Thursday, January 20, 2022

On Stanley Spector

In the spirit of that recent quasi-paranoid rant, here's something I wrote some years ago and never posted. Any time I think I'm getting too dogmatic in my writing, I look up the following personality.

I was re-reading an extended rant from the 80s by Stanley Spector, a drum teacher based in New York from the 50s through the 80s. All I know about him I got from his wordy advertisements and occasional letters to the editor in in Modern Drummer magazine. They had approximately the same tone and content as we see here:  

Would you imagine in your wildest hallucination that a jazz or rock drummer of yesterday or today could derive artistic stimulation and creative preparation through a method of drumming accepted in 1869 as a Manual of Instruction by the United States Army? When you sit down at the practice pad every day and go through the 26 rudiments of drumming to build up your "technique" so that you may better express your "ideas" what you are actually practicing is the Strube Drum and Fife Instructor approved by John A. Rawlings, Secretary of War, War Department, Washington, D.C. 111 years ago. That was years before the invention of the bass drum pedal, hi-hat cymbals, wire brushes, and the discovery of the rim shot. It was years before Louis Armstrong first picked up a trumpet and discovered that when he blew in one end that jazz music came out the other end. When I see that the Strube Drum and Fife Instructor came off the press at a printing shop located at 284 Asylum Street in Hartford, Connecticut, I get the feeling that somebody is trying to tell us something. 
Is it reasonable to suppose that in the present age of space travel, atomic energy, and television that what was good for a Board of Officers meeting at Fort Columbus, New York Harbor in 1869 is still relevant for the jazz or rock drummer? Are we to believe that Major General G. L. Hartsuff, Brigadier General H. D. Walden, and 1st Lieutenant E. O. Gibson, the officers of that board knew where it was at with drumming for all-time when they decided that the Strube Drum and Fife Instructor had to replace Upton's Tactics because the latter was "deficient in preliminary instruction" for training drummers and fifers of the United States Army in the Army Camp Duty of 111 years ago?

It goes on and on like that. He had a real thing about rudiments. But he never getting around to explaining his own concepts— a recurring theme, we'll see.

Spector died in 1999 [correction: 1987], but there is a site selling recordings of lessons with him, and the people running it have really amped up the mysterious/hard sell/paranoid angle:

WARNING. This was and still is considered the most controversial course in drum set study ever created. It's for the most discerning and ambitious drummers worldwide. When it was first introduced almost Fifty [sic] years ago it divided the drumming community. Either you tried it and believed in Stanley's method or you were a doubter who went with the conformist crowd, never to consider it. 

Then they make you pay way more than you should to find out what it is. 

Keep in mind, we're talking about teaching people how to play bebop. It's music for grownups, but we're not re-splitting the atom here. In the old days you would get yourself some Chapin, some Cusatis, maybe Wilcoxon, and go to town. It's hard but not that hard.

And valuable drumming information isn't that valuable. Personalized expert guidance on what you should be doing right now is valuable— that's what private lessons are about— but a book of information and exercises is not valuable. The best things the best players and teachers in the world could think to write down sells for about $8-30 for permanent, total access— 40-100 pages of written materials. 

You have to give it up: put out a book, charge $0-30 for it, and let people see it and use it... or not use it, if it proves to be not good enough.

If you like being frustrated, listen to the free introductory lesson from Spector's site— it's a cassette recording of a lesson given in the 70s. 

The main point of that lesson is to figure out what the lesson is. Spector gives incomplete information, then spends a long time critiquing the student's thought process when he isn't able to figure it out. It's very strange. He's trying to have a student play a three beat pattern while counting in 4, a simple polymetric thing we do every day, which is normally learned by doing the thing, not by having to figure out what the thing is in the first place. Even if I wanted a student to do that, there's an effective way to communicate it— you stay focused on the problem, you don't wander off into meta-issues about how the student is thinking wrong. Who knows if it's a fair representation of his teaching. 

I imagine there was more to the guy than is apparent today. People who were in New York in the 60s-80s probably could tell us. Otherwise we don't know, because he didn't publish anything. He decided secrecy was his ticket to business success, and then died, and now we have nothing to gain from his career, except for some written rants, and some taped lessons locked away behind a paywall.

You have to write, you have to publish. 


Michael Griener said...

I was lucky enough to get two of his long-playing records a long time ago, on which he demonstrates his exercises.
You are right, he was very secretive about his material.
In fact, you would have had to send the first record back to get the second one.
He was teaching online long before the invention of the Internet.
People would send him cassettes on which they recorded themselves, and then he would probably send back cassettes or letters.
I also had a folder of his exercises that I gave to Paul Lytton because he's such a big Stanley Spector fan.
Jake Hanna studied with him and thought the world of him.
Considering how outspoken Jake Hanna was, that's saying a lot.
Shelly Manne also defended him.
Spector was very controversial and took some flak; that probably contributed to his secrecy.
To question the use of rudiments in the US borders on blasphemy. As far as I can tell, he was concerned with emphasizing musicality in the classroom, not basic military training.
Actually, quite a sympathetic approach.
I still have an old DownBeat magazine here somewhere with an article about him; I can send it to you.

Anyway, let's talk about when you're coming back to Europe.
People are already asking about Cymbal & Gong Cymbals again.

