Fred Johnson asked me recently why I ever decided to commute from Toronto to Boston to study with the late George L. Stone.
We agreed that it would make for an interesting and informative article for the CADRE web site. So…
In my youth, my talent and playing ability were hampered by not enough exposure to music in-general and there were no serious drum teachers in Toronto at that time. Following the Second World War, there was a ton of Trumpet Bands (Drum Corps) and too many mediocre dance bands. That was all there was to hear and experience. At that time, dance band leaders never asked whether you could read music, but if you could play rudiments. Leaders didn’t know one rudiment from the next; but at that time, any entertainment or public gathering had to (by law) conclude with the playing of God Save The King – for which the intro was a long roll (as was the whole piece)! So your professional reputation and your next gig depended on your roll quality. My roll was as bad as most older drummers – it was a kind of an “open and buzzed” combination. Just after my 16th birthday, I was in the Colonial Tavern on Yonge Street (albeit under age) to hear Marion McPartland. Her drummer played so relaxed and with such unreal authority; that drummer was Joe Morello! Joe played some amazing and fast stuff on a table napkin and explained that he was a George L. Stone student and that Stone could make me into a great sight reader and a “complete” drummer because he had a “method”. I hung out and drummed with Joe Morello for a couple of weeks while he was staying at the Warwick Hotel and performing at the Colonial Tavern. At this point in time I’m convinced I should become a student.
So, in 1953, I decided to get on a train and go to Boston to study under Stone at his studio on Hanover Street. I commuted back and forth to Toronto for a while and then took up temporary residence in Boston with two other musicians who were prepared to share accommodations and food costs.
Stone (like his father) had played in the Sousa Band and vaudeville. He was a rudimental drum instructor, a drum maker, and a super stick-turner. He played what he called “Connecticut Style”. Based on his “lifts & levels”, every hand motion was isolated and then practiced very slowly. He believed that the 26 Standard Rudiments – as adopted by the National Association of Rudimental Drummers (USA) – were based on “ancient sticking” that evolved in Europe and the U.K. as early as 1750. Stone was one of the original founders, and served as President of the NARD. He never acknowledged the existence of any Swiss drumming tradition – and pipe band drummers in the USA didn’t “really” play.
Stone would adjust his student schedule to accommodate me. I would go for a three hour lesson, get loaded up with information and go back to the hotel and practice. The next day, three more hours – during which Stone would check me out regarding the previous day’s lesson – and back to the hotel. I was introduced to the Dodge Drum Chart which became the basis of learning how to site read.
Stone always demonstrated the Flam & Drag alternately and sideways using 18″ and 2″ heights. As an example: four right handed, 1/16 note Flams, followed by four lefts, followed by hand-to-hand. The Paradiddles – single and double – were worked using 9″ and 18″ heights. When teaching the Ratamacue he would use all three heights. He never confused you with too much information…he just felt he was passing knowledge along. He did not invent the system but believed that it was the most refined and musically-proper thing around up to that point in time. I personally believe that “the system” was the reason so many of his students became great jazz and orchestra players. Stone also had professional players as occasional students who came by to “brush up”. I met Zutty Singleton (Louis Armstrong Band), Artie Press (Boston Symphony), Alan Dawson (head of Jazz Studies at Berklee in Boston), Herb Brockstein (founder and owner of Pro Mark) and “Big Sid” Catlett (Louis Armstrong Band) at the Stone studio. The first time I saw / heard of Billy Gladstone from New York City, I watched him give Stone a lesson on how to play the first 21 bars of Ravel’s “Bolero” using Billy’s “finger bounce” technique. Later, in 1956, at the Ted Reid studio in New York (218 W47th Street), I played on the original Gladstone prototype drum which was the forerunner to the famous Gladstone Drums. The next day Gladstone showed up and watched me play the prototype. He told me I had great technique but questioned why I played “so damn loud”. Over the next two years I took lessons from Gladstone in New York.
Stone was a friend of another drum teacher: Emile F. Cote. Cote was also a member of the NARD. I remember going with Stone to Cote’s farm where a stage had been built in the barn. Cote’s students would “sling up” on rope drums and demonstrate to their peers their best stuff. Stone would judge the demonstration.
To be brief, Stone had the insight to be able to get to the heart of any technical problem anybody brought to him. He always kept written exercises on the “file pile” or in his head and sent you on your merry way to resolve your playing hang-up.
I suppose I remained a Stone student because I became a bit obsessed with technique as opposed to playing music. Stone always said there was more than one way to play any written passage and he could play it from the rudimental, band, jazz or orchestral interpretation! His system encouraged you to expand your playing…..every student was an individual not a potential drumming-robot.
For a number of years after the lessons, I stayed in touch with George. George L. Stone was in his own way a genius.
RIP … Ray