The Drummer is a short film by director Bill Block starring the real-life (and sadly, recently deceased) New York City session drummer Dave Ratajczak. Block calls the film his “love letter to music”, and tells the story of a struggling drummer, Dave, who cherishes his prized possession: a beat-up 1930’s drumkit. Playing music is blissful for Dave. One day, he takes an enormous risk—and it changes his whole life.
The film deliberately evokes Benny Goodman’s famous performance of Sing Sing Sing (featuring drummer Gene Krupa) at Carnegie Hall in 1938. The concert was a milestone in American history, as it was the first time black and white musicians shared the stage at Carnegie Hall. (Goodman consistently used his fame and power to challenge segregation laws and practices across the U.S. at the same time his music was outlawed in Nazi Germany.)
Benny’s Carnegie Hall Sing Sing Sing is an epic performance—a 12-minute jam with members of the Count Basie orchestra sitting in—that reaches fever pitch several times before an incredible climax. (A near-riot ensues later in the concert when the band seems to indicate there won’t be an encore.)
My mother loved that record. It always brought her joy, but in particularly bad times, it would seem to heal her. As a teen I was always amazed at how a dusty old LP I bought for a dollar at Goodwill could matter so much to someone. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I came to realize how important Benny was for the whole world.
Fictional drummer David connects with those around him and changes himself in the process. Benny Goodman changed the world in 1938, and brought joy to a little living room in Berwyn six decades later. And, Bill Block reminds us of the extraordinarily transformative power of art for both the art maker and the art audience.
My mom would have turned 71 last week. I know she would have loved The Drummer and how it’s all about a guy and his drums, and also about so much more. Happy birthday, mom.
[originally posted November, 2014]