A Drums Vibe

In late May 2008, a Jazz buddy and I ventured south from the Bay Area to Los Angeles to catch a great evening of Jazz. That Saturday morning, well-rested, all gassed up, and a food basket chock full of nourishing treats, we hit the road for a 5-hour 350-mile journey: U.S. Rt. 101 to CA Rt. 152 to Interstate 5 (I-5). By then, my Pontiac Grand Am “road car”, quite familiar with the west coast thoroughfare, had logged many, many miles in my quest for great Jazz… After arriving in L.A., we made our customary stop by Amoeba Records in Hollywood to purchase a few Jazz CDs. We then headed west to Jazz Bakery in Culver City for the first set by the Steve Nelson Quartet, led by the great vibraphonist and featuring some pretty heavy hitters: Mulgrew Miller on piano, John Clayton on bass, and Karriem Riggins on drums. Wow!!! After a great swingin’ set, we both chatted very briefly with the drummer, a fellow native Detroiter. We then headed back east to Hollywood to catch the second set by the Roy Haynes Quartet, led by the legendary 83-year-old drummer himself, and featuring his youthful bandmates: Jaleel Shaw on alto saxophone, Martin Bejerano on piano, and David Wong on bass. The band turned in an outstanding set, with Mr. Haynes taking frequent pauses between numbers to share wonderful stories. As if the evening was not already amazingly satisfying enough, another treat was in store for us… As it turns out, a few days earlier, my Jazz buddy had been invited by a friend to an after-hours Jazz jam session at 12:00 midnight at a third party’s home, if in L.A., that weekend. The special occasion was an 81st birthday party in celebration of a Jazz drummer. The person who extended the invitation only knew that “the drummer’s first name was Fred, I don’t know his last name and he played with many of the older bebop artist like Coltrane. Supposedly, Roy Haynes, (tenor saxophonist) Rickey Woodard, and other musicians will be there. It’s free. Here’s the address. . . .” Well, the location was a residence only 10 miles away, BUT it was “ ‘round midnight” and pitch black outside, however, we luckily navigated our way there safely. And this “Fred” guy, whose birthday was being celebrated, turned out to be none other than drummer Fred Gruber. A native New Yorker born in 1927, he grew up in the blossoming NYC bebop scene. In 1949, Gruber began playing with Charlie Parker among many others, but left NYC shortly after Parker’s death in 1955, and settled in Los Angeles in 1957 working as a professional jazz drummer. Gruber began teaching drums in the mid-1960s at a Los Angeles music store owned by vibraphonist Terry Gibbs. So once we arrived, grabbed some food, listened to live music, and started chatting with the other house guests, guess who walks in ??? Mr. Haynes himself!!! Wow, I’m definitely in drum heaven now! The room is now buzzing as other Jazz musicians also show up, as well as Rickey Woodard to extend happy birthday wishes to Mr. Gruber. I recognized Rickey Woodard because I have his two 1990s CDs on the Concord label. My Jazz buddy eventually walks over to drummer Gerry Gibbs after having seen his father Terry Gibbs perform many times in the past. We stayed a little and really enjoyed ourselves before for we headed back to the Bay Area first thing in the morning. Oh, what a great day in the City of Angels!!! :v)