This past weekend, the extraordinarily talented Philly drummer Frank Gattis had his drum gear jacked. It happened at 1:30 AM, after he finished a gig at Boilermaker’s pub on 11th street. Urbandwellers know that this kind of crime – described often as “petty” by police even if the impact is significantly more than that to the victim – happens every day. Musicians are vulnerable, particularly if their gear requires several trips to load in and out of a venue, and especially at the end of a long night. What hit me about this one wasn’t just the bitter taste one gets when hearing about someone losing the tools of his trade – it was the sense that the loss of one special cymbal has repercussions for many musicians.
So before we shrug, say “what a shame” and go on with life, I’d like to make a small appeal for the return of the ride cymbal. Frank says he had a bunch of cool equipment, but the only piece of gear that really matters to him is a flat (ie, no bell in the center) ride cymbal – a design made by K. Zildjian for only a few years in the late 1960s.
Those who’ve been lucky enough to play with Frank over the years know that cymbal – it has a crispness and a perfectly balanced ping to it. It’s magical in a swing setting: Somehow, it transports players back to the hard-bop ‘50s, when titans like Philly Joe Jones laid down the law with nothing more than a firm, nuanced pattern on the ride. The cymbal has been part of lots of really special music – Frank used it on countless gigs with Philadelphia jazz musicians including the tenorman Larry McKenna, guitarist Greg Kettinger and the late pianist Sid Simmons. The other day he shared his theory about why so many musicians appreciated it: “It had a presence – and yet any chord voice could be heard through it.”
I’ve heard that cymbal countless times over the years. Still, it startled me when a few years ago I nervously turned up at Milkboy in Ardmore to sit in at the Monday night jam. Frank was the house drummer. I forget the tune – it was something uptempo. When my turn to solo came, I realized that I had no business trying to improvise at such a blazing clip. I was just barely hanging on. That cymbal was the lifeline.
Last night Frank and I played at Milkboy. We had a blast as usual, and afterward we spent a minute mourning the cymbal. It was like missing an old friend. I have no idea who stole the kit, or why. If I ever encountered that person, I’d just say this: When you took what didn’t belong to you, you didn’t just hurt one musician. You swiped a little bit of joy and delight from an entire community of hardworking people. Please give it back.