The time: early 1940s. The place: New York City. The sound: bebop, the so-called “new music” that was poised to turn the world upside-down with its complicated harmonies and tricky rhythms. Bebop pushed the boundaries of jazz, transforming it from dance music into a bona fide art form that became America’s very own classical music. Despite all its artistic accomplishments, bebop may never have succeeded at all were it not for a simple innovation known as the cymbal tilter.
STAND BY ME
Our story begins with the earliest drum kits, which included only a kick, a snare, and a pedal that allowed both to be played at once. When drummers began adding accessories like cymbals, they were on their own to figure out how these items should be mounted. Stands as we know them today simply didn’t exist.
Once cymbals did become a standard part of the kit, they were generally mounted on straight rods attached to the bass drum that could not be adjusted in any way. Noise concerns mandated that cymbals had to be small (usually 16" max), and rather than being ridden or crashed, they were played in a “choked” style.
FULL TILT BOOGIE
The 1930s saw the invention of the hi-hat, but cymbals continued to take a backseat to the kick-heavy four-on-the-floor feel required to drive big bands and dancers. As swing music fell from popularity, however, drummers began looking for a lighter approach to timekeeping that would suit the freewheeling new sound of bebop. They found their answer in larger cymbals, which provided much better stick definition but could not be easily played if they were stuck in a horizontal position. Affixing a tilter to the top of the stand made possible a whole new way of drumming and allowed the ride cymbal to come into its own as an integral part of the drum set.