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The 50 Best Jazz Drummers Of All Time

From big-band leaders to bebop pioneers and fusion futurists, uDiscover reveals our selection of the 50 best jazz drummers of all time.

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Art Blakey
Photo: David Redfern/Redferns

Drummers have often been the butt of jokes, many of which focus on their supposed lack of musicality and dubious time-keeping skills. But the truth is that a band is only as good as its drummer, and the best jazz drummers can miraculously transform a below-average combo into a half-decent one.

In jazz, arguably the most technically demanding form of popular music, a drummer’s role is often more exacting than those in the fields of rock and pop. In its infancy at the beginning of the 20th Century, it was the drummers who gave jazz its heartbeat with an intoxicating, eminently danceable groove. But as the music evolved, its requirements changed. After the bebop era, when jazz became more cerebral, the best jazz drummers were expected to match the other soloists in the band with their virtuosity. No longer was their role solely focused on providing a constant rhythmic pulse, they had to contribute to the music in other ways: by supporting and lifting the soloists, building tension and drama, supplying percussive color, and helping to invoke a mood or atmosphere.

The best jazz drummers, then, by the very complex nature of the music, have to be accomplished technicians, and if you’ve seen the award-winning 2014 movie Whiplash, you’ll know that they don’t have an easy ride. The standards are exacting. Even so, jazz, in all its various manifestations and hues, has produced a multitude of sensational “tub thumpers” over the years – and they have all helped to transform jazz drumming into a high art form.

The Beatles - Now And Then
The Beatles - Now And Then
The Beatles - Now And Then

While you’re reading, listen to our 50 Best Jazz Drummers playlist here.

50: Omar Hakim (born 1959)

Though his innumerable studio credits include playing on pop records by David Bowie, Sting, Kate Bush, and Céline Dion, this New York sticksman’s musical foundations are deeply rooted in jazz, as his 80s stints with Weather Report and Miles Davis prove. Boasting a supreme versatility, Hakim is a distinctly modern breed of multi-disciplined drummer who can play anything he turns his hands to consummately well.

Sting - If You Love Somebody Set Them Free (My Songs Version/Audio)

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49: Dave Weckl (born 1960)

This Missouri drummer has played on pop sessions for Madonna, Paul Simon, and Robert Palmer, but is best known by jazz fans for his work as part of Chick Corea’s Elektric Band during the years 1985-1991. Technically brilliant as well as able to conjure up a commanding visceral power, Weckl is an accomplished bandleader in his own right who has written books and produced videos that give insight into what it takes to be one of the world’s best jazz drummers.

48: Tony Oxley (born 1938)

As a former house drummer at Ronnie Scott’s in London, Sheffield-born Oxley is one of the UK’s best jazz drummers, and has played with a raft of bona fide jazz giants, including Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins, and Joe Henderson. He’s also regarded as one of the leading exponents of free jazz, as his stellar avant-garde work with Peter Brötzmann, Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor, and John Surman attests. Stylistically, Oxley never resorts to clichés, and, in musical terms, always has something interesting and original to say.

47: Pete La Roca (1938-2012)

Harlem-born Pete Sims adopted the stage name Pete La Roca when playing timbales in several Latin jazz bands during his youth. His first gig of note was playing with the “Saxophone Colossus,” Sonny Rollins, in 1957 at the Village Vanguard, and after that he became an indispensable sideman, recording with the likes of Jackie McLean, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, and Charles Lloyd. Though he could swing with wild abandon, La Roca was also a sympathetic accompanist and could be deliciously low-key on ballads.

46: Manu Katché (born 1958)

One of – if not the – best jazz drummers to come from France, Katché doesn’t just play jazz and can be heard on a raft of rock and pop records, including ones by Peter Gabriel, Joni Mitchell, Sting, Dire Straits, Jeff Beck, and Tracy Chapman. In the jazz world, he’s played with Herbie Hancock and Jan Garbarek, and has also released several albums under his own name on ECM. His signature style is a finely calibrated blend of precision, flair, and imagination.

45: Jeff Ballard (born 1963)

A long-time musical associate of noted contemporary jazz pianist Brad Mehldau, California-born Ballard has demonstrated his exceptional talent in ensembles led by Pat Metheny, Joshua Redman, and Chick Corea. His style is dramatically dynamic, defined by an infectious sense of brio and fizzing energy.

44: Jeff “Tain” Watts (born 1960)

A true potentate among contemporary skin-beaters, Watts is a Pennsylvanian who has a strong association with both Wynton and Branford Marsalis. His muscular, vigorous mode of playing can be heard on an array of different recordings, ranging from Kenny Garrett and Alice Coltrane to Harry Connick, Jr, and India.Arie.

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43: Rashied Ali (1933-2009)

Recruited by John Coltrane in 1965, this Philly-born drummer featured on the saxophonist’s most outré albums, including Interstellar Space. He brought a fresh avant-garde sensibility to jazz drumming, jettisoning swing and a constant pulse in favor of abstraction.

42: Norman Connors (born 1947)

At just 16, the precociously-gifted Connors, then still at school, subbed for Elvin Jones at a Coltrane gig in Philly, and, for a time, it seemed as if spiritual jazz would be his calling, especially after a stint playing with Pharaoh Sanders in the early 70s. Though Connors moved into the realm of R&B music, and became renowned as a hit-making producer and procurer of up-and-coming talent, he never forgot his jazz roots.

41: Brian Blade (born 1970)

An adept musical shape-shifter who can convincingly morph from playing rock (Joni Mitchell) and country (Emmylou Harris) to pop (Norah Jones) and folk (Beth Orton), Blade has shown that there are no musical barriers that he can’t cross. Despite his myriad sideman appearances, it’s with his own jazz-oriented Fellowship Band that he’s impressed the most.

