A Different Drummer

amberdextrous By amberdextrous, 1st Oct 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Humour>Off Beat

My Grandfather was not a nice man, apparently, but he had a sense of humour.

A Different Drummer

I’m not apologising for him, or building him up to be any kind of rebel hero. By all accounts, he was a nasty drunk and a wife-beater, and when I was two years old –his only grandson- he bounced me on his knee and said to my mother: “He’s not a bad looking kid, love. What’s his name?”

He clearly had his faults, but I have to admit to a certain admiration for my Grandfather’s sense of style.

Grandad was a jazz drummer in the years between the two World Wars. If you listen really carefully, you can hear him playing his understated brushwork on the snare and high-hat on the original recording of the hit song Teddy Bears’ Picnic. He was, according to family legend, the one who laid down the rhythmic path that the first jazz band ever to perform live on radio followed. God help them.

As well as his music, Grandad ran a jazz café near Wimbledon, London, and the family lived upstairs. My Dad grew up with the sounds of jazz music and nightlife, and the smells of coffee and toasted sandwiches.

When things began to look shaky once again in Europe, the British Army had a lot of people doing basic army training drills, which mostly meant that a proportion of the male population learned to march up and down in time, and all turn left or right or stop, together. And to help them stay in time, they often had someone rapping out a 4/4 marching beat on a snare drum. I think it must have been the snare that got to Grandad.

There was a balcony above Grandad's cafe overlooking the street that the Army Reserve had chosen for their marching ground, and Grandad set his drum kit up well back from the railing, so it wasn’t visible from the street.

When the Reserves began their marching, their company drummer rapping out his constant 4/4, old Bill went to work. He started off by playing half a dozen bars in time with the beating of the snare and the crunching of the marching feet. Then he slipped in a flourish that ended with a volley of off-beat rim-shots that shattered the rhythmic precision in the air.

In the street below, the front few ranks seemed to falter, somehow miss a step, and the men behind were forced to stumble for a couple of strides to keep their spacing. And the poor snare drummer found it hard to march and play simultaneously, and both his marching and his playing suffered from the attempt, neither hands nor feet able to maintain a semblance of 4/4.

On the balcony, Grandad rode the high-hat, ripped out some syncopated slaps and chops, flicked into 5/4 for a time, and built to a crescendo of contrapuntal paradiddles that made no rhythmic sense except deep inside his own extrapolating, improvising mind.

And there was chaos on the street, with some men having suddenly to hop and skip to stay in rank and file, others shuffling in confusion. Some had stopped their marching altogether and were standing still and staring upwards, trying to find the source of the disruptive sound.

The company’s drummer had also given up by now, his sticks held tightly to the top of his snare to show that he was not responsible.

Then Grandad stopped, and stood up on the balcony, proudly saluting to the men below.


Chaos, Character, Drumming, Drums, Grandad, Grandfather, Jazz, Jazz Music, Marching, Marching Beat, Wwii

Meet the author

author avatar amberdextrous
Former journalist, clown, educator, comedian. Close observer of human foibles. Writer of observational pieces about Australia, its people and environment.

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author avatar Steve Kinsman
1st Oct 2011 (#)


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author avatar Songbird B
1st Oct 2011 (#)

Lol! Loved this, amberdextrous, made me laugh out loud. What a character for all his faults! so well told..A really great page..

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author avatar GV Rama Rao
2nd Oct 2011 (#)

Enjoyed reading this. Good piece of writing.

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author avatar amberdextrous
2nd Oct 2011 (#)

Thank You for your comments, Friends.

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author avatar Delicia Powers
4th Oct 2011 (#)

Your life is a wonder because of the way you see things and I so enjoy reading about your adventures each one has captivated me:0)

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