57 Best Jazz Drummers

Jazz as a musical style has brought us some of the most iconic drummers in history. While the first world-famous drummers were jazz guys, the style has dipped in popularity in the modern age.

However, there are still incredible drummers playing jazz throughout the world. The style is all about pushing boundaries, which is what you’ll see from most of the drummers on this list.

I’ve picked out 57 of the best jazz drummers to check out. Note that this isn’t a ranked list, as I don’t think one drummer is better than the other. It’s just a list of incredibly talented and successful drummers to look through who happen to specialize in playing jazz on their instrument.

Here we go!

Jo Jones

Papa Jo Jones was one of the jazz greats that played in Count Basie’s orchestra in the early 20th century.

He was referred to as Papa Jones due to the younger Philly Joe Jones also being a leading drummer a bit later in the 20th century.

One of the key things about Jo Jones’ drumming was that he was quite scarce with his bass drum. He played more with the hi-hats and ride cymbal, and that was a huge catalyst leading to drummers focusing more on the cymbals when playing jazz.

Jo Jones

Art Blakey

Art Blakey was most famous for leading The Jazz Messengers, which was a group that played with some of the best jazz musicians in history throughout its time.

Blakey was one of the few pioneers of bebop drumming, which is up-tempo drumming that many people started to adopt in his time.

Art Blakey

Tony Williams

Tony Williams was originally famous for playing with the legendary jazz trumpeter, Miles Davis. However, he later became even better known for pioneering jazz fusion with a few other players.

Many people refer to him as being one of the best drummers to ever live, and his contributions to music and drumming were incredibly immense.

He had a particular way of playing the jazz ride cymbal pattern, which many drummers have studied in depth.

Tony Williams

Brian Blade

Brian Blade is another massive influence on the jazz drumming world. He came onto the scene as a burning young jazz drummer in the early 90s, and he’s continued to be a world-famous player since then.

He runs a band called The Fellowship Band, and they’ve been touring the world since the band’s inception.

Brian Blade has a highly creative way of playing the drums, and he’s one of the many drummers on this list that will play things that you’ve just never seen before.

Brian Blade

Buddy Rich

Buddy Rich is arguably the most well-known name on this entire list. He was a phenom in his time, becoming one of the world’s best musical performers.

Many consider him to be one of the best drummers to ever have lived, mainly thanks to his sheer speed behind the kit.

He led plenty of bands, and there have been several tribute bands dedicated to him since he passed. He’s a legend of the music industry, and he’s definitely someone whose drumming should be studied.

Buddy Rich

Gene Krupa

Gene Krupa is another drummer whose name is up there with Buddy Rich’s. While Gene Krupa may not have been as technically good, it was his showmanship and innovation that made everyone love him.

He was arguably the first drumming celebrity, as he appeared on dozens of TV shows and movies in the 20th century.

It was Gene Krupa that started utilizing rack toms and floor toms in his drum kit setup, changing how drum sets look forever.

Gene Krupa

Louie Bellson

Louie Bellson was one of the first drummers to ever use two bass drums in his setup. The patterns that he could play with his rig were never heard before, pioneering what drummers could potentially do with their feet.

He was an amazing jazz drummer and composer, and his idea to put two bass drums next to each other is what likely sparked the creation of rock and metal drum parts in later years. This made his contribution to the music industry immense.

Louie Bellson

Max Roach

Max Roach is another drumming great on this list whose playing style greatly impacted how drums were played by jazz musicians.

He was a big name in the bebop era, and he was one of the players that inspired drummers to play the instrument more as a melodic one than a rhythmic one.

It’s thanks to Max Roach that jazz drummers play time on the cymbals while inserting jabs and accents on the drums to support what the soloists are playing.

Max Roach

Philly Joe Jones

Philly Joe Jones is yet another jazz drumming great that many people look up to and get inspired by. While his drumming didn’t change the drumming space as much as the older Papa Joe Jones’ did, he’s still a highly influential figure.

He played with some of the most inspirational jazz musicians in the world, including Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Sonny Clark, John Coltrane, and Bill Evans.

Philly Joe Jones

Elvin Jones

Elvin Jones is another jazz great to mention that many people believe played a vital role in shaping how others play the drums.

He was a main member of John Coltrane’s band, and he was very well-known for having amazing skills to play complicated polyrhythms on the drum kit.

When watching old Elvin Jones videos, one of my favorite things to see is how in control he is of everything that he’s doing.

Elvin Jones

Steve Gadd

 “Fill bring the thrills, but grooves pay the bills.”

That’s a famous Steve Gadd quote that many drummers live by. However, Steve Gadd knew exactly how to rip it on the kit himself, as he’s an incredibly good jazz drummer.

Everyone reverts to his drumming in Aja by Steely Dan when talking about how creative he can be behind the kit.

While Steve is still playing, he was a huge influence on the jazz and fusion music world in the 80s and 90s.

Steve Gadd

Mel Lewis

Mel Lewis was another incredibly successful jazz drummer that made it big in the 20th century. He had quite a unique style of playing the drums, with his ride cymbal patterns sounding different from what most other drummers were playing at the time.

He recorded multiple albums as a bandleader, but he also backed some big names in jazz, including Chet Baker, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, and Jimmy Witherspoon.

One of the most impressive things about Mel Lewis is that he was nominated for a total of 14 Grammy awards.

Mel Lewis

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