40: Terri Lyne Carrington (born 1965)

The world of jazz drumming is mostly an all-male preserve, but the Grammy-winning Carrington – who can play both jazz and R&B with élan – offers a compelling exception to this rule, more than earning her place among the best jazz drummers – female or male. Now a professor at Berklee College Of Music, Carrington was a child prodigy on the drums and rapidly rose to fame playing with the likes of Stan Getz and Herbie Hancock.

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39: Billy Hart (born 1940)

Hart started out as an R&B drummer (backing Otis Redding and Sam & Dave) before working in the jazz field with Wes Montgomery, Jimmy Smith, Stan Getz, and Wayne Shorter. Hart’s eclecticism and ability to play in several different modes (ranging from R&B and bop to more abstract contemporary jazz) marks him out as a flexible musician not inhibited by musical boundaries.

38: Eric Gravatt (born 1947)

A Philly native, Gravatt took over from Alphonse Mouzon in Weather Report’s drum chair in 1972 and played on three of the band’s early LPs – his propulsive, polyrhythmic style undoubtedly imbued the group’s music with a primal, fiery energy (especially on their Live In Tokyo LP). In the late 70s, Gravatt, unable to support his family as a musician, became a prison guard for several years. More recently, he has played with McCoy Tyner.

37: Mel Lewis (1929-1990)

A graduate of the Stan Kenton “cool school,” Lewis (real name Melvin Sokoloff) made his name alongside trumpeter Thad Jones, co-leading the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra in the 60s and 70s. Despite being noted for his creative use of cymbals and the warm tone of his drums, Lewis was unique as a drummer because he preferred to blend in rather than stand out when playing in an ensemble.

36: Albert “Tootie” Heath (born 1935)

The younger sibling of saxophonist Jimmy Heath and Modern Jazz Quartet bassist Percy Heath, Tootie made his recording debut with John Coltrane in 1957, and, with his blend of adroit time-keeping and inventive colorization, quickly became a first-call sticksman in the jazz world. One of the oldest surviving players on this best jazz drummers list, Heath is still performing today, aged 82, leading an all-star percussion ensemble called The Whole Drum Truth.

35: Sonny Payne (1926-1979)

Between 1954 and 1965, Payne held the much-coveted drum seat in Count Basie’s big band and brought a profound sense of rhythmic swagger, drama, and verve to the jazz aristocrat’s music (he appeared on Basie’s classic 50s albums April In Paris and The Atomic Mr. Basie).

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34: Sid Catlett (1910-1951)

Indiana-born Catlett first made his name in the 30s, working with Benny Carter and Fletcher Henderson before landing in Louis Armstrong’s group in 1938. Despite his association with swing jazz, Catlett proved to be a versatile musician and successfully made the transition to bebop by playing with Dizzy Gillespie’s groundbreaking band in 1945.

33: Connie Kay (1927-1994)

A lynchpin of The Modern Jazz Quartet from 1955 until 1974, Kay’s elegant “less is more” aesthetic and sublime sense of swing resulted in him an being in-demand drummer outside the band. His versatility (he played on Joe Turner’s 1954 R&B classic, “Shake, Rattle And Roll,” as well as Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks album) ensured that he was never out of work.

32: Al Foster (born 1943)

Originally from Shreveport, Louisiana, Foster played on numerous Miles Davis albums in the 70s and 80s, as well as contributing to sessions by McCoy Tyner, Sonny Rollins, and Dexter Gordon. The cornerstone of his style is his ability to maintain a steady but fluid groove that allows rhythmic subtleties while encouraging other musicians to flourish and feed off it.

31: Billy Higgins (1936-2001)

This LA skin-beater first made his mark with the free jazz iconoclast Ornette Coleman in the late 50s, but quickly evolved into a dependable musician who could comfortably switch from hard bop to cutting-edge avant-garde music without missing a beat. His 700 studio credits range from Hank Mobley and Dexter Gordon to Sun Ra and Pat Metheny, making him one of the most in-demand sticksmen among the best jazz drummers of all time.

30: Joe Chambers (born 1942)

A composer, vibraphonist, and pianist, as well as a drummer, Chambers was in-demand in the 60s and played with everyone from Miles Davis (who, among all the bandleaders mentioned here, notched up sessions with the most jazz drummers in this list of the best) and Freddie Hubbard to Bobby Hutcherson and Chick Corea. Though he was fluent in hard bop, his ability to play more abstract, exploratory music gave him a desirable versatility.

Joe Chambers - Ruth (Audio)

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29: Chick Webb (1905-1939)

Nowadays remembered as the bandleader who launched Ella Fitzgerald’s singing career, Webb was also an innovative and influential drummer before his untimely death, at the age of 34, in 1939. He was a major proponent of the swing style that became hugely popular and dominated jazz in the 30s and early 40s.

28: Harvey Mason (born 1947)

A prolific session drummer, Atlantic City-born Mason has also made a plethora of albums under his own name, as well as being a founder member of the long-running smooth jazz supergroup, Fourplay. While being tight, meticulous, and precise, his drum tracks also show Mason’s instinctive sense of oneness with the groove.

27: Louie Bellson (1924-2009)

From Rock Falls, Illinois, Bellson cut his teeth in the big band era, playing behind Benny Goodman, Harry James, and Duke Ellington. He matured into a noteworthy composer and author as well as a virtuoso sticksman whose dynamic, super-swinging, swashbuckling style was indebted to the pathfinding work of Jo Jones.

26: Art Taylor (1929-1995)

A native New Yorker, the largely unheralded Art Taylor was one of the founding fathers of hard bop drumming in the 50s. He performed with many of jazz’s major horn players (including Sonny Rollins, Jackie McLean, and John Coltrane) and patented a drumming style that was much more than mere time-keeping, functioning as a meaningful musical accompaniment.

