Spotlight on Percussion

spotlight on percussion

This entertaining program was produced and directed by Ward Botsford for Vox Records in 1955, and appeared as box set even though it is a single LP. Spotlight on Percussion presents the sounds of more than sixty percussion instruments followed by examples of their use by classical composers ranging from Handel to Hindesmith with many stops in between.

The program is narrated by radio personality Al “Jazzbo” Collins (who last appeared on the Hymies blog here), and features Arnold Goldberg and Kenny Clarke as the percussionists. The album also includes an interesting interview with the engineer, Rudy Van Gelder, best known for his work with jazz artists, including on some of the recordings for which Clarke is famous.

Ward Botsford had an extensive career as a record producer with a keen emphasis on obscure or unrecorded classical compositions. He also produced spoken word albums for Caedmon Records, recording writers such as T.S. Elliot and Gertrude Stein reading their own works. Beginning in 1979 he had the opportunity to reissue music from EMI’s catalog through Arabesque Records, a subsidiary of Caedmon until Botsford and a partner purchased it. After Botsford’s retirement the label went further into jazz, but still includes new and reissued classical recordings as well.

Here are two selections from the program of Spotlight on Percussion.

The first offers insight into the role of percussion in several places, such as unprecedented appearance of the tympani in the D minor scherzo in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and the brilliant use in Saint-Saen’s Dance Macabre. This second launching the tradition of dancing skeletons, from Disney’s “Silly Symphony” in 1929 to Michael Jackson’s “Ghosts” seventy years later.

In the second section Kenny Clarke performs a variety of material while Collins introduces the percussionist’s role in a jazz group. He was, even by 1955, one of the most influential performers in jazz, for his role in early bebop recordings by Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and others. Clarke is credited with creating the ride cymbal pattern, which became a foundation of bop rhythm (here’s Tony Williams performing an example of the ride cymbal). You’ll hear this and other familiar bebop innovations in his improvisations on this recording.

nifty chart

The final feature of Spotlight on Percussion is the big book included in the box, which contains an extensive and interesting history of percussion. There is even this nifty chart of instruments and their use, range and history.

distins drum

The history includes fun trivia, like the story of Distin’s Monster Drum, exhibited in England in the nineteenth century. The book also includes more details about the recording and production of the record than you’ll find in any other record (except maybe one recorded for Dave and Sylvia Ray’s Sweet Jane label), and even pictures of Rudy Van Gelder cutting the master to disc.

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