album in pretty much every category).

Looking into the song after completing my transcription, I found out that “Swanee River” (originally titled “Old Folks at Home”) was first written in 1851 for a goddamn minstrel show, which is… disgusting. Oh, it gets worse: the tune is the official state song of Florida, and the lyrics weren’t sanitized until 2008. 

No further comment. 

Dave Brubeck’s values shouldn’t be questioned, and I guess the best way to listen to a number such as this one is to find a performance with no lyrics, like Dave’s. Honestly, there isn’t much resemblance — I can barely recognize the original melody in Dave’s rendition. 

Alright, let’s get to the bloody drum solo. Here we have a classic example of trading 4s, with Joe and Dave exchanging 4 bar breaks, starting with the piano. I decided to include 4 bars of slashes for the piano solos, to make following along easier. And just like last time, the drums on this tune are played with wire brushes. 

In total, there are eight solos to enjoy. The first solo is actually played straight and features a cool polymeter thing with a 6 note accent pattern on the snare. 

The most intense moment probably comes in the fifth solo, where Joe again plays straight 8ths, using his right hand to move around the kit while his left–hand stays on the snare to play a sweeping roll:

It’s a challenging thing to play, and I tried my best to notate it. 

My favorite solo is the penultimate one:

It might not look like much on paper, but I find it hilariously disorienting, and it feels like a lifetime passes during the second measure. 

One last thing: there are a lot of changes in dynamics on this one, so pay close attention to the sheet music.

Download PDF.

“Swanee River” on SongWhip.

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