25: Alphonse Mouzon (1948-2016)

The first drummer to play in fusion supergroup Weather Report, and a vital member of Larry Coryell’s jazz-rockers, Eleventh House, North Carolina-born Mouzon boasted an energetic style where elements assimilated from jazz, funk, rock, and R&B coalesced in a vibrant, polyrhythmic amalgam. He was a master of breezy, in-the-pocket grooves.

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24: Sonny Greer (1895-1982)

The only entry in the best jazz drummers list to be born in the 19th Century, this New Jersey sticks-meister had the distinction of being Duke Ellington’s first-ever drummer. He joined in 1924 and stayed with the jazz aristocrat until 1951. What set him apart from other drummers at the time was his penchant for creating tonal color by using gongs, chimes, and other exotic percussion instruments.

23: Idris Muhammad (1939-2014)

Born Leo Morris prior to his conversion to Islam, Muhammad was an in-demand session drummer who played with the likes of Ahmad Jamal and Pharoah Sanders before successfully effecting the transition to solo artist (his 1974 album, Power Of Soul, is deemed a soul-jazz classic). His eloquent style drew from R&B as well as straight-ahead jazz.

22: Lenny White (born 1949)

After making his recording debut as a 19-year-old on Miles Davis’ jazz-rock game-changer, Bitches Brew, in 1970, the New York-born White became the drummer with Chick Corea’s band, Return To Forever. With a vigorous, energetic style that drew on the vocabularies of both jazz and rock, White was a key architect in the foundation of jazz fusion drumming, and stands as one of the best jazz drummers to emerge in the 70s.

21: Danny Richmond (1931-1988)

New York-reared Richmond started playing music as a tenor saxophonist before gravitating to the drums in his 20s. He had a long and fruitful association (21 years in all) working in Charles Mingus’ band, playing on over thirty of the bassist/composer’s albums, including the classic Mingus Ah Um. Thanks to his good grounding on the saxophone, Richmond proved an overtly musical drummer who knew how to enhance melodic lines with subtle shading and deft touches.

20: Peter Erskine (born 1954)

A child drum prodigy who began playing at the age of four, Erskine’s early start helped earn his place among the best jazz drummers in history. He cut his teeth with Stan Kenton and Maynard Ferguson before joining Weather Report in 1978, where he stayed until 1982. Well versed in the lexicons of jazz in all its different hues, as well as funk music, Erskine patented a distinctive style that is both technically accomplished and emotionally sensitive.

19: Joe Morello (1928-2011)

As a long-time sideman with Dave Brubeck, who had a predilection for experimenting with odd and uneven meters, Morello became well-versed in playing unusual time signatures. His drum solo on Brubeck’s signature track, “Take Five,” is a masterclass in playing in 5/4 time.


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18: Jimmy Cobb (born 1929)

This Washington, DC, drummer’s long and impressive CV reads like a Who’s Who of jazz. Alongside stints playing with John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Wes Montgomery, and Joe Henderson, Cobb also famously drummed for Miles Davis, appearing on the trumpeter’s iconic 1959 LP, Kind Of Blue. Able to blend power with sensitivity, Cobb also knew how to swing with aplomb.

17: Jack DeJohnette (born 1942)

Apprenticed first to Charles Lloyd, then Bill Evans and Miles Davis, Boston-born DeJohnette is an eclectic drummer who can adapt to, and seems comfortable with, any stylistic setting in jazz. His style, which seamlessly combines elements from free jazz, bop, world music, R&B, and rock, is singular and supremely eloquent.

16: Steve Gadd (born 1945)

A versatile drummer who can play anything from straight-ahead jazz to fusion, rock, R&B, and pop, Rochester-born Gadd is perceived as the drummer’s drummer. Combining technical brilliance with an innate groove awareness and an intuitive feel for what a song requires in rhythmic terms, Gadd prefers to play the role of consummate team player rather than spotlighted soloist.

15: Paul Motian (1931-2011)

Philly-born Motian came on the radar of jazz aficionados due to his presence in the Bill Evans Trio in the 60s, and later played with another influential pianist, Keith Jarrett. An accomplished master of subtlety, restraint, and delicate colorization, Motian could etch vivid pictures with his rhythm tracks.

Vignette (1997 / Live Instrumental)

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14: Billy Cobham (born 1944)

Panama-born Cobham played with Horace Silver and Miles Davis before finding notoriety in the early 70s as the Herculean drummer in jazz-rock behemoth Mahavishnu Orchestra. With his mountainous drum kit – which featured double bass drums and a giant gong – Cobham’s thunderous, overtly physical style was fusion’s answer to Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham.

13: Louis Hayes (born 1937)

This Detroit drummer’s career began in the late 50s when he recorded with Horace Silver, John Coltrane, and Cannonball Adderley. Hayes’ specialty is his ability to provide a hard-swinging, free-flowing rhythm track that is sensitive to the needs of the soloists.

12: Shelly Manne (1920-1984)

Versatility was Shelly Manne’s middle name. Able to switch from swing, bebop, and even Dixieland, to more exploratory jazz styles at the drop of a drumstick, it’s not surprising that his flexibility led him to play on countless Hollywood movie scores and TV soundtracks. His sui generis style reflected his multiple influences, and he used his drum kit to expertly convey a panoply of moods and emotions with sound.

11: Philly Joe Jones (1923-1985)

Not to be confused with the big band swing drummer Jo Jones, this Pennsylvania tub-thumper was a prolific sideman who was renowned for hammering on his drum kit extremely loudly. He’s mostly remembered as the drummer who injected a dynamic swing feel and effervescent energy into the Miles Davis Quintet during the late 50s.

10: Chico Hamilton (1921-2013)

This prolific one-man drum orchestra from LA was a pioneer of the cool, West Coast sound. Like Art Blakey, he led from the back and proved to be an astute talent spotter. Able to blend power with finesse and a nuanced sensitivity, he used drums like a painter, coloring his music with different tonal shades.

