RS transparentthe official blog of the Percussive Arts Society

  • In Memoriam: Butch Miles

    by Hillary Henry | Feb 04, 2023

    Butch MilesJazz drummer Butch Miles died on Feb. 2, 2023. He was best known as the drummer for the Count Basie Orchestra from 1975–79 and again from 1997–2007. He also performed with 

    Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dave Brubeck, Mel Torme, Lena Horne, Joe Williams, Ella Fitzgerald, Woody Herman, Clark Terry, Gerry Mulligan, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Benny Goodman, Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, Dick Hyman, Willie Nelson, Eddie Condon, and others. Known primarily as a big band drummer, whose style was influenced by Buddy Rich, he was also comfortable in small group and Dixieland band settings.

    Born Charles J. Thornton Jr. on July 4, 1944, Miles studied music at West Virginia State College before beginning his professional playing career in the late 1960s. Butch played on over 100 albums, including three that won Grammy awards. He also appeared in three motion pictures: The Australian Jazz Fest filmed while Butch was touring with the Dave Brubeck Quartet, The Last of the Blue Devils filmed while he was touring with the Count Basie Orchestra, and briefly in Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors. Butch also played on the soundtrack of the 2003 film The Alamo. For many years he gave clinics for the Ludwig Drum Company and was a faculty member in jazz studies at Texas State University in San Marcos.

    In 2011, Miles was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame. Butch was also honored by the Senate of the State of West Virginia in 2013 and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Conn Selmer Institute in 2016 among other awards from the Zildjian Cymbal Company, the Ludwig Drum Company, the International Association of Jazz Educators, the United States Air Force Band – the Airmen of Note, The Elkhart Jazz Festival, and the Austin, Texas Jazz Society.

  • In Memoriam: Elayne Jones

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Dec 22, 2022

    By Lauren Vogel Weiss

    Elayne Jones

    PAS Hall of Fame member Elayne Jones died at her home in Walnut Creek, California on December 17, 2022 at the age of 94. Her daughter, Cheryl Stanley, told The New York Times the cause of death was dementia.

    Over the course of her career, Ms. Jones was Timpanist of the New York City Opera (1949–60), American Symphony Orchestra (1961–72), San Francisco Symphony (1972–75), and San Francisco Opera Orchestra (1975–98). She also dealt with the complications of being a female — and person of color — in a field traditionally dominated by men of European-American origin.

    Elayne Viola Jones was born on January 30, 1928 in New York City, New York, the only child of parents who emigrated from Barbados in the West Indies. She began studying piano at the age of six and graduated from the High School of Music & Arts (now the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and the Performing Arts) in 1945.

    How did she choose percussion? “Racism,” Jones said in a 2019 Percussive Notes interview. “All the piano students also had to play an orchestral instrument. My teacher, Isadore Russ, handed me a pair of drumsticks and said, ‘We all know that Negroes have rhythm.’ It never entered my mind that I would play drums someday.”

    ElayneJonesandSaulGoodmanJones continued her musical studies at the Juilliard School of Music, thanks to a scholarship from Duke Ellington. There she studied with Saul Goodman, timpanist of the New York Philharmonic. “I believe he realized that I might have had some of the same difficulties that he had as a short Jewish man because I was a skinny black girl,” she told PN. “I learned so much from him; he was a very creative and innovative person.” Jones graduated from Juilliard in 1949.

    She auditioned for the timpani chair of the New York City Opera and, thanks to a recommendation from Goodman, Jones was the first black person to play in an opera orchestra, and was one of only two women in the pit at the time. During her 11 years with NYCO, she toured around the country, dealing with the hardships of having to stay at a different hotel than the other members of the orchestra. It was during this time that she realized she wasn’t just playing music but was making a statement. She would “try to change the way women and blacks were treated.”

    After leaving the NYCO, Jones became involved with the newly formed American Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Leopold Stokowski, an ensemble intended to demystify classical music and make it accessible and affordable to all audiences. She was also involved in the formation of the Symphony of the New World in1965, a training orchestra to give black musicians the opportunity to play orchestral repertoire.

    Elayne JonesPerhaps one of Jones’ biggest contributions to musical equality was working with several other people (including Benjamin Steinberg, Alfred Brown, and Harry Smyles) at the musicians union to figure out a solution to the problem. They were instrumental in creating the concept of a “blind audition” played behind a screen, so that orchestra committees would not know if the people auditioning were black or white, or male or female, a tradition that continues to this day.

    In 1972, Jones auditioned for the timpani chair of the San Francisco Symphony — from behind a screen — and was offered the position by then-conductor Seiji Ozawa. Unfortunately, after two seasons with the symphony, Jones was not given tenure. She sued the symphony for racial discrimination (six other white musicians hired at the same time as her were given tenure, although bassoonist Ryohei Nakagawa was not), playing her third (and last) season with the orchestra while the case went through the court system.

