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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
Peter Erskine is a famous modern jazz drummer whose playing style is quite traditional. He’s also an incredible educator with a big passion for teaching younger drummers how to play jazz.
However, my favorite part of Erskine’s career was when he played with Weather Report and Steps Ahead. These were jazz fusion groups that allowed Erskine to play really busy and impressive parts on the drums.
While there are plenty of clips of Peter Erskine playing old-school jazz, I highly recommend people watch how good he was in those fusion settings.
In the general music space, drummers like Bernard Purdie, Hal Blaine, and Jim Keltner are known to be the most recorded players ever, making appearances in thousands of studio albums.
In the jazz world, it’s Roy Haynes. He’s played with almost every world-famous jazz artist, and he’s another one of the biggest inspirations in jazz drumming.
I’ve said that about a lot of drummers on this list, but jazz is such a broad style that it’s taken hundreds of drummers to influence how it gets played.
Jimmy Cobb was one of the first drummers to play in Miles Davis’ band, and he went on to play with more big names like John Coltrane, Hank Jones, and Cannonball Adderley.
Out of all the drummers on this list, he had one of the longest running careers, only dying at the age of 91.
Billy Cobham is yet another drummer who became famous when playing with Miles Davis. However, he’s mostly known for being one of the greatest jazz fusion drummers to ever live.
He became a huge influence on drummers that played styles other than jazz, including Danny Carey and Phil Collins.
Billy Cobham still plays regularly, and it’s amazing to see how well he can move around the kit in his old age.
Joe Morello’s claim to fame was his immaculate drumming in Take 5 by Dave Brubeck. He was a master at playing amazing things in odd time signatures.
However, he had such a broad career that spanned years of gigging with some of the best jazz musicians in the world. While the Take 5 drum parts are great, it’s everything else about Joe Morello that places him on this list.
Terri Lyne Carrington
Terri Lyne Carrington is one of my favorite female drummers. While she’s played many of the biggest names in jazz, it’s her control over the instrument that really impresses me.
She’s become one of the go-to drummers to call up in the jazz world, and she’s done an incredible job of leading many of her own projects.
Kenny Clarke is the final jazz drummer on this list that was part of the group of guys that formed bebop drumming.
His signature style of playing was to keep very busy on the ride cymbal while leaving space on the bass drum. He’d then play accents on the bass drum to support whatever the soloists were doing.
While a few other drummers did this too, it was all of them together that shaped bebop drumming as we know it.
Dave Weckl can easily be mentioned in a conversation as one of the best drummers in the world. He’s also an incredible educator, but his drumming in jazz fusion bands is what most people love.
He’s played with some amazing artists, with his work with The Chick Corea Elektrik band being one of my favorite things that I’ve heard him in.
If you want to see someone who has truly mastered good technique, Dave Weckl is the man to watch.
Cindy Blackman can be considered both a rock and jazz drummer. Her roots are in jazz drumming, though, and you can see it in her playing.
While she gained major fame for being Lenny Kravitz’s drummer, I really enjoy watching her work in jazz bands.
She’s a major influence in the jazz world, especially to female drummers who mostly see men dominating the field.
My favorite thing about her is her drum solos. She plays with intense power but also sleek finesse.
Omar Hakim is arguably one of the most versatile drummers in the entire music industry. He was Daft Punk’s drummer for a long time, and he’s even played drums with the Foo Fighters at a stage.
However, he was ripping it up with jazz fusion bands in the 80s and 90s, and that’s why his name is on this list. He’s such a fantastic player.
Mark Guiliana is one of the best modern jazz drummers playing at the moment, in my opinion. He plays in a few projects, with some of them being geared toward traditional jazz and others having electric influences.
He’s incredibly creative, having a playing style that always amazes any audience that gets to watch him play.
He also played drums with David Bowie, so he’s another versatile drummer on this list.
With him being the original drummer of Herbie Hancock’s The Headhunters, that pretty much tells you that Harvey Mason is a big jazz fusion drummer.
However, he currently plays with the band Fourplay, which is more of a jazz group than a jazz fusion one.
Harvey Mason has an amazing sense of groove, and he vividly brings that into his jazz drumming parts.
Jack DeJohnette is a similar drummer to Robert Searight, as he’s an incredible pianist as well. However, he’s quite well-known for being a huge influence and mentor to many of the world’s best jazz drummers that are currently playing.
His experience with playing piano has made him a highly unique drummer that tends to play more musically than rhythmically.
Ari Hoenig is an incredible drummer that I tend to find quite underrated. He’s a huge name in the jazz music scene in the US, but many people around the world don’t know about him in the same way that they know all the other drummers on this list.
He’s a fantastic player with a very relaxed style of playing. I once saw him play a drum solo where he bounced a stick off the ground in perfect time. That’s one of the many things he’s done to make him another one of the best modern jazz drummers around.