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9: Jo Jones (1911-1985)

A crucial member of Count Basie’s band between 1934 and 1948, this innovative Windy City drummer (sometimes known as “Papa” Jo Jones) drew up the blueprint for big-band jazz drumming with his prominent use of the hi-hat to keep time (before that, the bass drum had been used for that purpose). He also pioneered the use of brushes on slower, softer songs. A hugely influential drummer.

8: Gene Krupa (1909-1973)

Purportedly the first sticksman to use a bass drum on a recording session, big-band swing meister Gene Krupa can claim to have influenced the format of the modern drum kit. He was also instrumental in establishing the popularity of cymbals and tom-toms. Renowned for his explosive “drum battles” with Buddy Rich.

7: Buddy Rich (1917-1987)

Bernard “Buddy” Rich was one of the most flamboyant drummers in jazz. Renowned for his speed, power, and primal sense of swing, he would show off his prodigious technique by indulging in extended drum solos, which were the precursor of those found in rock music.

6: Roy Haynes (born 1925)

Roy Haynes – whose nickname, Snap Crackle, was purportedly an onomatopoeic approximation of his unique snare drum sound – began as a hard bop drummer in the early 50s before demonstrating that he could play any kind of jazz, even avant-garde, with panache. A master of musical magic.

5: Elvin Jones (1927-2004)

Jones rose to fame with John Coltrane’s groundbreaking quartet in the early 60s and immediately distinguished himself by the kinetic forcefulness of his drumming. As well as brute power, he possessed subtlety and knew how to construct a nuanced rhythm track that flowed and was acutely attuned to the needs of a song.

Ascension (Edition I / Pt. 1)

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4: Kenny Clarke (1914-1985)

Nicknamed Klook, the Pittsburgh-born Clarke (who was a charter member of The Modern Jazz Quartet) was present at bebop’s birth in the mid-40s and was one of the best jazz drummers in the genre’s early development. His hallmark was introducing syncopated accents on the bass drum (which the hepcats called “bombs”) while beating out a propulsive ride cymbal figure to maintain a swing groove. His style etched the template for all modern jazz drumming.

3: Tony Williams (1945-1997)

Though small in stature, Tony Williams was undoubtedly one of the true giants of jazz drumming. At 17, he was playing with Miles Davis and quickly became regarded as a trailblazer with his intricate patterns and deft rhythmic displacements. He was supremely versatile too – as well as straight-ahead jazz he could play fusion and rock with consummate ease.

2: Max Roach (1924-2007)

Roach emerged in the late 40s as one of bebop’s first significant drummers. One of his chief calling cards was using the ride cymbal to emphasize the rhythmic pulse, which was an innovation that brought fluidity and a more subtle type of swing to jazz. He grew to become an expressive sticksman – one of the best jazz drummers in history – who would use his drum set to create contrasting tonalities to underline different elements of a song during a performance.

1: Art Blakey (1919-1990)

A polyrhythmic percussion powerhouse, Art Blakey was a one-man engine room who powered his long-running band, The Jazz Messengers, with a superior sense of swing and syncopation. Sitting atop this list of the best jazz drummers of all time, he was a charismatic bandleader as well as drummer; his trademark was the swelling press roll, which he used to inject a turbo-charged intensity into his driving hard bop grooves.

Moanin' (Remastered 1998/Rudy Van Gelder Edition)

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Looking for more? Discover the best jazz pianists and best female jazz singers of all time.



  1. Nandi Wagner

    August 11, 2017 at 1:00 am


  2. DH

    August 11, 2017 at 7:45 am

    Vinnie Colaiuta

    • karmik Mike Stein

      July 3, 2020 at 2:36 pm

      this list is not credible……….. totally arbitrary, and obviously incomplete …….to put Weckl and Hakim so far up in the list, where we know they truly blow away some of these other marginal players is disturbing. And then, also to leave out Colaiuta just proves my point even more. Even Morello and Cobb were way up the list. Yeah, no respect for this list !

  3. André Soeteman

    August 11, 2017 at 12:06 pm

    Andrew Cyrille, Sunny Murray, Han Bennink

    • Joseph Jones

      August 27, 2017 at 11:37 pm

      Milford Graves also

  4. T G A Smith

    August 11, 2017 at 12:44 pm

    Great array of excellent drummers but I would have found room for Ed Blackwell. Blakey definitely the best for me – always got to see him when he visited London.

  5. Charles Thompson

    August 11, 2017 at 1:38 pm

    I don’t quite agree with who is on the list or the order. I definitely think Ed Blackwell is missing as is Paul Motian, and I would make room for Antonio Sanchez too. I’m also going to put a plug in for Stix Hooper and Milford Graves.

  6. Maxim

    August 11, 2017 at 1:39 pm

    Yep, Blackwell was a miss. Two modern drummers I would have substituted for the large counts pop and fusion drummers here–Sven-Ake Johansson and Hamid Drake.

  7. Vito

    August 11, 2017 at 2:23 pm

    Alan Dawson, Han Bennink, Ed Blackwell, Jon Christensen… just to name the few missing from the list.

  8. Ed LaBonte

    August 11, 2017 at 2:23 pm

    YES, Art Blakey is first! He’s my pick.

  9. JD

    August 11, 2017 at 2:58 pm

    Rich, regardless of his faults as a human being, is unmatched. Not placing him first is a joke. Blakey and Krupa are easily 2/3 or 3/2 with Roach 4th.

    • Matteo Vashkar

      August 13, 2017 at 4:59 am

      Tony Williams
      Buddy Rich
      # 1
      Tain Watts
      Dejohnette should be higher!

    • Matteo Vashkar

      August 13, 2017 at 5:10 am

      Have you ever heard of a dude named Tony Williams?

    • karmik Mike Stein

      July 3, 2020 at 2:38 pm

      where was Krupa on the list ….?

