The history of jazz clarinet is in many ways linked to the history of jazz drumming. When we think of Benny Goodman, we almost automatically think of Gene Krupa, Artie Shaw is linked with Buddy Rich, and Jack Sperling comes to mind on so many of Pete Fountain's classic albums. Beyond that, the interaction between Buddy DeFranco and Art Blakey on 'Mr. Clarinet', and Bill Smith with the likes of Shelly Manne and Joe Morello are enjoyable and instructive to anyone who is a fan of great ensemble playing. Really, because of the dynamic range of a drumset, the choice of drummer is essential for a clarinetist, and I was even warned as a young player to choose wisely once I became a band leader.
The drummer in my current band, Bill Fuller, is of a drumming lineage that stretches back through his father to the days of early jazz in Cleveland. His dad even gigged in University Circle with a teenage Artie Shaw when that clarinet master was learning his trade here. The first gig I played with Bill, a few years back, he mentioned to me on a set break that, while he'd idolized Joe Morello as a teenager, he'd soon grown to consider Nick Fatool an ideal jazz drummer. "The other players in the band play for the audience, but the drummer should play for the band: he should be the ultimate facilitator," was how Bill summed it up that night, and he felt Nick Fatool was the best example of that approach.
While Fatool is less well known to the general population than Krupa or Rich, it's significant that some of the very best and most important jazz clarinet recordings were made with him backing the band. Artie Shaw's first classic Gramercy 5 recordings were made with Fatool on the skins, and to see him in action, you can check out the classic film Second Chorus. Later in his career, he backed up Pete Fountain on several classic albums, so his contribution to the history of jazz clarinet recordings actually spanned a couple of different generations.
I also encourage folks to check out "Special Delivery Stomp" to hear this understated drum master's brush work.
Happy 102nd birthday, Nick Fatool!