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In Memoriam: John S. Pratt

Apr 8, 2020, 08:00 AM by Rhythm Scene Staff

John PrattDrummer John S. Pratt, author of the well-known book 14 Modern Contest Solos for Snare Drum died on April 6, 2020.

"Jack," as he was known to his friends and family, was born on January 13, 1931 in Seneca Falls, New York. He began playing the drums at age ten under the guidance of his high school band director, John Frasier. Pratt also played in the school marching and concert bands, as well as the school orchestra. One day in 1947, when he was a junior in high school, Pratt went to the VFW post in Seneca Falls to check out the local drum and bugle corps. There he met Norman Peth, who was instructing the corps and who would become Pratt's most influential teacher. Pratt soon followed Peth to a drum corps in nearby Geneva, New York, where they both played in the drum line. The Geneva "Appleknockers" was one of the first corps to introduce jazz onto the marching field. Pratt stayed with the corps through his senior year in high school and traveled with them to the 1949 American Legion Nationals in Philadelphia, where they finished in sixth place.

After high school, Pratt joined the Army. He went through the band school at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and was encouraged to audition for the West Point Band. He was accepted into the Field Music Unit, also known as the "Hellcats" Drum and Bugle Corps, where he stayed for the remainder of his 20-year military career. In 1959, he became Rudimental Drum Instructor/Arranger for the Field Music Unit. 

During the 1950s and ’60s, Pratt was actively involved in the drum and bugle corps movement of the Northeast. One of the first corps he taught was the Grey Knights from Rochester, New York. He also taught the Interstatesmen from the Albany area and many other smaller corps.

Pratt retired from the Army in 1969 after 20 years, almost all of them at West Point. During his military career, he went to college at night and received an Associate in Arts degree from Orange County Community College in Middletown, New York. He then transferred his credits to Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, New Jersey and graduated summa cum laudewith a degree in English. Thus began his second career as an English teacher at Hackensack High School in New Jersey, which lasted for 25 years until he retired in 1995.

In 1971, Pratt joined the teaching staff of the Hawthorne Caballeros from Hawthorne, New Jersey, where he taught execution alongside the late George Tuthill, who did most of the arranging. During Pratt's ten years with the corps, the Caballeros won three American Legion Championships and four Drum Corps Associates (DCA, also known as "senior corps") Championships. They also won "high drums" at the 1975 American Legion National Championship. In 1990, Pratt was inducted into the World Drum Corps Hall of Fame.

Pratt began to judge drum corps in the late 1950s. He served as an adjudicator for the New York chapter of the All-American Drum and Bugle Corps and Band Association and also with the Metropolitan All-American when they opened a chapter in New Jersey. He stopped judging about the same time he left the Caballeros.

Pratt is best known as a prolific composer. "I had written a large book that I sent to various publishers in the late 1950s," he told writer Lauren Vogel Weiss for a Percussive Notesarticle in 2002. "Belwin, Inc. was the only one interested, but they asked me to divide it up into three separate books, which became 14 Modern Contest SolosAncient Rudimental Snare and Bass Drum Solos, and 128 Rudimental Street Beats. About a year later, I came out with the 26 Standard American Drum Rudiments and their variations.” Pratt's book Rudimental Solos for Accomplished Drummers, published by Meredith Music, was released in 2000.

Did Pratt have a favorite among his solos? "My first favorite is `My Friend Norman' from 14 Modern Contest Solos, which was dedicated to my drum instructor Norm Peth. The second favorite is `The Conquering Legions of Rome' from The New Pratt Book [1985], which I wrote while I was at Hackensack High School. And there are three that I like from my latest book: `Moby Dick,' which I dedicated to Robin Engelman, `Farmers Museum Muster,' and `Westbrook Muster.'

"If there's anything my books have done," said Pratt, "they may have drawn together the two very distant poles of drumming: the strict rudimental drumming of the Connecticut fife and drum corps, or drum and bugle corps in general, and the concert players, both orchestral and symphonic. People tell me that my solos were quite rudimental, yet they were not phrased rudimentally because I extended things across the barline. I tried to maintain the rudiments as a separate entity without losing them in a pile of notes. All I know is that everywhere I go, people tell me that they've been using my books for years. I had no idea that they would become such an integral part of rudimental drumming. The last few years have just bowled me over!"

At age 68 and after almost a decade away from music, Pratt joined the Ex-Fifth Regiment Fife and Drums Corps of Paterson, New Jersey in 1997. Despite triple-bypass heart surgery in December 2000, Pratt performed his snare drum solo "Moby Dick" at PASIC 2001 in Nashville, and he performed at the "Drummers' Heritage" concert at PASIC 2002, the year he was elected to the PAS Hall of Fame.

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