  10. JD

    August 11, 2017 at 2:59 pm

    One more thing…Davey Tough deserved a spot.

  11. Joe

    August 11, 2017 at 5:11 pm

    Music is, of course, not an athletic event, not a race, where there is 1st, 2nd, and third, but my top drummers list would include the great Duffy Jackson (Count Basie, Sammy Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Lionel Hampton), and Tony DiNicola (Harry James). I’ve seen many of the folks on this list live, and as a drummer of over forty years, to me, nobody could shine Buddy Rich’s shoes. Nobody.

  12. Joe

    August 11, 2017 at 5:14 pm

    No Antonio Sanchez???????

    • Matteo Vashkar

      August 13, 2017 at 4:54 am

      No. He’s good but a product of commercialism.

  13. Paul Hirschmann

    August 11, 2017 at 11:24 pm

    Ed thigpen

  14. J Hardy Carroll

    August 12, 2017 at 12:19 am

    I would leave off Gadd and Weckl, among others. Baby Dodds was huge, as was Dave Tough. Modern drummers are given short shrift on this list too. Jeff Hamilton, Antonio Sanchez, Bill Stewart, Eric Harland, and Mark Giuliana need mention as well.

    • eric hochberg

      August 27, 2017 at 7:20 pm

      Ari Hoenig, too.

  15. Brian

    August 12, 2017 at 12:44 am

    At last a list where Buddy Rich is not number 1. Sure, he was a great drummer, but without Krupa there would have been no Buddy Rich. Rich used to try and emulate Krupa when he first started to be recognised. Sadly, he failed. And a very arrogant as well. Too full of himself. I am surprised that Charlie Adams is not in the list, but to be fair, it does say “of all time” but time is still going and many great drummers are still playing regularly. Martin Vjink from the Metropole Orchestra in the Netherlands will be in the list in years to come. One of the best jazz drummers of the current time. As we know, often the very best of the best are not even well known, due to not being able to be promoted all the time like some. e.g. Buddy Rich

    • Matteo Vashkar

      August 13, 2017 at 5:06 am

      Buddy belongs at the top. Him or Tony Williams!

    • Dan

      October 10, 2017 at 3:05 pm

      I fully agree Brian mate. Refreshing to see Rich not at No.1 a great as a drummer he was, your spot on with everything you say, especially regarding Krupa. Also personality has to play a part in one’s overall standing as a great, regardless of their musical ability.

  16. angela levey

    August 12, 2017 at 3:33 am

    Stan Levey was at the beginning of the whole thing with Bird & Diz. It really p;##ses me off. just forgotten. What’s up with people who are supposed to understand the history of the music

    • Nick Carroll

      October 23, 2017 at 5:11 pm

      I wholeheartedly agree with the above post. Stan Levey has played on thousands of recordings with greats such as Davis, Getz, Parker, Gillespie, and many more. It’s shocking to me that he is not included and most drummers don’t know his name. If anyone can explain this, please do…

  17. Angela Levey

    August 12, 2017 at 3:38 am

    Stan Levey was at the beginning of jazz with Bird & Dizzy. Just forgotten? It really p##ses me off What’s up with people who supposedly understand the history

  18. Richard Di Bernardo

    August 12, 2017 at 7:56 am

    Sean Rickman is the best drummer alive today. Plays with Steve Coleman. Maybe the best that I have ever seen. And I saw Buddy Rich play. Two different styles.

  19. Coolpapadee

    August 12, 2017 at 9:04 am

    Good list, but what about Kenny Washington.

  20. Mike

    August 12, 2017 at 2:06 pm

    A list without Sam Woodyard is in error. From the late 50s through the 60s Sam embellished the Ellington band with swing, precision, color and wit. He could be appropriately subtle and explosive within the same piece. Jake Hanna should also be on this list. He propelled Woody Herman’s dynamic band in the 60s. Unless I overlooked him why is Elvin Jones not on this list?

    • Mike

      August 12, 2017 at 2:12 pm

      What a dummy. Elvin is #5. Geez

  21. Dave

    August 12, 2017 at 4:25 pm

    Lists are pointless. Music is an art form, not a contest.

    • Matteo Vashkar

      August 13, 2017 at 5:03 am

      It is an art & a SCIENCE!
      Some articulate with much more precision, vision and emotion than others.
      Tony Williams
      Buddy Rich
      Max Roach

    • za

      November 17, 2019 at 8:56 pm

      He said, after he read the list……………

  22. Bert Dobben

    August 12, 2017 at 9:11 pm

    Luckily, Kenny Clarke lived a little longer than what is stated here. Jack DeJohnette should be in the top five and Dennis Chambers can replace Steve Gadd for me. Paal Nillson Love, Pierre Courbois and Han Bennink should be on the list too.

    • karmik Mike Stein

      July 3, 2020 at 2:41 pm

      And Pierre Moerlen from GONG

  23. Anthony

    August 13, 2017 at 2:00 am

    I love the list it’s great. Charles Hayward of Quiet Sun and This Heat is a great drummer.

  24. Matteo Vashkar

    August 13, 2017 at 4:51 am

    1.Tony Williams
    1. Buddy Rich
    2. . . .

  25. Tony

    August 13, 2017 at 5:21 am

    My top 5. 1- Buddy Rich 2- Chick Webb 3- Gene Krupa 4- Tony Williams 5- Steve Gadd

  26. Clem

    August 15, 2017 at 1:16 pm

    That was a much better list than I expected. I grimly typed “Blakey” into the search box, expecting Bu to be overlooked or placed low. Nice to see Kenny Clarke and other trailblazers given credit; plus personal favorites (Idris, Sonny Payne, Billy Higgins, Joe Chambers) not forgotten, and over-hyped drummers placed lower than some people would prefer (no, I don’t mean Buddy — #7 is a great spot for a great drummer).

