"Do Something" Means
The Beat of a
with Jim Chapin
to Make a
Message as Key
Freedom of Choice
in the Cradle...
LUNCH for WHY
Howard Fields and
Al Stewart in
Benefit KIDS Can
Make a Difference
Readers Share Thoughts
in Second Annual
to read previous
issues of Circle!
Beat of a Different Drummer:
An Interview with Jim Chapin
the musical patriarch of the Chapin family, proves the old saying that
people are products of their childhoods.
Jim's storytelling, independence and nonstop energy were in the fiber
of Harry. His laser focus to become a superb instrumentalist was inherited
by Tom. Jim's perfectionist attitude and love for big band standards are
ingrained in Steve. And his knowledge of world politics and history was
embodied in his son and namesake James.
In the community of drummers, the name Jim Chapin holds the highest reverence.
Not only was he called on by Tom Dorsey, Woody Herman and other legendary
band leaders, Jim wrote Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer
that remains the drummer's instructional Bible since it was first
published in 1948. Visit www.jimchapin.com
to learn more about Jim's career.
Now 85, Jim still conducts well-attended drum workshops around the country.
He credits his techniques for keeping his hands and wrists in healthy
shape so he can out-drum others half his age. He says there's much left
to do, including production of a new drum instruction book that has been
decades in the writing.
Circle! interviewed Jim from Florida where he's been recovering
the past year from a serious bone infection that threatened the amputation
of a foot. Fortunately, no serious surgery was needed. He's nearing full
strength and participated in a recent Chapin Family show.
What have you been up to lately?
I just got back from a family concert in Raleigh, N.C. It was wonderful.
The girls have gotten so good. Jen's act is terrific and she delivers
everything right. And the girls (Lily, Abigail and Jessica) all
three are very strong individual soloists.... they can stand on their
own. With the three of them together, it's just fantastic.
You must be feeling better if you made it to North Carolina?
Well, I had help. The girls led me out to do a number in the beginning.
I did another number in the second act in which I played the drums and
sang. I played a drum solo half way through and people can't believe that
anybody 85 can play at all. And surprisingly enough I played very, very
well. I haven't touched the drums for a long time except for my practice
pad. I couldn't believe it. Everybody sounded marvelous.
Chapin with two of his sons.
Photo courtesy of the Chapin family.
us how the boys got interested in music.
Their uncle Michael (son of writer and artist Kenneth Burke) had a guitar
and really got them interested. The best thing about the early days was
when they asked me to play with them during the summer of 65. We
just had a ball. Fred Kewley was manager at the time. Fred did very well
in the beginning, but over time he didn't do as much managing as Harry
did. But Fred did a good thing by keeping the peace the boys had
artistic differences. Stevie was the perfectionist, Tom was the best instrumentalist
of the bunch and Harry wanted to put everything on right now. It would
drive Stevie crazy. We got to do two Merv Griffin shows and had a ball.
Were you surprised that Harry, Tom and Steve pursued music careers?
Let me tell you what Tom said one time. He was asked by somebody.... "You
have all these brilliant people in your family.... geniuses, painters,
writers, professors. How come you and the rest of the boys decided to
pursue music?" Tom responded "Well, dad seemed to be having
more fun than the rest of them."
Did you give Harry or any of the boys much advice
as they were getting in the business?
Harry had a better idea on how to get in the business than I did. I just
played.... I wasn't much of a promoter. I think I got Stevie interested
in old time music.... he's the best musician of the bunch the best
arranger. The good part about Harry was he was so aggressive and so interested
in what he was doing he was almost manic.
Which of Harry's songs do you like most?
Harry wrote some great songs. A lot of them from the show (The Night
That Made America Famous) I really like.... Give Me a Road
is one. He wrote some great melodies, too... you think the lyrics would
just carry the songs, but some of the melodies are really beautiful. I
also like The Rock.
So, what do you think of the new generation of Chapin performers?
I'm thrilled with the whole bunch of them. It's marvelous. Thank God I
had so many children. We lost Harry and James it was a terrible
thing. But just think if they were the only ones; there wouldn't be much
family left. Now I see Jen has got the same enthusiasm and the same directness
you look at her and you can see Harry in her eyes. But she's the
most stable person I know. And the others are beginning to perform so
well, too; it's just terrific.
Do you enjoy performing in the family shows?
I'm very proud of all the family. It's funny, I was never much of a entertainer.
I'm more of an entertainer now.... they tell me what to do! I sing two
songs We'll All Be A Part Of It Someday and Carney Days
from a show I wrote called Passing Fair. People seem to
What keeps you going after more than 60 years of drumming?
This is something I chose to do when I was 18. I was inspired by Benny
Goodman's band and Gene Krupa.... the very beginning of the Swing era.
