Martin Drew: Jazz drummer who played with Oscar Peterson, Ronnie Scott and Dizzy Gillespie

Sunday 23 October 2011 03:41

The most demanding job that any drummer could have was to play drums in the Oscar Peterson Trio and it was a testimony to Martin Drew's ranking amongst the best in the world that Peterson chose the Englishman for his group. A huge man who was unusually passionate about his music, Martin Drew would never compromise.

"He had the biggest drum kit in the world," said his friend, the bassist Dave Green, "and no matter how big or small the job, he always took all the drums, cymbals and trappings with him. So to assemble it he arrived at the gig hours before anyone else and he was there for hours afterwards taking it all apart again.

"The tenor player Tommy Smith recorded an album of ballads with an American rhythm section in New York. The ceremonial launch of the album in London was to take the form of a week of nights at the Pizza Express featuring Tommy Smith. They couldn't afford to bring the Americans over here, so instead Martin and I backed Tommy. Martin had his huge kit there every night, but because we played nothing but ballads from the album all week he had to play with just brushes on cymbals. The only thing we played at even medium tempo was a very sedate version of Duke Ellington's 'Cotton Tail', which is normally played very fast.

"On the last night Martin could stand it no more and during 'Cotton Tail' he started to increase the tempo bar by bar. It got faster and faster until in the end I had to give up and drop out, so it was just Martin and Tommy flying."

As Peterson knew, Drew, a totally committed jazz fan, was the ideal accompanist, always taking a back seat where the music was concerned. "I'm not very interested in drum solos, mine or anybody else's," he said. "Think of your favourite drummer, right? Tell me honestly, how long could you stand listening to just him?"

Playing the drums from the age of six, Drew had his first professional job when he was 13. Unusually, he didn't turn fully professional until he was 29 when he appeared at Ronnie Scott's Club in London, backing the American trombonist Frank Rosolino. He eventually became the house drummer at the club in 1974 after working for a couple of years with Bill Le Sage's Bebop Preservation Society. He then joined pianist John Critchinson in Scott's own quartet. It was while he was with saxophonist Barbara Thompson's band that the call came from Oscar Peterson.

The size of the drum kit – and of Drew himself – made the travelling around the world that ensued very difficult, but Drew never flinched or complained. Peterson's promoter was Norman Granz, and Drew was soon drawn into the Granz orbit, where he found himself working and recording with musicians like Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon, Freddie Hubbard, Buddy DeFranco and Milt Jackson. He accompanied Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O'Day, Milt Jackson, Benny Carter, Joe Pass and Zoot Sims. He recorded more than a dozen albums with Peterson.

"Oscar's trio was one of the very first influences on me," he said. "For me he's one of the greatest musicians ever. But every night there's a challenge when it comes to working with him. One night I found that he was deliberately stomping his foot fractionally slower than the true tempo of the music, trying to catch me out following his foot rather than the real beat."

He worked under the batons of Michel Legrand and Gil Evans and was so much in demand that the list of jazz greats that he played with is endless. During the parts of the years when Peterson was not touring he led his own group and worked with the bands of Tony Lee and Dick Morrissey/Jim Mullen. Having begun in 1975, he continued to work with Ronnie Scott until Scott's death in 1996. His association with Peterson continued from 1974 to 2003.

Latterly Drew freelanced and led a band called The New Couriers, a tribute to The Jazz Couriers that in earlier years had had a front line of Tubby Hayes and Ronnie Scott. The original Couriers had specialised in energetic and speedy articulation and the new band emulated them through a series of the original arrangements of Hayes, which made up a large part of Drew's repertoire.

Steve Voce

Martin Drew, drummer, bandleader: born Northampton 11 February 1944; married 1965 Tessa Rose (two daughters, one son); died London 27 July 2010.

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