The first time I went to see Lenny Kravitz in concert, I had difficulty taking my eyes off the drummer, Cindy Blackman. Or more specifically, off her amazing set of biceps. That woman took the term “ripped” to a whole new level. Don’t get me wrong, Lenny rocked the house and he’s one of my favorite stars. But nothing he did during that show outshone the sheer power and passion with which that woman pounded out her drum solo. It seemed to go on forever and my arms hurt just watching her, but Ms. Blackman only seemed to become more energetic as she lashed out at the instruments surrounding her. The drum solo-undeniably one of the most memorable parts of any concert.
The modern standard drum set has been around since the 1930s. However, for the first thirty years or so of their existence, drum sets and the men and women who played them were consigned to the background. They were a key component of any band, of course; where else was the beat going to come from? But it was not until rock and roll took center stage in American culture that drummers really began to receive their own stage time. During the 1960s and 1970s, the rock genre witnessed the debut of a steady stream of songs that featured a new aspect-the drum solo.
A drum solo is, as the name implies, an instrumental solo played on a drum kit. The solo may be planned or improvised and of any length short of being the main performance. In rock and roll, the cradle of the drum solo, these mini-performances are unique in two respects. One, they are, traditionally, always unaccompanied. This poses a striking contrast to the solos of other instruments, which can be accompanied or unaccompanied. And two, they are usually free form in that they adhere to no discernable tempo, style or structure related to the songs they accompany.
After rock introduced the world to drum solos, other genres began to incorporate them into their repertoires. Modern jazz, for example, certainly makes use of the drum solo. However, jazz drum solos are a bit of a different breed, mainly in that they tend to adhere to the tempo and form of the song they accompany and in that other instruments may be played simultaneously. Similarly, the drum corps of modern marching bands use drum solos to allow the mobile individuals to change positions on the field without having to play their own instruments. This is very different from the original drum solos of the 1960s, but it certainly constitutes a certain kind of drum solo.
There have been innumerable songs written that include drum solos, and some of these solos have been so good that their songs have survived the test of time. “Wipe Out,” for example, was first released in 1962, but every person in the United States today knows the tune. Come on, sing it with me, you know you know the words! Na na na na na na na na na…