The black bands were there, but the white bands never got popular until
much later in 46, 47 and 48. The next 12 years were pretty much heaven
except that the war intervened. I was in the Army for two years. But I
got to play in a band rather than do any fighting.
Then, what started as my name on a book turned into about 20 years of
going out to these big music conventions here and around the world. I
hope to be going out again this summer as well as doing clinics
on my own. I went to China three years ago. I've been through the Baltic
states, was in Russia about a year ago. In Bejing, we had about 300 people
and in Hong Kong we had 190. So, I've just been more active in the educational
thing than I've ever been.
I did an awful lot of dumb work, too. There were periods where I played
for strippers like Blaze Starr [Starr became doubly famous after her affair
with Louisana Governor Huey Long]. She was working at this joint on 52nd
Street. There was a little part in her act with a drum solo. After she
heard me do the solo and play to what she was doing, she cut the band
out of much of the act and just left the drums. I'd play for three and
It seems like your popularity continues to grow
at drum clinics... what contributes to your success?
Well, I just show up. They can see as even as an old man I haven't fallen
back. Most old men have a big problem with playing, but I seem to have
none because of the way I play. I don't overuse the wrists and hands....
it's called the Moeller technique. I popularized it again. Of course,
it's misunderstood all over the world so I have some new books
that I hope to publish. But I haven't been in a good position to get them
out lately. I have to get somebody with three things knowledge
of music, knowledge of a computer and time on their hands.
I also practiced all of the time because I was really thrilled with the
drums. I didn't have any idea whether I'd make any money doing this. I
didn't think about that at all... and good thing because I haven't made
much money! But I've had so much fun.
Tell us about your experience in Russia.
It was terrific, but the people seemed to be confused. They were a little
down... not too happy. Parts of the Soviet system were good of
course, they had an idiot (Stalin) in charge there for a long time. He
was almost worst than Hitler. The same thing in China. But right now,
people in China seem to be really up.
Chapin was Jims oldest son and the Chair of WHYs Board
of Directors for 22 years.
on your loss of James and Harry.
They both left so much. James was just beginning to be known nationally
because of his work for UPI. Of course, he was ruining UPI... he was a
liberal voice they hired him as the token liberal. But he busted
everybody's balls all the conservative professors were coming around
to his way of thinking. He had so much knowledge he was a genius.
Harry had James for a guru he really helped Harry a lot. He was
the original one who said "Harry, are you going to piss away all
this money with Ferraris and a house in the Bahamas, or are you going
to put your money where your mouth is?" Sandy was a do-gooder, too....
so, everybody became Eleanor Roosevelt (lots of laughter). They never
fought as children. They were yin and yang part of the same circle.
What's your proudest achievement?
I've had a lot to pass on and I invented certain things when it came to
drum playing. Piano players invent all of the time. Organ players use
both hands and both feet. But in the case of drums, it hadn't been done
much it was pretty much just the hands. So, I wrote a book that
most drummers probably know about if they've done any studying.
Do you have any stories that stick in your mind
I remember traveling and getting off at a gas station once with Harry
and his brothers. This place was something like out of Deliverance.
These guys were sitting out front looking at us real suspiciously. Harry
jumps out of the car and starts talking.... "Hey, those are my brothers
and father in the car and we're going to Florida to play in Jacksonville.
I just got this harmonica I haven't learned to play it very well,
but I'll play a little bit for you." After awhile, these guys are
smiling and laughing they'd never heard anything like Harry before.
They didn't know what hit them.
Another story I love is from '79 when Harry had an appointment at the
White House. Harry is in the car with a couple of prominent senators.
They're in the front seat and Harry is in the back seat. They drive up
to the entrance, and the guard says to the senators "I didn't have
any message about you coming.... I'm sure you are who you say you are,
but I just need to call upstairs and find out." Then the guard looks
in the backseat and sees Harry and says "Hey, Harry, are these guys
with you? Go ahead then."
I recall James telling me about meeting Bill Clinton when he was still
governor of Arkansas back in 1990. James said "Dad, I met this guy
named Clinton down at the Governor's Conference... if this guy becomes
president, he's going to be at least the smartest president since Wilson
probably the smartest president since Jefferson." James was
What would be Harry be doing now if he was still alive?
I don't think his enthusiasm for writing and singing was as great anymore.
When you try to put the best face on it you say.... he at least lived
until he was 38 and he did a whole lot of stuff and marvelous things.
But he would be doing something else now. You could say the same for James...
even though he was teaching history at Yale when he got his doctorate's
degree from Cornell, and taught at Rutgers for all those years
I don't think he really came into his own until he began creating some
controversy when working for a company (UPI) that did not think at all
the way he did. But James was so powerful... he slowly began to change
their way of thinking. Harry was a great politician, but James would have
been there right behind him.
for the Next Issue of Circle! on September 7