Dave Tough

Shelly Manne always stated that Dave Tough was one of his major influences. He went to hear him play all the time and eventually subbed for him on regular basis. Dave Tough had a marvelous brush technique, could push the band to its limit, and was a heavily addicted drinker. He really made the essence of quarter notes in a big band clear to me. He even wrote a drum book with exercises that were very interesting to study. Dave Tough was born April 26, 1907. He was well known for several things. His playing was subtle and versatile but he had a strong opinion about drum solos. He did not like them and almost never played them. Dave Tough was a very small man but his time feel, the power he could generate within a group is incredible.

Tough began playing drums as a member of the Austin High School Gang. This loosely assembled group of musicians effectively formulated the Chicago style of jazz which became popular in the twenties. Dave travelled to Europe with the group, where he spent time in Paris, before going back to New York to make records with Eddie Condon and Red Nichols. Coming back, he changed from a smaller ensemble player to the big band scene, working for Tommy Dorsey, Red Norvo, Bunny Berigan, Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, Artie Shaw and Bud Freeman. Dave Tough worked for some of the best big bands during his life. Both in the smaller ensembles and big bands, he was a wonderful supportive drummer. He was a rhythm player who would sacrifice himself to benefit the band. He was an exception towards the technical advanced drummers like Jo Jones, Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa and Chick Webb.

Listening to Dave Tough made me realize more and more that it was all about helping the band and keeping them inspired. He really plays in center of the beat with a very strong drive but he is not rushing. Dave Though knew how to lay down a good solid beat so the musicians up front could improvise. Tough based his conception of drumming on what he derived from the best drummers he saw during his youth in Chicago, Baby Dodds in particular. On many of his recording in the thirties with Tommy Dorsey you can hear suggestions of Baby Dodds in his playing, the syncopated playing on the rims of the snare and bass drum, using one element of the set against the other for example.

The Dorsey band of the middle and late thirties was still seeking for its image. A head arrangement called, Stop Look and Listen, recorded for Victor in 1937, gives a very good idea of how the men of Dorsey performed. The commercially successful recordings by the band, Song of India, and Marie, cut for Victor in January 1937 are excellent examples of how Dave Tough operated during that period. Both of the pieces are played in a very danceable medium tempo. Tough emphasizes the bass drum to use it primarily for keeping time. It shows great coordination with what he is playing with his hands at the same time. His performances with Dorsey in the thirties indicated that he played to please the musicians, a real ensemble player. Lonesome Road, recorded in May 1939 is a perfect example of Dave Tough at his peak with Tommy Dorsey. His drinking problems eventually drove him out of the band.

In 1938 Dave replaced Gene Krupa with the Benny Goodman band. According to Whitney Balliett in American Musicians Portraits in Jazz, Goodman was never really satisfied with Dave Tough. The clarinetist had problems with drummers, generally, but after Krupa left he was particularly difficult, making the job of Dave almost impossible. But somehow, Dave Tough transcended what was a negative situation. He swings forcefully, especially in the Goodman small group setting. A quartet radio broadcast from Benny Sent Me from the thirtieth of August in 1938 makes this very clear. Another beautiful example of his supportive playing with Benny Goodman can be heard on Opus Half recorded by Victor in 1938. On this record you can hear Lionel Hampton, Benny Goodman, Dave Tough and Teddy Wilson. His cymbal sound is very clear. It is very easy to hear that Dave was also very comfortable in a smaller ensemble setting. He easily adjusted his playing to the situation he was in. He makes the little group sound really loose and pulsating by playing almost nothing, allowing the players to fully express themselves.

When Dave left Goodman, he moved from job to job. His playing on Prince of Wails with Bud Freeman, recorded in 1940, is one of his most freewheeling ensemble performances. Dave did do another date with the Benny Goodman big band in 1941. It showcases his ability to play almost perfect time. Scarecrow was recorded for Columbia in February 1941. He really controls the band here and makes the music move. Smooth One, also recorded for Columbia, showcases a more compact and tight playing side of Dave Tough. He varies the brush pattern on the snare, following the solo players. Noticeable is that Dave Tough improved his playing with Benny Goodman. He became an even stronger player. His hi-hat work was looser and set a precedent for drummers who would later adopt the open hi-hat sound, particularly behind ensemble playing. Tough gave the hi-hat the feeling that would later be associated with the top cymbal. Like the great man of the hi-hat, Jo Jones, he played it in a manner fitting the occasion, splashy behind ensembles. Closed and with precision behind section work or soloists, open and closed in combination to stir up ensembles and soloists. His bass drum habits were changing. He established the pulse on the big drum but often threw in double and single accents to change the feeling and the course of the music. I think he sought simple, powerful means to make the music interesting.