Like Cindy Blackman, Steve Smith can be considered both a rock and jazz drummer. He’s another player with deep roots in jazz, and he’s been kicking it with some of the best jazz musicians in the world throughout his career.
He’s many people’s favorite drummer, which has a lot to do with him playing drums with Journey. However, I think his jazz drumming skills are immaculate, and he’s definitely a solid drummer for this list.
Vinnie Colauita is another drummer that falls into many of the same conversations as Dave Weckl. He’s a very talented jazz fusion drummer that just blows your mind every time you watch him play.
While he was a big name in the 90s and early 2000s, he’s still killing it behind the drums in his old age.
One of my favorite things to do is watch old Vinnie Colaiuta drum solos on YouTube.
Antonio Sanchez is a powerhouse drummer in the jazz music industry. While he’s most well-known for his work with Pat Metheny, he’s also an incredible composer and soloist.
While every single drummer on this list knows exactly how to create a musical and enticing solo, Antonio Sanchez has honestly played some of the best drum solos I’ve ever seen. They’re just so captivating.
With regard to composing, he created an entire drum-only soundtrack for the movie Birdman.
Eric Harland is another great modern jazz drummer. He’s one of those guys that often gets the call when a big jazz artist needs a drummer these days, and he’s played with some big names like Joshua Redman, Dave Holland, Aaron Goldberg, and Chris Potter.
He’s become a major influential figure to many young jazz drummers, as his playing perfectly exemplifies what it means to push boundaries in a jazz band context.
Marcus Gilmore is one of the most unique drummers I know of. Roy Haynes is his grandfather, so the jazz drumming influence runs deep in his family.
A highlight to mention is the way Marcus sets his drums up. He regularly uses two pairs of hi-hats, with a very small pair set up on a stand next to his main pair. He then effortlessly moves his left foot between the two pedals.
Nate Smith is one of my top three favorite drummers. While he’s been playing jazz with some big names for years, he’s gained massive popularity over the last decade.
He’s now the main attraction for many of the gigs he plays, running a few bands as the bandleader.
He has an incredible sense of groove. His playing is quite powerful, and he somehow manages to make simple drum parts sound much better than how other people play them.
I’ve heard many people mention that Larnell Lewis is on his way to becoming one of the best drummers to have played the instrument.
He’s another drummer that makes my personal top three favorites list. He’s one of the drummers that plays for Snarky Puppy, but he also has plenty of his own projects where he plays more traditional styles of jazz.
If there were one big thing to say about Larnell’s playing, it would be that it’s musical. He just knows exactly what to play to make a song sound better every time.
Robert “Sput” Searight
Sput was one of the founding members of Snarky Puppy. He’s another incredibly musical drummer that plays things that just seem to gel very well.
He doesn’t play with Snarky Puppy as much anymore, but he does a lot of work as a musical director with various projects.
He can play keys just as well as he can play drums, which has taken him really far in his career.
Jason Thomas is another drummer that regularly plays for Snarky Puppy. He also plays with a lot of the musicians from that band when they do their own solo projects.
His drumming is quite powerful behind the kit, and I think it brings a unique sense of force behind the rhythmic side of a jazz setup.
Like most drummers on this list, he can play some amazing drum solos!
Moses Boyd is one of the leading drummers in the UK jazz scene at the moment. Jazz groups in the UK sound quite different from the ones coming out of other countries, and you can easily hear that in the way that Moses Boyd plays the drums.
He’s mentioned that he draws influence from African musical styles, which I think is really cool.
Typical jazz drumming includes a lot of swing patterns, but Moses Boyd’s style is very grooving and rhythmic. I’m a big fan of his drum parts when he plays with Ashley Henry.
Chris Dave has arguably been one of the most influential drummers in jazz and hip-hop throughout the 2000s.
No one else plays drums like Chris Dave, but you’ll find hundreds of drummers drawing influence from him.
It’s not uncommon to see him use four snare drums in a setup, and he often plays grooves that are rhythmically warped to add a push and pull effect.
Adding to the list of very talented modern drummers is Justin Faulkner. He started playing professional jazz gigs in the early years of being a teenager, and he’s grown into being one of the leading drummers in the US jazz scene.
He’s played with some big names like Christian McBride, Sean Jones, Terrence Howard, and Bootsie Barnes.
He’s also been a regular drummer in the Branford Marsalis Quartet.
Yussef Dayes is the final drummer that falls into my top three list of favorite drummers. He’s another drummer on this list known to be a popular modern jazz player.
Most of his playing centers around quick grooves and fills that are almost like drum ‘n’ bass parts.
He runs a lot of his own projects, but his work with Tom Misch is what has gained him a lot of fame over the last few years.
Keith Carlock is arguably one of the most recognizable names on this list, as his drumming is a lot broader than just jazz.
He’s a huge name in the music industry, and he’s played drums with artists like John Mayer, Toto, Steely Dan, and Sting.
However, you could easily consider him a jazz drummer due to his roots. While he doesn’t regularly play with pure jazz groups, he can hold out with the best of them with no problem.
