The Troy Street Observer

April 8, 1968: Gretsch Drum Night at Lennie’s

Image of Gretsch Drum Badge
Gretsch Drum Badge

April 8, 1968, witnessed the second Gretsch Drum Night at Lennie’s-on-the-Turnpike on Route 1 in West Peabody.

The people at Gretsch Drums came up with an interesting promotion in the late 1950s, called Gretsch Drum Night. The idea was simple enough: round up a trio of drummers who are endorsing the company’s wares, put them on a nightclub stage with a newest set of drums and accessories, and have them each play singly with the house band, and together in thundering drum battles. What you got, remembered Lennie Sogoloff, was “a lot of noise…but they were all fruitful nights. All the drummers in town would show up.”

Gretsch was the big name in jazz drumming then, with their Progressive Jazz kits and long list of endorsing drummers: Art Blakey, Kenny Clarke, Max Roach, Shelly Manne, Mel Lewis, Tony Williams, and on and on. To promote their catalog and their drummers, the company sponsored Drum Nights as early as 1960. In April of that year, Roulette recorded a Gretsch Drum Night session at Birdland in New York. The drummers played with piano, bass, and a couple horns.

The manufacturer floated the idea in Boston for the first time in 1967, and Sogoloff grabbed it. Sogoloff used just a pianist and bassist with the drummers, but he no longer recalls who they were. His first drum night was May 1, 1967, and it featured Elvin Jones, Jimmy Cobb, and Alan Dawson.

In 1968, the drummers were Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, and Dawson.

Sogoloff presented his final Drum Night on April 7, 1969, advertising it as “Drums Along the Turnpike,” and featuring a trio of home-grown talent, Roy Haynes, Jake Hanna, and Dawson.

I don’t know why Gretsch dropped the popular Drum Nights. Perhaps it had something to do with the sale of the company to Baldwin Music in the late 1960s, or perhaps it was the retirement of key Gretsch staff. At any rate, I find no trace of this event after 1969.

Share:

Comments

  1. I attended that same Drum Night in 1967 with Jones, Cobb and Dawson. I was 16 and had already been a fan for several years. My parents took me. It was my first club experience. In addition to the incident with Elvin, I also remember him kicking over his high hat (he was sooo tired)! I became friendly with Lennie years later. He would call me to go hear music in Boston when he no longer drove at night. Lennie gave me the top of grand piano that he had kept after the original club burned down. It’s now a very cool and spirit-loaded coffee table.

    • What great memories! Boston jazz owes a lot to Lennie. I’m trying to think of how many talented hands touched that piano…spirits indeed. Thanks for the comment —

  2. I attended that first Drum Night at Lennie’s, featuring Jones, Cobb and Dawson, but I’ve never been able to remember when it was. Thanks to you, now I know.
    Elvin was a bit, how shall I say it, “under the weather.” At one point, one of the legs of his drum stool slipped into one of the giant spaces between the boards of Lennie’s stage, and Elvin started to slowly tip over – while still playing. And he didn’t seem to notice it! Finally, when he got to about a 45 degree angle and was about to hit the floor, Lennie and a couple of others ran up and grabbed him and held him until the stool was reset in a safe place. Lennie went to the mike afterward and explained (with a slight smile) that Elvin had just gotten off a long flight and was “very tired.” Good old Lennie.

    • When I talked to Lennie about Drum Night, he did mention Elvin was tired that night. I’m still expecting him to call me in the middle of the night one of these days when he remembers who played piano and bass.

      • I’ve been trying to remember who played piano and bass, too – for quite a few years. So far, no luck. If it comes to me, I’ll let you know.

  3. I purchased my first professional drum set in 1967. It was the same “Blue Swurl” Gretch set that Elvin Jones was pictured playing in Down Beat Magazine. In those days there were no credit cards. You had to pay on lay away. The drum set remained in the store until the retail price was paid off.
    It was July 17th and when I got home, I was informed that John Coltrane had just passed away. I still have that set today.

    • One set of Gretsch drums all these years–pretty good endorsement of Gretsch drums. And I can see why you remember the anniversary date of their purchase.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *