Other aspects

by Nick Dellow

By the second half of the 1920s, Vic Berton was losing his hair (at the front, on one side, near his parting) as can be seen in the following photograph (probably taken in 1927):-

[linked image]

....whereas the drummer in the Capitolians film has a full head of hair (plus a moustache of course!) and his hair has no parting at all.

However, there is one aspect that favours the drummer being Vic Berton and that is his use of "hot tympani" (otherwise called "tuned tympani", basically a kettle drum with a foot pedal attached to a mechanism to tighten and loosen the drum skin, thus altering its pitch). Berton is said to have invented this system and used it on numerous records, but because it was so hard to play such tympani in tune very few other drummers/percussionists took it up. Seehttps://archive.org/details/02VicBerton :-

"He was also the greatest virtuoso of the 'hot tympani' in all of jazz. Vic could play a conventional drum set in front of him with one hand and tuned tympani behind him with the other hand! The reason it is so difficult to play jazz tympani is that the drums lose pitch throughout the evening and have to be constantly re-tuned. Vic could actually tune the tymps while playing them at the same time."

Note in particular the sentence: "Vic could play a conventional drum set in front of him with one hand and tuned tympani behind him with the other hand!" That seems to be what the drummer in the Capitolians is doing (during Dorsey's solo you get a close-up of the pedal). During Miff Mole's solo you can hear the tuned tympani at work, and it is even more obvious during Jimmy Lytell's clarinet solo.

Though it is said that the tuned tympani system was invented by Berton, the patent was actually granted to the famous Ludwig & Ludwig drum company. See:-


So, did Berton invent it and sell the idea to Ludwig in 1925, or did Ludwig themselves invent it and Berton was just an early and exceptionally good exponent of the system?

Incidentally, a version of the Capitolians film that plays with the correct aspect ratio is available here:-


There is some distortion on the soundtrack, unfortunately

Posted on Feb 11, 2018, 3:10 AM

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