In jazz music, the “battle,” where two or more players of the same instrument are featured together in a band, is a long-running tradition — from the Gretsch Drum Nights at New York City’s famed Birdland club in the ’50s and ’60s, to the ’50s sessions of trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie and Roy Eldridge.
On the Capital Region’s jazz scene however, organized battles haven’t really been attempted before. A couple of months ago, local drummer and vibraphonist Michael Benedict first got the idea to change that.
“I think it’s something that is very unique, and is sort of overdue,” Benedict said.
The Van Dyck Drum Battle, which will feature Benedict and fellow local drummers Pete Sweeney, Mark Foster and Bob Halek performing with Benedict’s regular group Bopitude, will take place Friday night.
Van Dyck Drum Battle
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
WHERE: The Van Dyck, 237 Union St., Schenectady
HOW MUCH: $15
MORE INFO: 348-7999, www.vandycklounge.com
Throughout the evening, the drummers will square off against each other in pairs and three at a time, with the finale featuring all four drummers onstage. Bopitude features tenor saxophonist Brian Patneaude, trumpeter Chris Pasin, pianist David Gleason and bassist Mike Lawrence.
Benedict organized the evening using the Gretsch Drum Nights as a template — in particular the famed 1960 match-up featuring Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, Charlie Persip and Elvin Jones.
“The Gretsch drum company would sponsor these Drum Nights, and they would hire four of their top representatives for the company to play the drums with the jazz group,” Benedict said. “So it would show off not only the drums, but obviously the drummers.”
All four drummers on the bill are professionally trained, and have long histories playing in the Capital Region and beyond.
In addition to the hard bop of Bopitude, Benedict also plays vibraphone with his group Jazz Vibes, and has worked with such world-renowned artists as tenor saxophonist J.R. Monterose and baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan.
Sweeney has worked with Pat Metheny, Larry Coryell, Police guitarist Andy Summers and Duke Robillard, to name a few. Skidmore College music faculty member Mark Foster is a member of the Albany Symphony Orchestra and the Empire Jazz Orchestra. Halek also plays with the Empire Jazz Orchestra, as well as Keith Pray’s Big Soul Ensemble and the Colleen Pratt Band.
“What’s nice is they’re all jazz drummers, but they all come from various different backgrounds as well,” Benedict said. “For instance, Mark Foster is part of the Albany Symphony; Pete Sweeney and Bob Halek have done a lot of rock ’n’ roll and pop playing as well as jazz. So it’s a nice combination of guys, and I think we’re all going to work very well together.”
The evening will start out with different pairs of drummers playing with the band, and will move on to sets of three drummers. One song will feature the drummers on brushes instead of sticks; on another song, Benedict plans to play vibraphone.
“It’s basically going to be straight-ahead jazz tunes,” he said. “It’s going to be some swing tunes — we’ve got a couple of Duke Ellington tunes that we’re going to do, and then some post-bebop tunes, like from Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins. So we’re going to use material from the standard jazz repertoire in order to feature all the drummers.”
The big finale, with all four drummers playing onstage, will pose the greatest challenge to the musicians.
“The main thing we have to keep in mind is, especially when we’re playing with the whole band, is we’ve got to keep the volume to a degree where everybody can hear each other clearly, and that’s going to be the main challenge,” Benedict said.
“And the thing is, these guys are very educated drummers; they’re very schooled drummers, and they listen all the time. That’s the main thing that strikes me about these drummers — they’re real professional musicians.”
Benedict hopes to keep doing more of these battles after this first one.
“I feel that it’s something that we can promote out of the area,” he said. “I really feel that it’s going to be very successful here, and my hope is to bring this concept and maybe take it on the road a little bit in the future, much in the same way as the old Jazz at the Philharmonic used to do with [promoter] Norman Granz.”