  27. Monty

    August 15, 2017 at 4:30 pm

    Dennis Chambers, Will Kennedy, Chester Thompson, Horacio Hernandez, Vinnie Colaiuta, Jon Christensen, Airto, Julio Barret, Gary Husband to name a few… your list is too small.

  28. Thomas

    August 15, 2017 at 10:56 pm

    And no Butch Miles, Ed Soph or Ed Shaugnessy.

  29. Royal Brown

    August 19, 2017 at 1:28 am

    How could you possibly leave Joe Morello off the listA?!

    • Joseph Jones

      August 27, 2017 at 11:35 pm

      He’s on the list

  30. Phil

    August 23, 2017 at 12:24 am

    After playing and studying drums, and with a My Ed degree, I agree that it is not a contest; it’s an art form. We could debate the list forever. All of these people and more all deserve our respect for their tremendous accomplishments. I loved them all and still do! Buddy, personally inspired me to this day IMHO. A list of 1-50 means nothing to me. We could all learn from each other. Respect the ability to perform on ANY instrument. Nuff said!

  31. earnest

    August 24, 2017 at 10:37 pm

    Billy Kilson should be on this list!

  32. Rado

    August 26, 2017 at 1:23 pm

    Benard pretty Purdie

  33. Elizabeth

    August 26, 2017 at 1:27 pm

    Where the fuck is Ed Blackwell? And who said Omar Hakim or Dave Weckl are ,,more important” than Hamid Drake, Jim Black or Tom Rainey. And, at last, where are: Sunny Murray, Andrew Cyrille or Philip Wilson, Don Moye and many others. Fuck all those charts!

  34. John

    August 26, 2017 at 1:40 pm

    Surprised Stan Levey is not on the list

    • Angela Levey

      October 31, 2017 at 12:03 am

      I,m not surprised, unfortunately,just angry,Stan Levey was the best

      • angela levey

        April 6, 2019 at 3:15 am

        If you’re going to write about something jazz and drumming, educate yourself. Stan Levey, being the first along with Max. It’s incredible to just plain omit him

  35. Zoot

    August 26, 2017 at 2:13 pm

    Omar Hakim is percussion chair at Berklee now. Would have liked to have seen Alan Dawson on this list, but at least several of his students made the cut.

  36. Nix

    August 26, 2017 at 3:23 pm

    James Gadson

  37. Sal

    August 26, 2017 at 3:37 pm

    Max Roach was the best musician among the practitioners of the drum art. He needs to be elevated above Art…

  38. Anne

    August 26, 2017 at 5:09 pm

    Oops – Nasheet Waits.

  39. Mr. Note worthy

    August 27, 2017 at 4:31 am


  40. Tom Piccard

    August 27, 2017 at 9:02 am

    So where is Barrett Deems?????ONE OF THE GREATEST and you left him Out?? Screw you your post is a Lie without Barrett Deems..

  41. Andrew Putnam

    August 27, 2017 at 12:52 pm

    Why not just have a list of 50 great jazz drummers? It is in my opinion stupid to make it into some kind of competition and a definitive one at that… who the hell is “udiscovermusic” to decide such a thing? There are plenty that could have been included but why limit it? Why not just showcase 50? Ben Riley, Frankie Dunlop ,Joe Chambers, Billy Cobham, Ed Thigpen-just a few missed, and equally deserving. Not to mention so many newer players, of whom you could go on forever and are continuously emerging.

    • Lestrum

      November 11, 2018 at 8:49 am

      Cobham is on the list. As is Tony Williams for those who stated they were left off. Fairly comprehensive list and of course rankings are highly subjective and agree with the person who found rankings unnecessary. Of course always a few favorites are going to be left out. Love Art Blakey but rated the best ever is questionable. List probably should be expand to 75.

  42. Guillaume Foliot

    August 27, 2017 at 12:55 pm

    Kenny Clarke est mort en 1985 et non en 1945 😉

  43. 吉瀬宣彰

    August 27, 2017 at 3:05 pm

    Sam Woodyard & Denzil DaCosta Best , participate in.

  44. Joseph Jones

    August 27, 2017 at 11:41 pm

    Two great drummers from New Orleans not on the list. Vernel Fournier and Herlin Riley

    • Neo Anderthal

      September 9, 2017 at 10:52 pm


  45. Joseph Jones

    August 27, 2017 at 11:44 pm

    Shout out to Ben Riley

  46. ypsi-slim

    August 28, 2017 at 4:35 am

    Roy Brooks?

  47. Sebastian

    August 31, 2017 at 8:18 am

    Mr Waring,
    I think you might be too young to compile such a list…
    Including Brian Blade, Teri Lynne Carrington & even this Gravatt dude is reaching… They have WAYS to go before being considered great. SORRY, you need to be more Objective and do your HOMEWORK. Weather Report is NOT the greatest Group… (including 2 drummers) How about ANDREW CYRILLE ??? Where’s NASHEET Waits??? He burns Brian Blade so fast… I mean you left out Key ones…

    • karmik Mike Stein

      July 3, 2020 at 2:47 pm

      Right ……. Terry Silverlight not on list ……Pierre Moerlen, Ed Thigpen, Ed Soph, Ed Shaunessy, Ed Blackwell, Narada Michael Walden, Ranjit Barot, Chick Webb, Gary Chester, Don Famularo, Vinny Colaiuta, Butch Miles, and so many more ……… so many more …..

  48. Lene Smidt

    September 1, 2017 at 8:21 am

    Mickey Roker is missing here. Wot a stupid list. Is this jazz-jazz or merely jazz?

  49. Neo Anderthal

    September 9, 2017 at 10:50 pm

    Rufus “Speedy Jones, Grady Tate, Louis Hayes, Bobby Durham…

  50. Emanuel hayavi

    September 14, 2017 at 5:39 am

    For me gerry hemmingway is missing.