    She joined the San Francisco Opera as timpanist in 1975, a position she would hold for the next 23 years. Rick Kvistad, former Principal Percussionist with the SFO who played alongside Jones for almost 20 years, told PN, “I think her greatest contribution to percussion was that she paved the way for women and non-white players in the mostly-white world of classical music.”

    Another SFO colleague, percussionist Patti Niemi, recalled their time in the pit together in the same 2019 PN article. “As those were my first six years on the job, there were many times I leaned my head in Elayne’s direction — code for, ‘Where are we?’ Elayne knew the operas as well as the conductors and singers did!”

    In 2019, the same year she was inducted into the PAS Hall of Fame, Jones published her 310-page autobiography, Little Lady With a Big Drum (Advanced Publishing LLC). Chapters include memories of her early years, musical education, playing career, and political involvement.

    During her nearly 50-year career of music-making, Elayne Jones opened doors and broke down barriers for countless musicians.

    Elayne Jones and Lauren Vogel WeissAuthor’s note: I had the honor and privilege of interviewing Elayne Jones in June 2019 for her PAS Hall of Fame article. Hearing her amazing stories was like walking through a living history book. Even then, she had a pair of timpani set up in her living room and was delighted to play for me! As a fellow female percussionist, I could relate to some of her comments about discrimination, but could not even begin to fathom the difficulties she faced simply because of the color of her skin. She brought attention to the topic over the course of her life, hopefully making things better for future generations of musicians, regardless of their sex or race.

  • In Memoriam: Tom Float by Lauren Vogel Weiss

    by Rhythm Scene Staff | Oct 08, 2022

    Tom Float Tama
    Thomas Earl “Tom” Float, legendary marching percussion performer and instructor, passed away at the age of 69 on October 3, 2022 after a six-year battle with cancer. Best known for his tenure with the Blue Devils Drum & Bugle Corps (Concord, California), he also taught Spirit of Atlanta (Georgia) and Oakland Crusaders (Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada), and was inducted into the Drum Corps International (DCI) Hall of Fame in 2004.

    Born on November 19, 1952, Float was raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he marched with the Golden Triangles Drum & Baton Corps. In 1969, Tom moved to California and joined the Diplomats Drum & Bugle Corps from Lynwood. Float majored in sociology at UCLA and attended graduate school (for a business degree) at both York University in Toronto and Georgia State University in Atlanta.

    In 1971, Float joined the Anaheim Kingsmen Drum & Bugle Corps, and the following year, he marched in the snare line alongside his friend Ralph Hardimon (who would go on to teach California’s Santa Clara Vanguard). In 1972, the Kingsmen won the first DCI championship and Float continued marching with the corps until he aged out in 1974. 

    “Tom and I joined the Kingsmen on the same night,” Hardimon remembers, “and we became forever friends. In the 1980s, we became big rivals in the competitive world of drum corps: Blue Devils versus Vanguard. Tom was a wonderful man, admired by everyone in the marching percussion world who had a chance to meet him. He was full of knowledge, talent, and was oh-so-much fun!” 

    In 1975, Float worked with the Freelancers (Sacramento, California) before moving to Canada to teach the Oakland Crusaders. Thanks to his efforts, the Crusaders’ drum line was one of the best in the activity, winning drums at the 1977 DCI Prelims in Denver even though the corps placed 15th and did not make finals that year.

    In 1978, Float joined the Spirit of Atlanta, where he met his future wife and musical partner, Catherine. During his four years with Spirit, the drum line finished in the top four, tying for first place (aka “High Drums”) with the Bayonne (New Jersey) Bridgemen in 1980.

    Float 6

    Left: Tom Float (4th from left) marching in the Anaheim Kingsmen snare line in 1972. Photo courtesy of Ralph Hardimon
    Right: Scott Johnson, Tom Float, and Ralph Hardimon at a DCI Championship. Photo courtesy of Ralph Hardimon

    Bob Morrison, founder of Quadrant Research and a fellow member of the DCI Hall of Fame, knew Float for over four decades. “Tom’s contribution to the marching arts is immense, and his impact has been passed down the percussion tree lineage he started. It lives in all those he taught who have gone on to teach others…and will live further as the branches of the Tom Float tree continue to grow. My condolences to all of those he taught, all those who worked with him, all those who marched with him, all those inspired by him, to his family and friends, and to the love of his life, Catherine.

    “I first met Tom when I was a rookie with the Crossmen Drum and Bugle Corps in 1979,” Morrison recalls. “We were on tour to the West Coast when we found the Spirit of Atlanta truck in an accident on the side of the road. Our drum line helped unload their brand-new Slingerland drums. We met up with Spirit at a rest area where Tom had the Spirit percussion members give their new drum keys to the Crossmen members as a gesture of thanks and respect for helping them out. Tom shook our hands with that grip and finger snap.”

