10 Most Popular Jazz Drummers Of All Time

There’s no doubt about it that if you want to be the best at anything, it pays to borrow a page or two from some of the most popular legends before your time. The swing feel is a fundamental aspect in jazz band music, and if you didn’t know, most of that fire in the rhythm comes from the drummers.

Yes, the other instrumentalists such as the pianist, trumpeter, and guitarist may get more attention, but we can’t overlook the importance of the drummer in jazz music. But back to the earlier mentioned idea, who would you look up to as an aspiring, learning, or practicing drummer in a jazz band? Perhaps you might just find your role model in this list, here are the 10 best jazz drummers of all time. Beginyourdrumming.com/ have compiled a list of their favourite Jazz drummers of all time.

10. Max Roach

Born Max L. Roach in 1924 in North Carolina, Max was a renowned jazz drummer and composer who kept his fans and admirers thrilled until the year 2007. Most professional drummers describe him as an innovator in bop drumming who made a huge name throughout his career, especially in the mid-1950s after beginning his career at the tender age of 10.

He released quite a number of albums for the 4 or 5 decades that followed. Some of his most popular shows include the ones he played alongside the likes of Stan Getz, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, Bud Powell, Mal Waldron, and Mingus. His last performance is perhaps the most remembered, where max performed a solo in the 2003 50th anniversary Massey Hall concert.

Video: On drum solo – The Third Eye

Max Roach: Drum Solo: "The Third Eye"

9. Billy Higgins

Born in 1936, Billy Higgins is one of the most iconic figures of jazz music and drumming to be specific. Apart from being a great jazz drummer, Billy is also recognized as a passionate actor, musician, and music teacher whose career touched the hearts and minds of many until his demise in 2001.

As a jazz drummer who specialized in free jazz and hard bop and musician, Billy Higgins had many hits, recordings, and thrilling live concerts in hits belt. Some of the best recordings and shows include the ones Billy did alongside the iconic Ornette Coleman and the likes of Paul Bely, Chris Anderson, Sandy Bull, and Gary Burtz.

Some of his best work in music included the 1978 hit, Soweto, Peace, and much more, including hits in big albums such as In Sound and Mean Greens, Which Way is East, and Hyperion With Higgins.

Video: Alias Buster Henry –

Billy Higgins: Alias Buster Henry - 1975 (extended Drum Solo)

8. Art Blakey

Art Blakey, the 1919 Pennsylvania-born jazz drummer is another ginormous name in the world of drumming. Being a bandleader who made a giant name in the world of music in the 1940s and 1950s, he’s a force to reckon with until this day.

Talk of big hits such as A Night in Tunisia, Moanin’, No Problem, I Remember Clifford, Blue n’ Boogie, Dat Dere, and Drum Battle, Art Barkley remains to be a force to reckon in the worlds of jazz and drumming even after his demise in 1990. 

Video: Art Blakey Drum Solo 


7. Roy Haynes

In his early career days, Roy Haynes started out with saxophonists such as Charley Parker and Lester Young until in the 9060s where he occasional played as a sub alongside the likes of Elvin Jones. For more than 6 decades, the talented jazz drummer claims a couple dozens of album recordings and band concerts in his name.

One of the most popular solo works is his 1962 album titled Out of the Afternoon. Born in 1929, Roy Haynes still remains a big name to date as far as jazz music and drumming are concerned. Higher chances are that you’ve stumbled across one of his performances and if you haven’t, you might as well do some time soon coz he still does his tours behind the kit.

Video: Roy Haynes Drum Solo 

Roy Haynes: Extendend Drum Solo - 1966

6.Paul Motian

Paul Motian is another great legend whose work dominated the jazz drumming scene for quite a number of years, specifically in the 50’s and the early 1960’s. Despite being a great drumming innovator, Motian’s drumming still tends to have been uniquely different from others, most of who were heavy-handed drummers.

Born Stephen Paul Motian in Pennsylvania, the USA in 1991, the great drummer left a couple dozens of album recordings, including Garden of Eden, Monk in Motian, and many others. Motian died in 2011 at the age of 80 after battling a couple of health complications.

Video: Paul motian Trio

Motian, Lovano, Frisell Trio Jazz em Agosto

5. Tony Williams

At the age of 17, was already playing in a quintet alongside the likes of Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, and Herbie Hancock. It is his time and seasoned cymbal skills in Mile Davis’ that made him popular enough that he was actually included in the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 1986.

Despite being popularly known as Tony, this bigtime American jazz drummer was born Anthony Tillmon Williams in 1945 in Chicago, Illinois. Some of his greatest albums include the 1964 Lifetime, Spring (1965), The Joy of Flying (1978), and Emergency (1969), just to name a few. Even though his name remains big in the world of drumming and jazz music, Tony Williams died of a post-surgical heart attack on the wake of February 23rd, 1997.

