Complete text -- "Someone's Playing My Cymbal"

24 November

Someone's Playing My Cymbal

Billy Bucher, Denton, TX, December, 1964:

One afternoon I was in a particular hurry to get to my practice room and have a good session. It was early in the afternoon so most of the drummers in class and things in the catacomb of drum rooms was pretty quiet. Only one lone drummer was practicing that day. Often in the evenings, when everyone was playing at the same time, it could turn into utter chaos, making it hard to concentrate.

But, that afternoon, I noticed there was something odd. I was about six cubicle-sized rooms away from my practice room and suddenly I could hear the sound of MY RIDE CYMBAL. I guess people might find it odd that out of thousands of cymbals, I would be able to instantly differentiate the sound of my cymbal from all others, but, after spending hours working out of my Jim Chapin's "Advanced Technigues for the Advanced Drummer" each day, the sound of your cymbal is solidly embedded in your mind.

But who could be playing my cymbal now? Whoever was playing was doing a slow, hypnotic jazz ride beat without the bass drum or snare. It didn't seem as if it were a drummer on the set. Yet, the purity of the beat seemed to accentuate the pure crystalline sound of the ride and the rhythmic foundations of jazz.

I turned the corner and peeked into the window and to my shock, there on the set sat Billy Harper!

When I opened the door, Billy looked up with an expression somewhere between surprise and embarrassment, yet there was a sense of bliss in his demure as well.

He hailed from Houston and was easily the best tenor man in the school and he was the first black musician to make the 1:00 o'clock or number one jazz big band at North Texas. The way he attacked his saxophone it was apparent early on that Harper had a bright career ahead of him.

It does seem incredible now but in those days it was such a struggle for director Leon Breedon to get him in the band in the first place. I couldn't understand the problem since growing up in Iowa, most of my jazz idols were black. Thank God times have changed. And although Billy and I had exchanged nods in the hallways, we'd never really spoken to each other.

He suddenly gave me his slow, warm smile.

"Sorry, man," he said. "I've been meaning to check with you but I've been going around the playing all the sets and, man, you have the very best ride cymbal in the entire jazz department and I've tried them all!" He laughed.

That was a great compliment to me. Sometimes I would stop outside a practice room where Billy was practicing and listen to what he was doing. You would think a top notch jazz musician would be doing all kinds of wild gyrations and weaving jazz riffs, layer upon layer, into a myriad of sounds though he sometimes did that, more often than not, Harper would be doing scales upon scales upon scales, starting at the lowest notes of his instrument then ascending to its highest tones. And it was amazing the intensity he would bring to every exercise.

And it wasn't just that one time he came by to play the cymbal. Over the next two years I found him in my practice room, just grooving to the sound of my cymbal, several times.

It was always a great feeling to find him there. He told me that playing a bit of drum cymbals relaxed him and put him in a good mood.

Billy Harper has certainly gone on to play with a lot of great jazz musicians including probably my favorite drummer, Art Blakey. He has toured around the world with musicians like Gil Evans, Max Roach, Thad Jones and others. He was a true inspiration to the players around him at North Texas and I guess we all knew that Billy Harper would be blazing new trails in many directions.

You can check out a really nice web site at:
We will try to contact him there.

Billy Harper, is easily, one of the strongest musicians to have ever come out of North Texas jazz program and he could spot a good cymbal to boot. What more can you ask for?

Posted by billybucher at 15:44:23 - Category: General
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