Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

  1. A
  2. B
  3. C
  4. D
  5. E
  6. F
  7. G
  8. H
  9. I
  10. J
  11. K
  12. L
  13. M
  14. N
  15. O
  16. P
  17. Q
  18. R
  19. S
  20. T
  21. U
  22. V
  23. W
  24. X
  25. Y
  26. Z

Tough, Dave (David Jarvis)

As a teen, drummer Dave "Davey" Tough literally sat at the feet of Baby Dodds in Joe "King" Oliver's band at Chicago's Dreamland Ballroom, then went on to apply all he had soaked up as one of the first New Orleans-inspired drummers to step into the Swing Era.

Tough was a big-minded intellectual housed in the frailest of physical frames, who spent his career balancing his appetites for jazz, literature, and alcohol. Poor health kept him out of music for long stretches, but he anchored many of the most significant big bands of the 1930s and was a member of Woody Herman’s famed First Thundering Herd band in the mid-1940s.

Not afraid to get loud and active but never overplaying or sacrificing steady time, Dave Tough offered one of the most musically supportive approaches to early jazz drumming, one where impeccably tuned drums and carefully chosen cymbals helped create a unique, colorful sound.

While he may not have invented rhythmic vocabulary or specifically altered styles in the way Jo Jones and other contemporaries did, Tough presented a textbook case for listening, reacting, and supporting musicians on the pre-bop bandstand. As jazz drumming historian Burt Korall once decreed, “like an extraordinary supporting actor, he adds to the overall performance without making you too conscious of his presence.”

David Jarvis Tough was born on April 26, 1907 in Oak Park, Illinois to immigrant Scottish parents. According to William Howland Kenney’s Chicago Jazz: A Cultural History 1904-1930, "his father was a bank teller who dabbled in the real estate and commodities markets,” and his mother died when he was nine.

Born at the perfect time to grow up alongside the development of jazz, Tough’s early rhythmic prowess resulted in his joining the Austin High School Gang in 1922, a collection of white Chicago area jazz musicians, including Bud Freeman, Jimmy and Dick McPartland and Frank Teschenmacher, among others, who were heavily influenced by the developments of the black jazz musicians of the late teens and early 1920s.

Even though Tough himself attended school elsewhere at the nearby Oak Park High School, his acceptance into the Austin High School Gang solidified his reputation as a deeply swinging, stubbornly unpretentious player who preferred backing soloists and ensembles to soloing himself. By his late teens, Dave Tough had already become a musician’s drummer who strived towards perfection in swing.

It should be noted that although Tough never completed his formal schooling at Oak Park High, his voracious appetite for literature made him one of the more seriously intellectual musicians of his time, unlike his usually less well-read, albeit intelligently rebellious peers Chicago. According to Kenney, Tough introduced his Austin High School Gang bandmates to “George Jean Nathan, H.L. Mencken’s American Mercury, Chicago’s Art Institute, and current thinking about artistic rebellion against the bourgeoisie."

In the mid to late 1920s, Tough became a full-time drummer, performing in Chicago, New York, and taking frequent extended trips to Europe, during which time he recorded with banjoist/guitarist George Carhart and clarinetist Mezz Mezzrow. Upon his permanent return to the United States near decade’s end, Tough recorded with some of the leaders of small-group jazz at the time: Benny Goodman, Red Nichols and Eddie Condon. A fine example of early Tough can be heard on a 2003-issued Nichols release, Red Nichols and His Five Pennies, 1926-1930.

Health issues, compounded by a serious alcohol addiction rumored to have begun by age ten, kept Tough out of the music scene throughout the early 1930s, especially from 1932 to 1935, during which time he was nearly professionally non-existent.

By 1936, Tough had physically rebounded and reemerged on the scene. The jazz world had changed course a great deal since the late 1920s, but Tough had no problem transitioning from small group to big band playing. In fact, Tough’s personal priority to provide sturdy, cohesive group support made him an ideal candidate for a seat in some of the more influential big bands of the 1930s and 1940s.

