Folks who are digging swingin’ drummers, too often forget to mention the under-appreciated Sonny Greer who spend half of his career in Duke Ellington’s various aggregations, starting with a quintet in 1919, continuing with Duke’s Washingtonians in 1924, who eventually became Duke Ellington & His (Famous) Orchestra.
Sonny Greer was *the* driving force behind romping pieces like “Ko-Ko”, “Harlem Airshaft”, or “Cotton Tail”. His dry, forward-going beat propelled the orchestra, and made it fly to triumphant heights.
His gig at Duke’s court ended quite abruptly in 1950, when Duke had hired Butch Ballard as the 2nd drummer for a Scandinavian tour because of Sonny’s excessive drinking habits.
Here he can be heard in a forgotten feature piece, extra tailored by Barney Bigard & the Duke, for Sonny’s abilities as the slap-happy skin man who pulled several of his many tricks during “Drummer’s Delight”, like groovy snare marching routines, crackling rim-shots, and some of the crispiest hi-hat sounds ever.
Personnel & date to Barney Bigard & His Orchestra: Barney Bigard (cl) Rex Stewart (ct) Juan Tizol (v-tb) Harry Carney (bs) Duke Ellington (p) Fred Guy (g) Billy Taylor (b) Sonny Greer (d) – New York, January 19, 1938.
— Blog owner’s note for the jazz history experts: “Drummer’s Delight” was recorded three days after Benny Goodman’s famous concert at Carnegie Hall on January 16, where some of the Duke’s men above were participating.
— Addendum: Here’s the cover of the LP-twofer where the only take of “Drummer’s Delight” can be found (carefully restored by yours truly; you will never hear it so “clean” on vinyl):