I wasn't going to get involved in this thread because I'll probably pi$$ off all the drummers out there but none of those guys doing the fancy solos impress me at all. I'm not saying they're not great drummers only that I am not impressed by their music. To me the great drummer is the guy that doesn't get noticed & just makes the song sound good. Listening to a drum solo to me is like listening to a guy practicing his chops. On a rare occasion I hear a drum solo that really moves me but it's because of its uniqueness & not the flash that most people get impressed by. I always remember doing a two guitar duet where I played rhythm & my partner played lead on a song. A year later after we broke up & he was playing the same lead on the same song & his new partner was known as one the best guitar players in town. The guy could do things on the guitar that I've never heard done by even some of the greatest players ever. After his set my old partner sat down & asked me " Why doesn't my solo sound as good as it used to when we played together". I told him simply that his great guitar player partner was doing too much & detracting from the music he was playing. A good musician knows that it takes a lot of work to get the technique down but the key is to know how to use it.
How and when to use it...true enough. I believe when Clapton and Gadd, in the video above, ride a crescendo together it is a magical example of knowing how to use it. Same for the Gadd and Clarke video.
I'm not an AC/DC fan but Phil Ruud impresses me because what he plays fits so well that it supports what the other guys are doing. Too many young players want to force the latest thing they've learned into a place where it doesn't belong. This applies to any musician, not just drummers.
Gary used the term "good musician." That encompasses knowing how to play your instrument but also knowing when to play as well as when not to play. I have played with a pianist who has played as a soloist with some really good orchestras but the conductor and the orchestra followed HIM. Trying to play with him in a small jazz group is almost impossible because he's not listening to the group (or even staying at one tempo.) His musical chops don't make him easy to play with.
I would suggest Pat Metheny as an example of someone with great chops AND is also a great listener/accompanist. In particular his 80/81 recording. Jack DeJohnette and Charlie Haden are also on this recording as supportive players as well as soloists. Michael Brecker wails on this cut, too. I drove my family nuts playing this one in the car so much. Still dig it.
Keith Richards wrote in his book that Charlie Watts, who had a jazz background, is as an excellent example of a supportive, listening musician. But also has a peculiar technique of holding back on the fourth beat ever so slightly to give it a unique sound while still very much in time. Ever since I read that I try and listen for it but can never quite catch it. Perhaps that means he is doing it flawlessly?
Regarding "holding back" on a beat - I think of that as playing behind the beat. The 3 main ways are 1. on top of the beat (slightly pushing the tempo); 2. middle of the beat; 3. behind the beat. The retired drum prof at the local university with whom I used to study had a very relaxed feel, behind the beat. It was great for old R&B. However it didn't fit right when he played Latin music. Latin needs a forward movement, a propulsion, and the laid back feel didn't suit it. A lot depends on the music and the situation. What Charlie Watts does is just right for the Stones.
I read in Keith Moon's biography that Mitch Mitchell tried out for The Who. Mitch was fantastic with Jimi Hendrix but I can't picture him playing with The Who.
For drummers who may play in a variety of musical settings, they need to know how to sense which feel is right for the song and for the musicians with them. When a drummer and bass player lock in with each other its a great feeling. When they don't, the magic just doesn't happen.
Here's some brush work that is is very musical.
The first is Steve Smith (Journey, Steps Ahead, Vital Information) and Jeff Hamilton (Oscar Peterson, Dianna Krall)
Steve Gadd demonstrating why drummers need to know the song and melody.
That duet was really cool the way they worked together. I'm no drummer but I can hear the music they made.