Video: Tony Williams Drum Solo

Tony Williams' MOST POWERFUL Drum Solo

4.Gene Krupa

Officially known as Eugene Bertram Krupa, Gene was one of the greatest jazz drummers of all time. Born in 1909 in the U.S. state of Illinois, Gene played in one of the most popular American music groups, Gene Krupa and His Orchestra, as the bandleader as you can tell from the name, from 1938 till his demise in 1973.

As a matter of fact, his popular hit Sing Sing Sing was among the very first solos recorded. He was also the first drummer in the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame. He also appeared in a number of films, such as the 1941 Ball of Fire, Glamor Girl, and Syncopation, among others.

Video: Gene Krupa Rich drum Battle 

gene krupa buddy rich drum battle

3. Elvin Jones

If there was one explosive jazz drummer, Elvin Jones would probably be the name to save the day. Born in 1927 Elvin Jones will be remembered for more than just a few mega-hits and stellar albums such as Shiny Stockings, The Three Card Molly, and My Favorite Things, among others.

The US military drummer surely remains a force to reckon, almost two decades ago since his death in 2004. Some of his popular songs and performances include Hudson, In Movement, and the 1980 Silver Hollow, among others.

Video: Elvin Jones Drum Solo

Elvin Jones: Drum Solo -1978

2. Jack DeJohnette

In addition to being a living legendary drummer, Jack DeJohnette is a polished pianist and experienced composer whose name will always pop up among the best jazz drummers of all time. Jack was born in 1942 in Chicago, Illinois and for the last few decades, he’s been a big name in the world of jazz and jazz fusion as well as new age music.

The famous drummer has also featured in a couple of Hollywood movie hits, including Hancock, Metheny, DeJohnette, and much more. Now at 76, Jack DeJohnette continues to rock his fans with his highly influential jazz drum techniques, time-keeping skills, power, and speed.

For instance, he has upcoming shows in Auditorium de Lyon, Lyon, France, De Roma, Borgerhout, Belgium, and Kölner Philharmonie, Cologne, Germany, as part of his 2018/2019 tour.

Video: Jack DeJohnette Solos with Keith Jarrett and Garry Peacock Live in Tokyo

Jack DeJohnette: One of the most exciting Drum Solos with Keith Jarrett: Woody'n You

1. Buddy Rich

Last but not the least, Bernard "Buddy" Rich is arguably the best jazz drummer of all time. The 1917-born New Yorker was not only a spectacular jazz drummer, but he’s also renowned for being an influential and iconic bandleader whose 60 years on planet earth change the lives of many of his fans, and mentees alike.

Buddy Rich can be remembered especially for his unique virtuoso technique as well as drumming power and speed. some of his most popular shows include the 77 Magic in Europe, Wham, No Funny Hats, and the 1986 Jazz Band in Germany, most of which were album, launches.

He also had a couple of strong and small band releases and recordings throughout his career, including Swagin’ New Big Band, Big Swing Face, Verve, Mercy, and many more. It's no wonder that he’s considered the best of the best, considering he got his first stage exposure at his tiny, tender age of 18 months only.



And there you have it. You have your top 10 best jazz drummers of all time. In addition to these, however, there are a few more big names worth the mention. These include the likes of Jimmy Cobb, Joey Baron, Kenny Clarke, Philly Jones, Joe Morello, and Brian Blade.

But even with the above names at your fingertips, one thing is for sure – the best way to learn drumming is borrowing your skill and technique from successful drummers and put it into practice. This, of course, goes hand in hand with having a quality drumming kit that sounds great and is within your budget.

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  • Fabrizio Roscini
    • 1. Fabrizio Roscini On 2020-03-20
    To make a ranking list is asinine in itself, but putting Buddy Rich at the top shows how little you understand of jazz.
  • Sam Awry
    • 2. Sam Awry On 2020-02-10
    This is unworthy of a music education source. Music is not a competition. To speak of what made particular musicians great ,and what they contributed to the development of music, to the vocabulary of their instrument etc is important and worthwhile. But to rank them better , best is just B.S. Grow up.
    • jazz-guitar-licks
      • jazz-guitar-licksOn 2020-02-11
      Tell that to the author. I totally agree, music is not a competition. I do not see this post as a ranking of best drummers but as a list of the most popular drummers who have contribute to jazz music.
  • Christopher Nowak
    • 3. Christopher Nowak On 2019-09-17
    He is also known to play with other greats in the rock/pop world as well.

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