    Beth Gottlieb, a drum corps alumni and current member of the Lt. Dan Band with Gary Sinise, remembers when Tom Float came to Grissom High School in Huntsville, Alabama. “Tom was my first real drum instructor and recruited me to join Spirit of Atlanta. He put me in the snare line with ten guys, and I grew up fast and tough! He was the most inspiring, funniest, toughest, and awesome teacher I ever had. I will sorely miss Tom and his love of percussion.”

    In 1982, the Floats moved to California and Tom began his nine-year career with the Blue Devils (1982–90), which included two world championships (1982 and 1986) and four consecutive “High Drum” titles (1983–86). The “four-peat” was a record that held until 2016 when Santa Clara won its fourth drum trophy in a row.

    Scott Johnson, current Percussion Arranger and Caption Head for the Blue Devils, as well as a BD alumnus, taught alongside Float from 1982–88. Johnson recalled the 1983 season in a 2013 interview with Percussive Notes. “That was one of the cleanest drum lines I’ve ever been associated with. 1983 was one of those magical seasons. We won percussion that year by a full point, which I think was the largest spread from first to second.” The Blue Devils drum score was 18.9, followed by the Phantom Regiment with a 17.9.

    Neal Flum, Marching Percussion Director for Pelham High School in Birmingham, Alabama, was a member of the Blue Devils drum line. “Like so many of us, Tom Float changed the trajectory of our lives for the better. I would not be where I am today if he had not given me the opportunity he gave me in 1983. He was truly one of a kind and an amazing teacher and arranger who changed the landscape of marching percussion. As one of my friends once said, ‘There was no clean like Tom Float clean’.” 

    In a 1986 interview with Modern Percussionist, Float described how he decided on the drum solo. “I usually try to pick something that I think would be fun for the players to play and that has some musical interest to the average person. It also has to be something that I could listen to about 50,000 times and still like it, because I’ve got to! [laughs] Nobody wants to play a solo, or hear a solo, or have to work on it for a year if it doesn’t get the players excited. So I go for something that’s going to satisfy all our needs.”

    Following his years with the Blue Devils, Tom and Catherine moved back to southern California, and Float worked with the Velvet Knights (1992–94). He was also a longtime Disney performer, as a member of the 12-person Magic Kingdom Korps and Disneyland’s “Trash Can Drummers,” a trio that was always an audience favorite. Float (in the center) can be seen performing at Disneyland in this YouTube video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6FACg_hFhk.

    Float also worked with hundreds of high school and college programs across the country and gave marching percussion clinics around the world. As recently as this past fall, he was teaching drummers at Alhambra High School in southern California.

    In 2011, Float became involved with Tama Drums and was instrumental in their launch of a line of marching percussion products. Over the past decade, he could often be seen in the Tama exhibit booth at PASIC, DCI, and state music educator conventions, demonstrating the equipment to a new generation of drummers.

    Dennis DeLucia, a member of the DCI, PAS, WGI (Winter Guard International), and World Drum Corps Halls of Fame, was sorry to hear of his friend’s passing. “I admired Tom for his passion, talent, and success at a very high level. Every place he taught — Blue Devils, Spirit, Etobicoke, Disney — became wonderful, ‘clean as a whistle’ drum lines. It was a challenge, honor, and privilege to compete against his lines.

    “Tom was always gracious and funny,” DeLucia continues. “Living on opposite coasts, I did not have the opportunity to interact with him as often as I would have liked. The drum corps activity will miss him dearly.”

    Tom’s widow, Catherine, simply states, “He was many things to many people. To me, he was my light, my love, my life, my universe.”

    Float 4

    Left: Tom and Catherine Float at PASIC 2015. Photo by Lauren Vogel Weiss. 
    Center: Tom Float performing at Disneyland. Photo courtesy of Ralph Hardimon. 
    Right: Tom and Catherine Float at DCI 2017. Photo by Lauren Vogel Weiss

    John Wooton, Director of Percussion Studies at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, was honored to be both a fan and a friend. “Tom was a true legend in the rudimental drumming community. Heaven just got a lot cooler because Tom has got to be the coolest human I ever met."

    Scott Johnson remembers his friend, mentor, and fellow DCI Hall of Fame inductee. “I learned so much from Tom about drumming. But more importantly, I learned it’s not always about drumming; it’s about the hang, telling stories, the camaraderie, and just being good friends. You are already missed, my brother.”

    Ralph Hardimon, a member of the DCI and PAS Halls of Fame, adds, “Tom’s greatest contribution in marching percussion was his ability to win, win, and win almost ALL of the competitions year after year. It was because his teaching techniques and musicianship were at the highest level possible! Tom and Catherine were both ‘gems’ in the world of marching percussion.”

    Float himself agreed during his MP interview: “One of the best things that’s happened to me, as far as teaching goes, has been my wife, Catherine. Ever since she’s been with me — from when she was in the Spirit of Atlanta mallet line to when she was on the [Blue Devils] staff — that’s when the stuff has been getting good. I think the two of us work very well together, and hopefully, we will have continued success both on and off the field.” And they did.

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