Jan Bruna said...

Unfortunatelly, I've got nothing to add about Mr.Spector, just wanted to back up Michael's invitation to Europe.

bananajou said...

I have some of Spector's materials if you want to have a look.
I think Jim Blackley also studied with him for a while.

Anonymous said...

Spector has an eerie resemblance to L Ron Hubbard

ProStanley said...

Hi - I did not study with Stanley directly, but someone who taught his system.

I think there is value in his system. I have the first 30 of his lessons.

I don't see it as a complete "system" - as there is very little done with fills & setups.
It is great for time. Everything is played at 40bpm - that's slow - and difficult to
bury a metronome at that speed.

The lessons are given out with each lesson - it's not organized into a book.

He did create a book at first which was worked from - but changed his format somewhat
teaching some of the beginning lessons in a slightly different order and working from the

The sample lesson is very reflective of his teaching style. Even thou there are printouts
you are not supposed to be reading from them after the first few days of practice - but should have them memorized - and envisioning it as you play.

Each printout told gave you a breakout for 2 weeks of what to practice each day & for how long.

So I think they are very helpful for time, phrasing and possibly a bit for improvisation.

Yes Jim Blakley was a student of his - and his book Jazz Drumming is similar to Stanley's teachings - all played at 40 bpm -the focus is totally on time and phrasing.

Anonymous said...

Also interesting enough Stanley was a accomplished rudimental drummer - having played for some top notch orchestra's, but he saw jazz being taught as having to use rudiments which inspired him to come up with his system. So for me I see rudiments as part of the jazz language for fills /solos/ breaks - but when they are played on the set - the rudiments are "opened" up-
and can become disguised. You don't need to tell the student this is a 5 stroke roll etc.
Also as mentioned I saw very little in Stanley's material I have on fills, with time being the focus and of utmost importance. I have the first 30 lessons and his 2 books - and a few assorted lessons between 31-161(his last lesson).

Ed Pierce said...

Todd, check out this paper on Jim Blackley; he has some interesting things to say about Spector:

Here are a couple of quotes:

"I feel that my main influence has stemmed from my association with…
Stanley Spector… for the development of time and jazz figures developed from
the time… I personally feel that the next few years will see Stanley Spector
emerge as one of the most outstanding and original teachers and authors to enter
the field of Modern Jazz Drumming Instruction." (from a Spector ad in Down Beat, 1962)

"Oh, Stanley Spector was a very smart guy and he was one of the few teachers that
were on the right path musically. I had a lot of respect for him, you know. But, it’s just
when you think you’re God: then you’re in trouble." (Blackley interview from 2014).

The article is interesting not just for the info on Spector (and of course Blackley), but also because it sheds light on some of the jazz drumming pedagogues in NY in the 1950's (Chapin, Ulano, Spector, et al).

Todd Bishop said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone! Despite my derisive tone, I'm not unsympathetic. It's just disappointing that it was his life's work, and he left us nothing. Virtually nothing. Anyone holding any of his stuff, if you're willing to share it, I'd be happy to do a revised post about him.

Michael: Thanks for that-- I always appreciate (and aspire to) your depth of knowledge! Like I said, I'm not unsympathetic-- I certainly appreciate his instinct to rant about his ideological enemies.

Michael and Jan: I'm hoping to come to Germany at the end of April-- my brother is going to Bremen for Jazzahead, and will be making a visit to Berlin at that time, too. We'll have a big drummer party.

Bananajou: I would love to see those materials! See the EMAIL TODD link in the sidebar. The Blackley connection is encouraging, too. I'm keeping my mind open that Spector could have been some kind of stealth originator of the more modern 60s methods. Like Blackley, Dawson.

ProStanley: Thanks for that info-- obviously I didn't like what I heard on that free lesson-- I don't see that as a constructive teaching style-- whatever the merits of his actual content. I'm very interested to learn more.

Anonymous: Yes, that very old school thing of thinking primarily in rudiments I do not dig-- they'll analyze ordinary rhythms as rudiments, instead of just teaching rhythm. But any of that stuff you want to share, I'd appreciate it!

Todd Bishop said...

Ed: Thanks, checking that out now! Sam Ulano's another intriguing character.

Michael Griener said...

I have two of Stanley's books here.
They're called "Lessons in Improvisation for the Jazz Drummer" Vol. 1 & 2.
Volume 1 is from 1958, Volume 2 from 1963.
I'll show them to you when you're here in April.
I'm not sure if I can post photos here in the comments.
If it does not work, please delete them

Anonymous said...

This is a friend of Stanley's widow. All the drum school and selling material were stolen, exploited from his widow, she is alive and this remains one of the heaviest things in her/those of us who love her's heart. She would like to have all of them back from John O'Riley who stole them, however, he has been unavailable to reach ever sicne he took of them from her. We are preparing/considering to pursue legal actions. Any help, lead, please contact

Anonymous said...

Stanley once stopped in the middle of a lesson and said …” I’m not in the business of grinding out professional drummers. I’m trying to help you get into better contact with your consciousness “. Stanley’s lessons were about developing good time and KNOWING it was good time. He was about getting the student to maximize his own talent. Nothing about squeezing rudiments into a jazz application.