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