Ninety Years of Drum Solos: 11 Pieces of Eight (videos)

Written by Brant David

What are the best drum solos in history? Here are Brant David’s top picks from the last 90 years. And yes, Peart is in there. Drum Solo video roundup. — Ah, the drum solo. Over time, it’s evolved into one of the most-exciting show pieces at any jazz or rock concert. For proof, check out my outstanding drum solo video roundup below. It covers 90 years of amazing drumming.

There are, of course, just too many great drummers out there to whittle them down into some kind of best drummers list. Likewise, there are too many awesome drum solos to round up that have been played and recorded throughout the decades, so that would be an artificial listing, too. That’s why, in my drum solo video collection below, you’ll see I narrowed my selection to some special, outstanding exemplars, from the first true modern drum solo of 1923 to now. Here is where you’ll experience the glory of virtuosity in drumming.

You’ll also get a truthful narrative of the technical progression of jazz and rock drumming along the way. Turn up the volume and let’s go.

Root Notes

The modern jazz and rock drum kit saw its prototypical development during the 1920s, when prototypical modern drummer Baby Dodds banged on it.

You’ve got to watch Dodds play “Wolverine Blues” with jazz legend Jelly Roll Morton. The 1927 recording showcases what became a prelude to the complex jazz and rock drumming of today. Dodds recorded the first recognizable modern drum solos during 1945 and 1946. Here’s an appreciation video on Baby Dodds, with plenty of drum solos to check out. In it, you’ll also find out why Baby Dodds, to this day, is one of the most-difficult drummers to imitate.

Video: JohnPetters YouTube Channel

In the 1950s, the drum kit and the drummer evolved further, and a big part of that was Louie Bellson. The only non-African American member of Duke Ellington’s legendary big band, Ellington called Bellson “the greatest drummer in the world.” In time, he even referred to Bellson as “the greatest musician in the world.”

Bellson composed and played with great virtuosity. Technically, he pioneered the double bass drum technique and was on the leading edge of expanding the size and scope of the drum kit.

Video: Hudson Music YouTube Channel

The 1950s also gave us Art Blakey. Blakey was the quintessential hard-bop jazz musician. He drove his bands relentlessly and mercilessly with white-hot physical force. Blakey, it’s said, cared only for playing great or even astounding rhythms. He never showed interest in how a jazz drummer related to the rest of the band’s melodic content or how the drummer might, for instance, emphasize timbre.

Blakey’s drum solos never would have waltzed. He was the pulsating engine of the band. And that was that. Check out this Art Blakey drum solo, below, and you’ll see what I mean.

Video: Claudio Genio YouTube Channel

The mid to late 20th century — the period from the 1940s to the mid 1980s — gave us that other world’s greatest drummer. Buddy Rich is typically considered to be the ultimate wonder of drumming, from a technical standpoint at least. The musical genius that was Buddy “Traps” Rich possessed an incredible mixture of power, speed, technique and rhythmic sensibility. The video below captures what’s considered to be one of Buddy Rich’s best-ever drum solos. In 1970, he was 53 years old. And rocking.

Video: TheBoss31423 YouTube Channel


Here’s Buddy Rich on how rock drummers could benefit from advanced techniques — and his demonstration of some. Nice.

Video: floatingdrummer YouTube channel


As jazz matured, rock expanded and evolved. By the late 1960s, the two American-born modern forms of blues-based music were overlapping considerably.

Jazz-inspired skin-slammers began to take rock drumming to new levels around this time. Many of the truly great modern rock drummers emerged during the late 1960s and early 1970s. But the shining exemplar of the modern day rock drum solo recording was Ginger Baker’s “Toad”. This often is performed as a quarter-of-an-hour-long drum showcase. Baker, the drummer for Cream, delivers a diesel-train-through-your-living-room performance on the band’s 1968 Wheels of Fire album.

Video: theeshrimpking YouTube Channel

As the 1970s came into their own, so did the commercial height of “fusion” jazz. Fusion jazz blatantly blended rock and jazz idioms and rhythms. Perhaps the greatest drummer this sub-genre of music has ever known is former Miles Davis and John McLaughlin colleague Billy Cobham, whose lightning-fast hands and thunderous double bass drum technique have inspired heavy metal drummers as much as they have jazzers.

Video: David V. YouTube Channel

The early 1980s saw the advent of electronic percussion for modern drummers. While electronic percussion often sounded cheap and soul-less at first, it ended up opening doors to a vast array of new sounds and musical possibilities for creative drummers.

It has since evolved beautifully. The grand master of creative electronic percussion is quite probably fusion and progressive rock drummer Bill Bruford, best known for his work in King Crimson. Here’s the intro to King Crimson’s “Indiscipline,” an amazing Bill Bruford drum solo work.

Vide: akkoin YouTube Channel

Modern Day Warriors

Today, it is the virtuoso rock drummer who typically gets associated with awesomely-creative and technically-brilliant drum solos during concerts. And today’s great rock drummers have jaw-dropping technology and equipment to play with.

They also have the legacies and records of the jazz grand masters to draw upon and be inspired by.

Progressive rock and heavy metal drum god Virgil Donati’s mixed-stick approach and ambidextrous Cobham-like hands keep the flame of the jazz and fusion greats burning bright.

Video: RockMrPeace YouTube Channel

And then there’s Mike Mangini of Dream Theater. He uses his drum solos to tell stories. And he won’t include any element, no matter how technically amazing, that doesn’t fit the narrative. And Mangini, look at him. He’s having a blast.

Video: Syco PT YouTube Channel

Former Mother Of Invention’s Terry Bozzio shows how he blends today’s “giant kit” and electronics to towering heights of creative percussion. Terry Bozzio recorded the solo, below, at GearFest 2013.

Video: MissomVideos YouTube Channel

But today’s grandmaster of drumming is Neil Peart of Rush. “The Professor” seamlessly blends the qualities of his idol Buddy Rich with the sheer hard-hitting rock power of a Cozy Powell. Plus, he’s got a gift for melodic composition as he conjures up magic with his mixed acoustic-and-electronic kit.

In the late 1970s and the 1980s it was Peart’s ever-changing, gigantic drum kits that made the modern rock drum solo during a concert something interesting and cool — and a central part of the show. Since the mid 1990s, Peart has become proficient in traditional jazz-drumming techniques and now uses mixed-stick technique within many Rush songs. He seems to use mixed-stick technique now in all of his drum solos, which are half-composed and half-improvised.

Video: StrengthInNumbers YouTube Channel

So who has played the best drum solo ever? Peart? Bellson? Rich? No one knows for sure. It doesn’t matter, anyway. These masters and others to come invent, reinvent and continue to evolve the art of drumming.

Drummers who push the envelope technically and technologically to advance their art make the world a little better.

For, I’m Brant David.