Dave Tough joined the Artie Shaw band in 1941. The Shaw recordings from 1941 till 1942 made for Victor contain amongst others, Deuces Wild and Solid Sam. They reveal a very strong and muscular playing of Dave Tough. He plays extremely solid and pushes his cymbals through the orchestra sound. In 1944, Tough really found his place with the Woody Herman band. I think this was the band where his style really fitted, and where his conception of the music really happened both ways.

It is very clear to hear the intensity in the playing of Dave Tough, this important thing of playing strong time and to get that excitement going. He could, however, also slow the band down for a solid feeling, or speed it up on purpose to make the band sound wider. He adapted to what was happening in the orchestra or with the soloist. I think he did not see the beat as an inflexible thing. Most of the time, the band he played with did not finish at the starting tempo. He added lots of dynamics in time. It is not good to rush or slow down when you are not aware of it, but on purpose, to control the arrangement and make it go somewhere, it can make the music really expressive. It never sounds lazy. He could decide to make the drums and the band sound laid back or in front of the beat. It was just about what the music asked him to do.

At the same time that Dave joined the Woody Herman band, bebop really started to get popular. On his later records you can hear that Tough was challenged by these new syncopated rhythms. On Caledonia and Northwest Passage recorded by Columbia in 1945 he is trying to move into modernism. He modernized his bass drum playing, like Kenny Clarke, but remained Dave Tough. You can hear that he tuned his bass drum heads very loose and that he used many off beats on the bass drum. Tough said that he could not possibly do what Max Roach did. Eventually the Herman band was the glory moment of his life. He played so well in a very modern band that he became a factor in the modern movement. He won Down Beat and Metronome polls and was well known during that time.

The recordings he did with the Woody Herman First Herd between 1944 and 1945 were the most fascinating to me, mostly because of the strong energy that came from behind the drums. It became clearer to me that it is not just about what you play, but it about the way you play it. Hearing him with Woody Herman, he plays with a tremendous beat. He starts off nice and smooth and easy and he builds, although it never gets unnecessarily loud. You can hear his concern for the band and it overshadowed any personal flamboyance. He keeps things the way it should be and he does not go off on tangents while the soloist is trying to create something. There are some examples however, where you can hear him as a solo player. On Golden Wedding by Woody Herman you can hear him play pulsating rhythms on the toms while pushing the band to its limits. You can hear he definitely developed some great technical skills during the years. It is one of the most exciting recordings of Dave Tough I could find, giving the band all his personality and energy.

The Dave Tough Quintet made a great recording in 1946. This recording is called You Were Meant for Me. It showcases again that he is trying to improve his bass drum coordination. He is playing more and more off beats when the song builds. He also shifts between the cymbals, making warm or more clashing sounds. And you can hear that he is playing very sharp fills on the snare drum and crash cymbal while playing exactly together with the soloist. At the same time he adds to the overall performance without making you too conscious of his presence, a very imaginative drummer. Dave was a very strong brush player in my opinion too. It sounds like he can easily carry a big band with nothing but his brushes and a snare drum.

He eventually died because of his alcohol addiction in 1948. He did leave a very interesting book about paradiddles behind and lots of fantastic recordings. To me it never became clear if he did not play many drum solos because he could not, or because he really did not wanted. Hearing him on the Golden Wedding, I can hear he definitely has some technique. And looking at this interesting paradiddle book he wrote, I would say he knew about his techniques and rudiments for sure, he just decided not to use them if they had no personal or musical value to him.

Thomas de Visser

Thomas de Visser is a professional drummer who specializes in jazz whilst also having stage and studio experience in a large variety of music styles.