Many of the world's great drummers credit their skills in part to Jim Chapin's teaching and his book Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer. First released in 1948, the style outlined in his book is now standard among drummers. He is one of the foremost exponents of the Moeller Method, which he demonstrates in his DCI music video Speed, Power, Control and Endurance.
James Forbes "Jim" Chapin is a New Yorker born and bred. He was a relatively late comer to the drums, taking them up at eighteen after two inconclusive years of college. Jim left William and Mary in early 1938 after having cut classes regularly in order to obey a massive compulsion to batter a set of drums that a classmate had left set up in the gymnasium. Thanks to understanding parents he was allowed to buy a set that spring and in June was fortunate enough to get a summer job in the mountains with an eight piece band called the "Georgia Dons" at the "Purling Palace", a night club. Schedule: seven nights a week, 8 p.m. to 3 a.m., salary $6.00 per week, room and board. That fall, a golden opportunity presented itself, a steady job at a night club in Yonkers called the Red Cap. Here the salary was a magnificent $9.00 per week, hours 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. weekdays, 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. One had to learn something on jobs like these, if only general survival procedure.
Jim Chapin was lucky enough to have excellent instruction almost from the outset. He studied first with Ben Silver of New York and then with the fabled rudimentalist Sanford A. Moeller. Jim feels that he also was fortunate in that New York in the late '30's was full of fine drummers whose playing was readily available to the ears of the young enthusiast. Jim recalls that during one brief period he heard Gene Krupa and Lionel Hampton with Goodman, Dave Tough with Dorsey and Goodman, Ray Baudac with Bob Crosby, Cozy Cole with Stuff Smith, Jimmy Crawford with Lunceford, Sonny Greer with Duke, Jo Jones with Count Basie, Chick Webb with his own band, Sid Catlett with Louis Armstrong, O'Neill Spencer with John Kirby, Slick Jones with Fats Waller, Arthur Herbert with Pete Brown, Buddy Rich with Joe Marsala, Bunny Berigan and Artie Shaw, Cliff Leemans with Shaw and Charlie Barnett, Razz Mitchell with the Savoy Sultans, Chris Columbus with his own band, Ben Thigpen (Ed's father) with Andy Kirk, J. C. Heard with Teddy Wilson's big band and small band, Zutty Singleton, Tony Spargo, George Wettling and Danny Alvin at Nick's in the Village (incidentally, Nick Rongetti gave Jim his first night club job as leader when he let him bring in a Kansas City styled group on several Monday nights during 1939).
During the period Jim strove mightily to catch up technically with the drummers who had been playing for longer periods. The Goldbetter Rehearsal Studios in the old Roseland Building was the scene of much activity and when sessions weren't in progress Jim would sometimes practice six or eight hours at a stretch, and began to develop from the left hand "shuffle" rhythm, his independent technique. By the beginning of 1940, Jim had worked quite a few jobs and had gathered some much needed experience, and his hands, thanks to Moeller, were excellent. The young "house band" at Goldbetter Studios was an early Basie style band with arrangements by Vie Hunter, that had a wonderful young drummer named Lou Fromm. When Lou left to join Frankie Newton, Jim took over for the few college dates the band did that Spring, 1940. Also Jim worked a couple of dates with Babe Russin's group at the Dancing Campus of the World's Fair before taking a band of his own into a joint on W. 52nd Street known as the Ha Ha Club. The "Street" at this time was primarily a jazz street, but the Ha Ha was the same kind of clip joint one finds there today with the single exception that the female entertainers were "singers" instead of "dancers". The primary duty of the band was to play loud when a customer was presented with the check.
Jim stayed until midsummer, then turned the job over to his trumpet player, Roy Stevens, joined the "Music Goes Round And Round" Orchestra of Mike Riley and Ed Farley, and went back to the World's Fair Dancing Campus for the rest of the summer. Gene Krupa, at the peak of his power and popularity that summer, was the featured band for most of the Riley engagement there. Gene, of course, featured fabulous drum arrangements and Jim said that Riley, a great clown, would often walk off the stand, leaving Jim to play a solo, motion the rest of the group to get off too, look at his watch and say, "Play for about ten minutes, kid. Gene'll be back pretty soon". Later that year Jim left Riley to rejoin Babe' Russin for a Miami job at Slapsy Maxie's, that folded in mid February 1941 because of gambling difficulties. That June Jim played a few weeks with Van Alexander and then spent the next six months with Tommy Reynolds, and up-and-coming name at that time.
In December '41, Jim decided to get off the road for a while, so he got a job at Child's Paramount with Henry Jerome, who was just starting to change styles from commercial to jazz (a trend he rapidly reversed after the war) and stayed there until Flip Phillips and Larry Bennett persuaded him to join Bennett's group at the Hickory House in early June of '42. Jim had a ball with this small group which, during that year worked as a unit with Wingy Manone in Boston and with Wingy and Mildred Bailey in Georgia before returning to the Hickory House for the spring of '43. By this time, Jim's preoccupation with the "stuttering" left hand was attracting some attention, and Jim and Flip would often carry on a musical Morse Code conversation between Tenor and Snare Drum, Larry was drafted in the summer of '43, so the group dissolved and Jim soon went back with Henry Jerome whose band was now a full-sized roarer, with Billy Bauer on Guitar, Chauncey Welch on Trombone, Charlie Genduso on Trumpet, and jobs at the Pelham Heath Inn, the Lincoln Hotel and Loew's State Theatre. Jim, thanks to Flip, also started rehearsing with Red Norvo's Coca Cola band, a USO idea that never really got off the ground.
