The Birth of the Bass Drum Pedal and Drums | Entertainment / Life



John Robichaux’s orchestra circa 1896. Seated at left is Edward ‘Dee Dee’ Chandler, with his early drums.

(James Karst)

Great innovations were made in American popular music in the late 19th century and early 20th century, and New Orleans was at the forefront. It was here that the standards of concerts and brass bands were adapted, where ragtime hits became syncopated and the blues went “hot”, becoming the jazz music for which the city is now famous.

But it wasn’t just the music that evolved in the city. By many accounts, New Orleans is also where the bass drum pedal first gained popularity, allowing one person to play multiple percussion instruments at once in a fixed concert setting – thus creating the modern drums and drummer.


Bass drum pedals had been around for at least a decade, admittedly, but in a somewhat different form.

One of these contraptions, briefly described by The Daily Picayune in 1886 in a story titled “Trick Instruments”, was used by a local musician named Simon Davis, who performed with a theater orchestra.

“There is even a trick in playing the bass drum,” the newspaper writes, “as it is operated by a pedal which, with an action, plays the cymbals at the same time, leaving the operator’s hands free to operate. use any other instrument that the music or the action of the stage may require. “

A year later, George Olney of St. Louis patented a first drum pedal. It would attach to the top of the rim of a bass drum and, when pressed, strike both the drumhead and a cymbal – more or less simultaneously.

“Using my device, only one performer is allowed to do the work which heretofore required three performers,” Olney, a conductor, wrote in his patent application, “with his hands free to play a instrument and the bass drum and cymbal being operated by its foot. “


A decade later, a similar concept was used by a New Orleans drummer named Edward “Dee Dee” Chandler, one of the many influential but obscure figures in early jazz.

Chandler performed with the John Robichaux Orchestra, best remembered today for his musical battles with jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden’s band, often centered around two public parks at Carrollton Avenue and Oleander Street, but which have also played “corporate jobs along St. Charles Avenue,” according to jazz historian Samuel Charters.

Charters, in his 1958 book “Jazz: New Orleans 1885-1957”, writes that Chandler began using a bass drum pedal of his own design in 1894 or 1895, making him “the first drummer in town to play. drums “and release Robichaux to play other instruments.

Charters, who was a pupil of the great jazz clarinetist George Lewis, gives a detailed description of the pedal.

“Chandler took a standard marching band bass drum and bolted a piece of spring steel to the top, bent so that the free end of the spring was in the center of the drum skin and a few inches from it. ci, “writes Charters. . “He put a covered block of wood on the free end so that the block would touch the head of the drum if the spring was bent.

“On the floor, he put a hinged wooden pedal, cut from a Magnolia Milk Company cardboard box that he had obtained from the King grocery store where he worked, with a chain stretched from the raised end of the pedal to. the end of the spring. When he stepped on the pedal, the chain pulled the block against the drum skin, and when he released the pedal, the spring pulled the block back. He attached a trap drum to the drum. side of the bass drum with a rope.

“The sound was probably erratic,” Charters concludes, “but Chandler was causing a stir and was widely emulated.”

Chandler later served in the Spanish American War, according to Charters, but “played very little after his release.” He is listed in the New Orleans city directories and the census as a musician until 1900, but there is little evidence of him in public records after that time. He died around 1925, writes Charters.

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