A Life in Music: Hal Blaine’s Impact on Jazz

Hal Blaine, who died Monday, March 11, at age 90, was often cited as “the most recorded drummer in history.” It’s a title he wore humbly and with deep appreciation, earned through his tireless effort to elevate the craft of others. As a member of the Wrecking Crew, a famed collection of Los Angeles studio musicians, he lent rhythmic support and flashes of percussive brilliance to some of the greatest acts of the 1960s and ’70s, including Elvis Presley, Barbara Streisand, Simon & Garfunkel and The Beach Boys. And his trademark drumming — firm yet pliant, in-the-pocket yet propulsive — can be heard on some of the biggest hits from that era, such as The Ronette’s “Be My Baby” and The 5th Dimension’s “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In.” He appeared on more than 150 Top 10 singles, including 40 that reached No. 1 spot.

In 2000, Blaine was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, one of the few session musicians ever to gain entry. And in 2018, he was recognized with a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Recording Academy. Through it all, Blaine harbored a deep and abiding love of jazz. He was once a student of Roy C. Knapp (whose former disciples included Gene Krupa), and some of his earliest gigs were with a jazz quartet in Chicago. Once, he even  sat in with Count Basie’s band.

While Blaine’s life will no doubt be remembered through his countless offerings to the world of rock and pop, we wanted to honor his life through his important contributions to jazz. Below are five of our favorite Hal Blaine jazz tunes.

1. “A Taste of Honey,” from Herb Alpert’s Whipped Cream & Other Delights, 1965

2. “Strangers in the Night” from Frank Sinatra’s Strangers in the Night, 1966

3. “Everybody Loves Somebody” by Dean Martin’s Everybody Loves Somebody, 1964

4. “Any World (That I’m Welcome To)” by Steely Dan, from Katy Lied, 1975

5. “Batman Theme” by Neal Hefti and His Orchestra

Feature image of Hal Blaine courtesy ©Michael Ochs Archive


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