Joe Morello (1928-2011): An Appreciation

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by S. Victor Aaron

Even early on, from the time I first began to explore jazz, I sensed there was something different about the Dave Brebeck Quartet’s drummer, Joe Morello. When I began to spin my Dad’s scratchy old Brubeck records, I’ll never forget hearing weird time signatures for the first time — sometimes with more than one occuring simultaneously — starting with the 1955 club date Jazz: Red Hot And Cool lp and on through the classic Time Out masterpiece.

Joe Dodge was still the drummer in ’55, but Morello took over the following year and stayed there for more than a decade while the DBQ became one of the most popular jazz combos of its time. Though there was nothing wrong with Dodge’s drumming, Morello undertook his bosses’ innovations with taste, accuracy and yes, occasional daring. Brubeck designed these cutting edge experimentations in time, but it was Morello who carried out his vision, and carried them out with aplomb.

When I think of the iconic song “Take Five,” the part I always recall first is Morello’s drum solo. It was unlike any drum solo before, and perhaps since. In a time where “more” was “more” when it came to drumming—thanks to the innovations ushered in by Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich—Morello defiantly went in the opposite direction. Perhaps understanding that improvising around 5/4 beat required a different strategy, Morello went around the meter, implying it, instead of attacking it head on. His use of space was as astute as those of the most lauded piano or horn players, but since it was employed on the drums, he never got his due for that.

Joe Morello died Saturday of unpublicized causes. He was 82 years old. Though nearly blind throughout life, he had a clear view of Brubeck’s conception of jazz. That in itself should assure him of an important place in jazz history.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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