Inside the Mind of a Genius

Words cannot even begin to describe Freddie Gruber. Monikers such as “outstanding drummer,” “brilliant teacher,” and “one-of-a-kind character” come to mind. Revered as one of the most sought after drum teachers to the stars, Gruber left behind a legacy that is channeled through the drummers that he educated. Vinnie Colaiuta, Neil Peart, Steve Smith, Daniel Glass, Dave Weckl and Bruce Becker are just a few of players that experience Gruber’s tutelage. On January 15, 2011, Gruber was honored at the NAMM Show with a lifetime achievement award for educational excellence throughout his career. It was an award that was very much deserved. Perhaps the best way to communicate Gruber’s contributions is by sharing a brief tribute that presents his unique philosophy. Neil Peart did an outstanding job penning Freddie’s biographical obituary following the drummer/teacher’s death in 2011 (see below), but the best way to introduce one to Freddie is to let him speak.

Born in the Bronx in 1927, Freddie Gruber grew up in the gritty exuberance of New York City in the 1930s and ’40s. As a young man, he was inspired by the creative ferment of that era’s jazz music, and by the late ’40s he was emerging as an exciting and important new drummer. 

 A story about him in Downbeat magazine in 1947 bore the headline, “The Shape of Drums to Come,” and the writer praised Freddie’s innovative polyrhythmic approach to jazz drumming. One notable highlight of those years was being the drummer in the only big band that would ever feature the revolutionary alto sax virtuoso, Charlie Parker.

In those vibrant times in New York City, the postwar boom in both commerce and artistic exploration, from abstract expressionism to be-bop, Freddie’s life intersected with many important characters in music and other artistic fields, like Miles Davis, Allen Ginsberg, Larry Rivers, and Marlon Brando. He became a close friend to the drum legend Buddy Rich, and their relationship continued right up to Buddy’s passing in 1987. 

In the course of Freddie’s long and eventful life, he seemed to cross paths with “everyone who was anyone” — not only in the world of drumming and jazz music, but in the entire bohemian culture of the late twentieth century. READ ON:

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