The modern ride cymbal sound begins with Kenny (“Klook”) Clarke. He moved the timekeeping responsibility from the snare and bass drum to the cymbals, opening up space for bass guitar, and freeing up the kit for more colorful fills, or as he called them, “drum bombs.”
Born in Pittsburgh on January 9, 1914, Clarke played vibes, trombone, and timpani as well as drums growing up. By 21 he was a working pro, on the road with trumpeter Roy Eldridge. From 19040–’41 he was the drummer for the house band at Minton’s in New York. There with jam mates like Thelonius Monk, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Christian, Klook helped invent bebop and single-handedly refined the ride cymbal approach that would change jazz drumming forever.
In the ‘50s he formed the Modern Jazz Quartet, but left the group in ’55 to move to Paris, pursuing a quieter life abroad. Always serious about drums and committed to self-improvement and education, he opened a school there in 1967. From 1960–1973 he co-led the Kenny Clarke–Francy Boland big band and continued to perform widely until the early ’80s. He died on January 26, 1985.