451 – [Daniel Glass Show]: The Incredible Evolution of Tom Toms

In this episode, Daniel recounts the fascinating story of the tom tom, from its origins as a Chinese ethnic instrument used for making sound effects, to its current role as a key component of the drum set.

What’s covered in this session:

  • A definition of the term “Tom Tom,” and how it’s been used over the years.
  •  A descriptions of “Chinese” tom toms and their adaption as sound effects by early users of the drum set.
  • Two kinds of tom toms that were NOT adapted by early drum set players.
  • How early jazz was the first style to integrate the tom tom in its modern capacity – to play “fill ins.”
  • Gene Krupa modernized the look and usage of tom toms in the 1930s.
  • Bebop drummers opted for smaller and more melodic approach with their tom toms.
  • In the 1940s and 50s, R&B drummers established the drum set sizes that are still standard today.
  • In the mid-1950s, the drummers of early rock roll like Sandy Nelson revived the concept of the tom tom feature.
  • In the late 1960s, the Beatles rewrote the book on what was possible to do with tom toms in the studio.
  • The Beatles’ influence led to toms sounding much deeper and “thuddier” in 1970s rock and pop.
  • The introduction of “power toms,” and the ever growing use of electronic after-effects like echo and reverb gave the toms a “larger than life” sound in the 1980s.
  • The 1990s saw a return to capturing more of a natural sound out of tom toms.

Resources/Links/People Mentioned:

  • Here’s what a classic Chinese tom tom looks like.
  • 1920s drum sets integrated the Chinese tom, as well as various classical percussion.
  • Gene Krupa’s 1930s work with Benny Goodman’s big band modernized the look and use of tom toms, and made them a featured part of the drum set.
  • Art Blakey epitomized the use of smaller toms in bebop.
  • Early rock drummers like Sandy Nelson gave toms a new lease on life in the 1950s.
  • Ringo Starr “treated” his toms, putting towels on them to get a different effect in the studio.
2 replies
  1. Leo Comerford
    Leo Comerford says:

    One thing I’m unclear about is which came first, concert tenor drums https://youtu.be/-lJctvybAJ8?t=560 or Krupa/Slingerland-style fully-tunable drumset toms? Were Krupa’s toms an adaptation of tenor-drum designs which were already being sold to classical orchestras?

    One thing you didn’t cover was the rise and (partial) decline of the second rack tom, and third (and further) toms in general.

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