It’s always exciting to open a new disc from Big Bill Bissonnette’s Jazz Crusade
label. Bissonnette, a trombonist and drummer, has long admired Zutty Singleton and logged him as the first New Orleans drummer he had ever seen in person. It was at the "old" Jimmy Ryan’s location and Zutty was playing with the Wilbur DeParis band. I’m guessing that it was about 1955. Bissonnette became friendly with the New Orleans drummer and sometimes sat in on Zutty’s drum kit at Ryan’s. Singleton was often booked to appear at various jam sessions in Bissonnette’s native Connecticut.
Arthur James "Zutty" Singleton (1898-1975) was born in Bunkie, Louisiana and acquired his nickname from an aunt when he was an infant. "Zutty," in Creole patois means "cute." As a youngster in New Orleans, Singleton was fascinated by his instrument. He had no idols but was influenced by drummer Louis Cottrell Sr. in many ways. Cottrell and his contemporaries, Henry Zeno and Paul Detroit impressed the young Singleton with their subtlety.
Unlike his contemporary Warren "Baby" Dodds, Zutty was never considered a great "New Orleans drummer." He became simply a "great drummer-period" who went on to inspire the likes of George Wettling, Dave Tough, Big Sid Catlett and scores of others. Singleton crossed the barriers of style seamlessly and could fit into almost any band. As an innovator, he pioneered the use of wire brushes and the dampened ride cymbal within the recording studio. Zutty shunned the "hi-hat cymbal" and employed a rather slimmed down drum set consisting of snare, two shallow tom-toms, bass drum and a minimal set of woodblocks and cymbals.
In his autobiography, "The Jazz Crusade," Big Bill Bissonnette discusses his experiences with Singleton. "Zutty called everybody "face." This was usually preceded with a descriptive adjective so you knew who he was talking about. Jimmy Archey was "plungerface" because he used that mute so often. Parenti was "mustacheface" when addressed directly and "Hitlerface" behind his back, which Zutty said described both his appearance and his method of leading a band."
Big Bill was never too happy about being referred to as "Bigface."
The career of Zutty Singleton spanned more than five decades and hundreds of recording sessions. This collection covers 1927 to 1969. Drum Face
offers selected highlights along the way starting with the Charlie Creath recording of "Butterfinger Blues" through the Clarinet Kings session in the late sixties. The drummer is seen in the company of super stars like Satchmo, Bechet and Fats Waller to the likes of British clarinetist, Sammy Rimington, who was still making his presence known in America. during the 1960s.
The two volumes, sold separately, include a total of 34 tracks including hundreds of musicians and some great recording sessions. Generous sound samples can be heard at the label’s website. To the best of our knowledge, there are no other in-depth Zutty Singleton collections available today. Fans of classic jazz will appreciate both the music and the documentation. It’s fine jazz!