Jim's draft board got to him about this time, November '43 and in spite of sons aged two and one, shipped him off to Fort Dix where he spent several weeks playing in a band with George Duvivier, George Koenig, and Wild Bill Davison, protected from the horrors of K.P. by Captain Hy Gardner. Finally he was sent to the band at Morris Field, where for a year and a half he fought the battle of Charlotte, N.C., thence to Lake Charles, Louisiana in June '45, where he remained until discharge in November.
These were not overly rewarding years musically, but Jim feels very lucky that at least he had his instrument with him and a good deal of time to practice. He feels that he might not have carried the theory of independent coordination so far had he been engaged in more satisfying and demanding swinging. The winter of '45-'46 was a time of development, and Jim came back to find jazz music irrevocably changed. The skills that he had developed were now something that could be more freely exploited. Characteristically, however, he did little to push himself into the jazz scene and instead took a job at the Arcadia Ballroom that lasted 'til late '46.
At this time he joined the closely knit rhythm in the resurgent Casa Loma band. This great section which included Joe Shulman or Barney Spieler, bass, Tommy Morganelli, guitar and Tony Nicoletti, piano, only did about six months with Glen Gray, but Jim stayed on until the band broke up for the first time in December '47. Then, following the sun and close friends to Atlanta, Ga., of all places, he put in one of the least lucrative but happiest periods of his life, playing with bassist Red Woolen and pianist Freddie DeLand, with various horn men up front. Most important, perhaps, he met Lew Swain, an executive of the Ozalid Company, which makes reproduction machines for printed matter. Lew persuaded him to put his long deferred book into final form, and offered help and the use of his machines to publish the book. Returning to New York in September 1948, Jim began to teach at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Modern Music. When he first showed his new book around, he always had to carry drumsticks in his pocket. The frequent comment was "Man, who's gonna play this" (By now, quite a few of the greatest names in drumming have played or are playing it). Jim was always ready to oblige with a concert on newsoapers, knees or car fenders. Jim soon tired of the New York bustle and in the Fail of '49 returned to Atlanta, for a year and two months (just long enough to lose all his New York contacts). This time, he says, some of the playing was the best he had done, and most of it was the worst. Coming North again in February '51.
He worked with Barbara Carroll for a while, then went to the Coast for the summer with Tony Pastor, where he did a few dates at the Lighthouse at Hermosa Beach with Howard Rumsey, Shorty Rogers and Jimmy Giuffre. Meanwhile Red Wootten, by that time with Woody Herman, had Woody get Jim as Sonny Igoe's substitute for four months that Fall. A brief episode with Tommy Dorsey in the early spring of '52, and Jim went back with Tony Pastor in May and stayed 'til November, 1953. Finally getting sick of the "road" Jim organized a sextet for some jobs that never came about, but one Monday night in Birdland in late '53 led to twenty or thirty more over the next four years. Mainstays of the group were Phil Woods, Don Stratton, Sonny Truitt and Chuck Andrus. Frequent participants included Urbie Green, Billy Byers, Johnny Williams and Nat Pierce. Luckily, the group recorded, before disbanding, and many be heard on Classic Jazz Ip C J 6, featuring arrangements by Jim, Phil Woods and Sonny.
In early '54 Jim Chapin started teaching at Hartnett National Studios and started also to work some dates for the Lester Lanin office. Later that same year Lanin developed a format for his debutante parties that included a jazz show at some time during the evenings' proceedings. This usually meant that Jim and Jonah Jones would arrive at the party about two A.M., solo furiously for about twenty minutes and then leave, at which time the band would revert to society tempo 'till unconscious. These outbursts were a regular feature of the December and June seasons for several years until Jonah came into his own. Jim also did a few musical shows mainly for Peter Matz, including the "Amazing Adele" an extravaganza that perished after Philly and Boston. Recently Jim has been with Marshall Grant's Trio, a hard to define group that has worked such diverse N. Y. spots as the Maisonette of the St. Regis, the St. Moritz and the Embers. Jim describes it whimsically as a "hard-bop society" group. Jim has a particular taste for the locales that Marshall picks:Southampton, L, I. in the summer, and Palm Beach in the winter. With the "name" bands he says it was always Memphis in July and Montreal in February.
He has three or four more books in the works but admits to a vast inertia that prevents his copying them in final form. He does say however, that the next one contains more work than any ten drummers could complete in a lifetime, but that an amateur would find it very helpful too. We have managed to corral Jim long enough to prepare a second album devoted to drummers entitled, "For Drummers Only". This will contain a half dozen or so songs usually arranged for drum highlights, as well as a series of brass figures written by Jim for exploring the possibilities of drum punctuations against a big band brass section. A complete drum part will naturally be issued with this album, a must for every drummer.