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DRUMMER MAN/JeffHammond IT'S LATE AFTERNOON on a hot Friday in early June, and I'm sitting in a plaza in a close-in suburb ofWashington, D.C. I'm working, without much energy, on a typical summer project for an English professor : a study of the funeral elegies of Puritan New England. I always write my scholarship in pubUc places like this. Writing is lonely work, even when your subject isn't seventeenth-century funerary poems, and it's a comfort to look up and see people going about their business. A swing band is setting up for the weekly dance here in Bethesda Square. The musicians are adjusting their music stands, donning thenoutfits —huge Hawaiian shirts—and warming up. They have a familiar look about them, a hip goofiness: big guys with beatnik goatees and little guys with thick glasses, nearly all with anachronistic American Bandstand hair. In the midst of the beeps and honks and scales, I hear the drummer tuning his snare drum. I can't see him, but his tentative tapping tells me exactly what he's doing as he works his way around the rim, pausing to adjust a lug here and there with his drum key. From the rising pitch of the taps I can tell that he's "tuning up," tightening the drumhead and the snares stretched across the bottom. You do that when you're playing with a big group and you want the drum crisp enough to cut through a lot of noise. If this were a small combo he'd be "tuning down," loosening the head and snares for a mushier sound. By now a crowd has gathered, and the leader kicks things off with a bouncy rendition of "In the Mood." I collect my papers and wander over to watch the drummer. He is about my age, mid-forties, with thinning sandy hair. He might be new to this band; he's keeping his eyes glued to the charts. New or not, he's a real pro. He has a Ught foot on the bass drum and his high-hat is as regular as a clock. His accents on the snare are right where they should be, punching up the section work from the brass. He's long since learned the secret to driving a big band: rushing the beat slightly. A good drummer constantly fights entropy. Most musicians tend to drag the beat, and a sluggish, leadfooted drummer only makes things worse. This is tasteful, workmanlike drumming, the kind youfeel more than hear, and at the band's first break I consider going up and telling him how good he is. In the end I decide against it. After aU, he's just doing his job, and besides, I've always known that my appreciation of good The Missouri Review · 252 drumming is borderline obsessive. What if I started babbling, unable to conceal a degree of enthusiasm that middle-aged guys are supposed to have outgrown? And what if the conversation took its inevitable turn and he asked "Do you play?" I'd say "I used to," but that response would leave so much untold that it would feel Uke a Ue. There's a joke that high school band directors teU. It goes like this: "God created the world in three days. On thefirst day He created singers, and He said that it was good. On the second He created musicians, and He said that it was good. On the third He created drummers, and He said 'Two out ofthree ain't bad.'" I heard that joke a lot when I was in high school, always with a twinge of self-righteous indignation. After aU, I was a drummer. Until ninth grade I hadn't been much of anything, except what grownups called "a nice young man," the kind who got paid for babysitting other kids only a year or two younger. Parents were always pleased when I hung out with their sons because they figured there'd be no trouble. Naturally, I was embarrassed by this reputation, in part because it wasn't something I had set out to achieve. It seemed to me...


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