  51. Paul

    October 10, 2017 at 9:44 pm

    Where is Jim Chaplin?

  52. Bo

    October 12, 2017 at 4:08 pm

    Shadow Wilson, Frankie Dunlop

  53. Krister Ohlsson

    October 30, 2017 at 2:54 pm

    Baby Dodds and Zutty Singleton laid the foundation, all the others stand on their shoulders.

  54. Vodnique

    October 30, 2017 at 5:41 pm

    Dear ‘Experts’, I acknowledge that the US is the motherland of jazz, and has produced many (perhaps the most) amazing musicians in this genre, but not including any European drummer in top-50 (perhaps I missed one or two, it does not really matter…) is simply ridiculous. For those of you who have never noticed there is civilised world on this side of Atlantic, let me tell you that Europe has developed its own, perhaps less technically perfect, but equally interesting and – I dare to say – more original and intellectually sophisticated style of jazz. Consequently, there are dozens of musicians (including drummers) who deserve to be mentioned in any sort of top-XX list of most valuable artists in the history of the genre. Apologies to the representatives of the other continents (about whom I recognise knowing as much as the authors of this ranking about Europe), please comment and share your local stars!

  55. Kay Heymer

    October 30, 2017 at 6:32 pm

    Wolfgang Haffner should be on this list

  56. Ernest Pappas

    October 30, 2017 at 6:46 pm

    Big Sid Catlett, Baby Dodds, Vernel Fornier, Zutty Singleton, Stan King, George Wettling, Grady Tate, Roy McCurdy, et al

  57. Garrett

    October 31, 2017 at 5:01 am

    Tony Williams should be #1. He’s unmatched. I’ve always found Max Roach to be very overrated as well.

  58. Herb Bruce

    November 1, 2017 at 4:15 am

    This is a joke. Like Buddy said, “I can do everything they can do, but they can’t do wthat I do” Buddy did it all. The rest of them just did their thing. Also, omitting Ed Thigpen destroys your cred.

    • Neil Bower

      June 17, 2020 at 5:31 am

      Buddy Rich #1 Roy Haynes #2. Missing: Freddie Waits & Charlie Persip.

  59. Steve

    November 1, 2017 at 8:55 am

    Charlie Persip, Granville Micky Roker, Dennis Mackrel, Joe Chambers should be on the llist

  60. Jimmy

    December 10, 2017 at 11:41 pm

    Horacio Hernandez, Louis Hayes, Ed Shaugnessy, Jake Hanna & Antonio Sanchez are the guys I believe should be on the list somewhere!

  61. sergio

    December 13, 2017 at 3:41 pm

    Vinnie Colaiuta and the young prodidgy Mike Mitchel are not in the 50 list … I can’t believe it !

  62. ADB

    March 7, 2018 at 4:30 pm

    Excellent list, with an emphasis on musical quality, not just bravura. I agree with the top 6, although on my own list the order would be slightly different. Glad to see Shelly Manne, Paul Motian, and others getting their due, too. For me, the two most important drummers not on the list are Ed Thigpen and Kenny Washington. Oh, and Kenny Clarke’s death date needs to be fixed. Thankfully, he lived 40 years longer than that.

  63. jeff

    August 12, 2018 at 3:33 pm

    What A Joke!

    Yes Blakely
    Yes Roach

    Krupa 9?
    Rich 8


    Rich hands Down number 1
    Krupa right up there

  64. Alberto

    August 25, 2018 at 8:55 am

    It is always dangerous to make classifications. Excellent names are missing here: Ed Blackwell, Joey Baron, Bill Stewart, just to name a few…

  65. Scott Spinharney

    September 22, 2018 at 3:34 am

    You left out Neal Peart, John Bonham, Tommy Ramone, and Mickey Dolenz!!!

    Gene Krupa was an overrated hack!!

    • Liz R.

      June 1, 2020 at 7:40 am

      The only way you could say that Gene Krupa was an “overrated hack” is if you’re just not familiar with his playing or career. Let me enlighten you a bit with some facts. He helped develop jazz drumming in the 1920s, as a teenager, when he fell in with an influential assemblage of young men known as the “Chicagoans.” In the early 1930s, he was one of the most in-demand drummers in New York City’s jazz, dance band, and orchestral scene. He was written about at that time as one of the most innovative drummers around. George Gershwin was a fan of his. In the mid- to late-30s, Gene collaborated with Slingerland and Zildjian to standardize the components of the drum kit *and* selection of cymbals for drum kits, respectively. Speaking of Slingerland, Gene’s face and drums were featured on the cover of the company’s catalog every year for over 30 years, from the 30s to the 60s. The 30s was also the decade in which Krupa not only popularized the drum solo, but also the drum *feature* (the latter being a big band performance – recorded and/or live – in which the drums are predominant). Many of the drum stars who came after him were originally discovered in Gene Krupa drum contests. One of them was Louis Bellson. During Gene’s popular heyday of the 30s and 40s, he inspired innumerable boys and young men to become drummers. Gene literally caused drum kit shortage in at least one city where he came to play because so many people felt compelled by his arrival in town to go out and buy a set of drums. One person inspired by Gene’s live performances to take up jazz drums was a little older than most novice drummers. I’m talking about Jim Chapin, who was a college student in the mid-30s when he had his epiphane after seeing Krupa, then playing with Benny Goodman at the MadHattan Room of New York City’s Hotel Pennsylvania. Chapin went on to become one of the most notable jazz drummers and authors of important drumming books. When Buddy Rich began his career in jazz, more than a decade after Gene had entered the jazz drumming field, Rich patterned his drumming after Gene. In fact, commentators in the 1940s considered Buddy the top Krupa disciple. Gene Krupa had three chief failings that many critics could never forgive him for: 1) He was handsome; 2) He was a great showman; and 3) He was the most popular drummer of the first half of the 20th century. On the personal side, he was universally loved by his fellow musicians – and, really, everybody else who knew him – as a nice and kind person. There is a lot more one can say about Gene Krupa’s gigantic importance as a drummer, but there is only so much I can write in one sitting.