Jeff Ballard is another monumental figure in the American jazz music scene. He’s played with Pat Metheny, Chick Corea, and Ray Charles, who are undeniably some of the most accomplished jazz musicians ever.
I feel as though Jeff Ballard doesn’t get the recognition he should, but he’s right up there with big drumming names like Steve Gadd and Dave Weckl.
Dafnis Prieto is the best Latin jazz drummer that I know of. If you want to see some incredible polyrhythmic control, he’s the guy to watch.
He’s one of my favorite drummers to follow on Instagram, as he always posts clips of him playing some really intense ideas on the drums.
Zack Graybeal is perhaps the least experienced drummer on this entire list. However, I feel that his name is well worth mentioning, as he’s done an amazing job of exposing younger people to jazz through his YouTube channel.
Most people know him as ZackGrooves, and he has an incredible amount of skill behind the drum set.
He has his own band called Everything Yes, and they’ve recently started touring the world.
Ofri Nehemya is another young jazz drummer that many people may not know about. However, you’ll understand why I’ve mentioned his name when you see him play.
He has such an intentional way of playing the drums, making him a world-class jazz musician.
One of the most impressive things I’ve seen about him is his ability to mimic other drummers’ styles of playing. He has also taken those inspirations to create his own effective style.
John Riley is undoubtedly the most successful jazz drumming educator to have ever lived. He’s a traditional jazz drummer, but he’s mostly known for writing educational books that have sold tens of thousands of copies.
If you want to get into playing jazz, most people will recommend that you start with a John Riley book. He’s such a great player, but it’s his teaching ability that firmly places him on this list.
Many people would consider Stanton Moore more of a funk drummer than anything, but I’ve seen him play some amazing things within jazz band setups.
He’s another drummer with an impeccable sense of groove, as everything he plays just sits and sounds amazing.
He’s also a great teacher that you should definitely check out if you’re looking to improve your jazz and funk drumming abilities.
Mike Mitchell is another relatively young drummer, but he was already playing with huge jazz names when he was only a teenager.
I’d easily say that he’s a modern day version of drummers like Joe Jones and Art Blakey. Not that his playing is similar – he just plays some mind blowing things that a lot of people have never seen before.
With that being said, a lot of casual listeners don’t enjoy hearing such technically intense drum parts, but that’s exactly how people perceived what the famous jazz guys were playing in the early 20th century.
Mason Guidry is another drummer who I’d put in the same category as Mike Mitchell. He has some of the most intense speed and accuracy I’ve seen from a drummer, and he plays really complex concepts.
He’s also very young compared to most of the other drummers on this list, but he’s steadily becoming one of the best drummers playing at the moment.
Gary Chaffee is another jazz drummer that is well-known for teaching rather than playing. While he’s an amazing player, it’s his educational books that place him on this list.
A lot of drummers started playing jazz thanks to him.
Justin Brown is a ferocious drummer and a permanent member of the Ambrose Akinmusire Quintet.
He won various drumming competitions in his younger years, and he’s grown to become a top player in the industry.
Greyson Nekrutman became famous on the Internet when he posted hundreds of videos of him playing drum parts note-for-note of some of the jazz greats.
He plays very similarly to Buddy Rich, who is clearly one of his biggest influences.
However, he’s slowly grown into his own artist in recent years, playing in several big drum festivals. He’s also a passionate punk drummer, which is something that many people don’t expect from him.
Justin Tyson is an amazing modern jazz drummer that has played with Robert Glasper and Esperanza Spalding.
He’s one of those drummers that loves blending hip-hop influence with his jazz drumming.
Jeff Hamilton is another legend of the jazz music industry. He’s had a very long career of playing with top acts, including L.A Four, Diana Krall, and Monty Alexander.
He’s a great traditional jazz player, with many people citing him as one of their biggest influences.
Bryan Carter is a top-tier drummer, but he also sings and composes. This makes him a great overall musician and a special part of the jazz industry.
Makaya McCraven is one of those drummers that creatively blends musical ideas from different cultures. He’s a joy to watch, as you’re always going to hear him doing something fresh and new.
Dan Weiss was one of John Riley’s jazz drumming students, but he went on to become a big name in jazz himself, playing with artists like Chris Potter and Lee Konitz.
Most people love Kendrick Scott for the work that he does on his own projects. As a bandleader, he has a unique way of creating moving musical scenes that resonate with audiences.
He’s also just a brilliant drummer.
Top Jazz Drummers, Final Thoughts
One of the best things about jazz drumming is that every drummer somehow seems to be unique. No drummer on this list plays the same as another, with all of them having a personal touch to their playing.
You could spend days watching all these drummers play, and you’ll continue to hear new things.
The old greats will always be remembered as the drummers that pioneered the style. Drummers like Buddy Rich and Art Blakey did enough to cement their legacies.
You can also learn a lot by watching modern jazz drummers like Mark Guiliana and Mason Guidry play.