Throughout the mid to late 1930s, Tough recorded with groups led by Ray Noble, Tommy Dorsey, as heard on “Jammin” and “Lonesome Road," Roy Eldridge, Harry James, Bunny Berigan, Red Norvo, Jimmy Dorsey, Jack Teagarden, Artie Shaw, and Benny Goodman, the latter of which resulted in Tough’s performance on the classic Goodman/Charlie Christian collaboration, “Solo Flight” in March, 1941.

From 1942-1944, Tough enlisted in the U.S. Navy, where he played in Artie Shaw’s Naval Band. Shortly after his discharge for medical reasons, Tough entered into his longest standing and most fruitful musical collaboration as the drummer for Woody Herman’s influential swing-to-bop big band, the First Thundering Herd.

On recordings including Woodchopper’s Ball Vol. 1, Northwest Passage Vol. 2, and the collection Blowin’ Up a Storm – The Columbia Years, Tough’s vibrant, increasingly interactive support stands as an important foundational element of the group’s classic-yet-boundary-pushing agenda. Examples of Tough's fine work at this transitional moment include “Apple Honey,” “The Good Earth," and “Laura,” as well as “Caledonia” and “Northwest Passage.”

Tough left Herman’s band in September of 1945 and entered a freelance world dominated by the rise of bebop, Tough remained loyal to his Dixieland and Big Band roots by performing with Eddie Condon, the Charlie Ventura/Bill Harris Group, and Mugsy Spanier, among others.

Never interested in adding bebop drumming to his repertoire, Tough attempted to pursue a secondary career as a writer in his later years. More and more inhibited by his physical problems and severe alcoholism, however, Tough’s post-Herman career was ultimately short-lived.

Dave Tough passed away on December 9, 1948, days after falling and fracturing his skull on a street in Newark, New Jersey.

While it’s easy to overlook Dave Tough in the history of jazz, his recorded output in the 1930s and 1940s reveals itself to be far more impressive - and important - than has been previously documented. His inconsistent timeline and tragic personal life are the stories most often discussed when Tough’s name is uttered, that is, until one looks back at all of the musicians who worked with Tough and attest to his magical talents on the bandstand and his reputation as a brilliant, often hilarious, and altogether genuine human being both on and off the bandstand. It’s Artie Shaw who revealed the core of Tough’s legacy:

"Dave was the single most musical drummer that I've ever known. When I say musical, I'm talking about sensibilities - his musical sensibilities - which of course were honed by his literary and aesthetic sense of everything in general. My thesis is the more you know about everything, the better you will be."

Dave Tough was inducted into the Jazz and Big Band Hall of Fame in 2000. Tough also authored a hard-to-find method book, Dave Tough’s Advanced Paradiddle Exercises (Mutual Music Society, NYC) which provided countless variations on the single, double, and triple paradiddles for the drumset.*

* A full single paradiddle is an eight-note combination that is played as follows: RLRR – LRLL, where R is right hand and L is left hand. Paradiddles, in various combinations, are among the most commonly used rudiments in drumming, next to the single strokes (RLRL…) and double strokes (RRLLRRLL…)

Bud Freeman, 1928-1938

Red Nichols and His Five Pennies 1926-1930

Benny Goodman, Complete Small Group Recordings (1935)

Artie Shaw, Introduction to Artie Shaw: His Best 1937-1942

Bunny Berigan, Sophisticated Swing (1937)

Jack Teagarden, Jack Teagarden’s Big Eight (1938)

Artie Shaw and His Orchestra, Personal Best (1938)

Eddie Condon, Dixieland All Stars (1939)

Charlie Christian, Solo Flight (1939-1941)

Tommy Dorsey, Yes, Indeed! (1939)

Rex Stewart, Rex Stewart and the Ellingtonians <(1939)

Woody Herman, Woodchopper’s Ball Vol. 1 (1944)

Woody Herman, Northwest Passage, Vol. 2 (1945)

Woody Herman, Blowin’ Up a Storm – The Columbia Years 1945-1947 (2001)

Charlie Ventura and Bill Harris, Live at the Three Deuces (1947)

Tommy Dorsey/Frank Sinatra, Together 1939-1940 (1996)

Contributor: Eric Novod