  66. Alan Radovanovich

    February 24, 2019 at 5:19 pm

    What about Marvin “Smitty” Smith?

  67. khary

    April 2, 2019 at 12:29 pm

    Great list…educational! But for the younger, up & comers, I’d like to add Nate Smith and Jamire Williams.

  68. tom

    April 20, 2019 at 2:38 am

    Rufus “Speedy” Jones, Duke Ellington’s drummer, ought to be on this list, absolutely. And close to the top. If you going to keep it at fifty, somebody will have to be squeezed out:

  69. David D Johnson

    June 28, 2019 at 9:28 pm

    Ben Riley jazz’s best kept secret !

  70. Jack

    August 10, 2019 at 4:02 am

    “Best” lists are popularity contests.

  71. Angela

    August 14, 2019 at 3:52 pm

    Ndugu Leon Chancellor

  72. Rob

    October 15, 2019 at 8:33 pm

    You missed Animal who almost beat Buddy in a drum battle.

  73. Hanpu Chao

    January 7, 2020 at 7:46 am

    5: Lee Young
    4: Oliver Jackson
    3: Dave Tough
    2: (Papa) Jo Jones
    1: Chick Webb

  74. Hanpu Chao

    January 7, 2020 at 8:07 am

    I am not into drum battles but into music.

  75. Andrew

    February 23, 2020 at 12:49 am

    Steve Smith, Vinnie Colaiuta for sure!!

  76. gator

    April 5, 2020 at 5:55 am

    just came across this article……where is Ed Thigpen? anyone?

  77. James Scalise

    September 25, 2020 at 11:42 pm

    STAN LEVEY (No doubt should be here.) What Jimmy Cobb did for “K.O.B.” – Stan did for “Musicians Only” Those two fantastic records with ANY other drummers would never have been that great.

  78. Max

    November 10, 2020 at 5:44 pm

    Bernard Purdie?

  79. Robert Dominic

    January 24, 2021 at 6:11 pm

    Where’s Stan Levey?

  80. C. Joseph

    May 3, 2021 at 8:17 pm

    Egregious omissions: Andrew Cyrille, Ed Blackwell, Sonny Murray, Dennis Charles, Milford Graves, Phillip Wilson, Ronald Shannon Jackson, Hamid Drake, Pheeron akLaff, Ralph Peterson Jr.

    My top 5:
    1.Tony Williams
    2.Elvin Jones
    3.Philly Joe Jones
    4.Andrew Cyrille
    5.Dennis Charles

  81. C. Joseph

    May 3, 2021 at 8:25 pm

    Additional egregious omissions: Steve McCall, Tani Tabbal

  82. Sheryl Deauville Candoli

    September 4, 2021 at 7:48 am

    Where is the great Stan Levey in this lineup???

  83. James Eidson

    June 25, 2022 at 1:15 am

    No ed blackwell? That’s absurd. I would call him a no-brainer for a top-ten spot, as would just about everyone else in this comments section, apparently!

  84. Nicolas Martin

    October 7, 2022 at 12:14 pm

    Basie’s favorite drummer, Harold Jones.

  85. Rick W Murray

    November 1, 2022 at 10:59 pm

    Rich number 1 easily everybody else a far and distant 2nd Art is a great drummer but I wouldn’t rank him in the top 3 no way. Max in at number 2 Elvin 3 been a drummer all my life been in blues, Rock, Country bands. Never a jazz band but I love jazz. I have about a Dozen Buddy Rich albums at least have a half dozen Elvin and roach albums a couple of Arts albums. This list is not very well thought out list.

  86. Mark A Silowitz

    February 17, 2023 at 4:09 am

    Late to this list, and agree that Vinnie Colaiuta has more going on than 3/4 of the guys listed here. A legend who is still here playing with us! This list also cannot be taken seriously without Downbeat’s Drummer of the Year many years running, Steve Smith. And every drummer who ever survived any of Frank Zappa’s bands also needs listed. Lewis Nash is also an oversight. Dennis Chambers, anyone? Good enough for John McLaughlin, good enough for me.

  87. Scott Spinharney

    July 19, 2023 at 9:03 pm

    You posted nothing but garbage.

  88. Bradley shabazz ....

    July 30, 2023 at 1:39 pm

    this is a bogus list if my neighbor and drum teacher George “butch’ Ballard is not included on this list..he played with Basie ,Ellington ,Coltrane and cootie Williams .that’s his drum work on ‘ satin doll’ ..

  89. Bradley shabazz ....

    July 30, 2023 at 1:45 pm

    How could George ” butch ” Ballard be left off this bogus list? Mr.butch my neighbor and drum teacher, in frankford phila. Played with all the greats Basie,Ellington,Coltrane,and cootie Williams ,just to name a few…..that’s his original drum work on satin doll’ the first drummer I ever saw who played his set with his fingers and elbows……

  90. Jonathan Edwards

    August 2, 2023 at 6:56 am

    Norwegian Jon Christensen is my favorite! The most musical drummer I’ve ever heard. He played on more ECM albums than any other musician. Keith Jarrett, Ralph Towner, Terje Rypdal, Jan Garbarek, Eberhard Weber, Arild Anderson, etc.., all the ECM greats. All the great European jazz musicians.

  91. Kendrick

    October 18, 2023 at 2:05 am

    What in the hell could a Drummer name Amos Woodward not be named amoung the top 50s. Does anyone know this Drummer Amos Woodward? Anyone because if not what a lost eare to Drummers because I never in my 70 years seem a Drummer yet who could what I’ve witnessed him do on a set of Drums. If there isn’t one then it’s sad.

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