Can drumming and boxing keep a beat?

Every now and then the non-boxing press tackles the sweet science and the results are at best a mixed bag. All About Jazz recently published a piece comparing boxing to drumming which, while unusual, has something to say.

The author, Mark Merella, writes that I’ve always been a fight fan. Growing up outside Washington, D.C. Sugar Ray Leonard was one of my heroes. A few years ago my interest turned into an obsession. I began collecting fight films and studying boxer’s styles. Here are some things I learned about the art of drumming by watching these master athletes at work.

That might seem a little off the wall to those who like their boxing neat, so the author quotes the inestimable Pierce Egan, whose classic Boxiana (first published in 1812) was the first great book devoted to solely to boxing, to give some historical perspective: Drummers and boxers to acquire excellence must begin young. There is a peculiar nimbleness of wrist and exercise of the shoulder required, that is only obtained from growth and practice.

Drumming and boxing, writes Merella, are traditions that on the surface may seem unrelated but with further inspection share qualities both primal and sublime. Each can be traced to the beginnings of civilization, boxing being one of the first Olympic games and the drum being the first musical instrument fashioned by human hands.

Then the author gets to the meat of his argument by comparing the drumming and boxing styles of various pound-for-pound boxers and pound-for-pound drummers. For example: Ray (Sugar Ray Robinson) was probably the slickest boxer ever to enter a ring and Philly Joe (Philly Joe Jones) defined hip’ not just for drummers but for all Jazz musicians. Ray’s dazzling footwork and smooth combinations are much like the way Philly Joe combined rudiments into seamless musical statements. Philly’s impeccable ride was as effortless as Ray’s footwork, making everything on the bandstand poetry in motion. This concept can be seen among the heavyweights as the determined, ominous stride of Joe Louis is like the greasy, medium swing of Elvin Jones.

For those to think boxing, in the best of times, relates only to itself, and for those who think boxing, in the worst of times, relates to nothing whatsoever, you might want to take a minute to peruse the full article titled On Drumming and Boxing.