Imagine stepping back in time to the vibrant streets of New Orleans in the early days of jazz, where the rhythmic heartbeat of the city was provided by the masterful hands of Edward “Dee Dee” Chandler. While his life remains shrouded in mystery, his legacy as a legendary drummer and the almost mythological forefather of the drumset lives on. Join us on a captivating journey through the scant but fascinating history of Dee Dee Chandler and his pivotal role in shaping the rhythm of jazz.
Edward Chandler, affectionately known as “Dee Dee,” existed in an era of jazz where detailed investigations and comprehensive historical records were scarce. As a result, our knowledge of this enigmatic figure is pieced together from oral histories and a single, precious photograph. It’s as if Chandler’s story was whispered through the generations, passed down like a cherished secret.
According to the accounts of those who remember him, Dee Dee Chandler was more than just a drummer; he was a drumming virtuoso of his time. In 1959, the younger drummer Christopher “Black Happy” Goldston shared his insights, stating that Chandler was revered as one of the best drummers of his era. Goldston described Dee Dee’s unique style, emphasizing his ability to tune his drums to a sharp pitch, creating drum rolls that sounded as though he were tearing a piece of cloth. Imagine the rhythmic magic that flowed from Chandler’s fingertips and resonated through the streets of New Orleans.
As we delve further into the mystique of Dee Dee Chandler, we encounter the colorful descriptions of his performances. In 1978, Al Rose, a jazz historian, eloquently glorified Chandler’s artistry. He painted a picture of a drummer who was not only a virtuoso but also a remarkable showman and comic. Chandler’s drumming was not just about the music; it was an entire spectacle that captivated audiences.
Imagine Chandler on stage, playing with the grace and precision of a professional juggler. His rhythmic patterns and flamboyant drumming style were as much a visual feast as they were an auditory delight. In a world where live music was the heartbeat of entertainment, Dee Dee Chandler was the ultimate showman, leaving audiences mesmerized by his performance prowess.
Dee Dee Chandler’s contribution to the world of jazz extended beyond his individual talent. He was a vital part of the musical landscape in New Orleans, a city renowned for its rich and diverse musical heritage. His drumming echoed through the lively streets, infusing the air with the spirit of jazz.
Chandler was not confined to a single setting; he was a versatile drummer who could adapt to various musical contexts. He played for some of the most respected and well-known early jazz groups, including the prestigious John Robichaux Orchestra. John Robichaux himself was considered one of the elite bandleaders in the pre-1900 jazz scene. He is often credited with being the pioneer who introduced “trap” drums into dance orchestras, revolutionizing the way rhythm was incorporated into jazz.
One of the most remarkable aspects of Dee Dee Chandler’s legacy is his role in the evolution of the drumset. In a time when drumming equipment was far from standardized, Chandler’s innovation and determination led to a groundbreaking invention. It was a primitive but ingenious overhanging bass drum pedal, cobbled together from a Magnolia Milk Company carton, a block of wood, chain, hinges, and springs.
This improvised contraption might well be one of the earliest precursors to the modern bass drum pedal, a device that drummers around the world rely on to this day. It’s a testament to Chandler’s ingenuity and determination that he crafted such a crucial piece of drumming equipment from whatever materials he could find. His invention opened doors for drummers, enabling them to explore new rhythmic possibilities and contribute to the ever-evolving world of jazz.
The single known photograph of Dee Dee Chandler is a priceless artifact that offers a tantalizing glimpse into the past. It not only captures the essence of Chandler but may also be one of the earliest visual records of a bass drum pedal in its infancy.
In this historic image, we see the man himself, Dee Dee Chandler, surrounded by his drum kit, poised to unleash his rhythmic magic. It’s an image that invites us to imagine the sounds and sensations of a bygone era, where jazz was still in its infancy, and Chandler stood at the forefront of its rhythmic evolution.
While the life of Edward “Dee Dee” Chandler may remain shrouded in mystery, his impact on the world of jazz is undeniable. He was more than a drummer; he was a pioneer, a showman, and a trailblazer. His innovative spirit led to the birth of the bass drum pedal, an invention that transformed the way drummers would shape the rhythm of music for generations to come.
Dee Dee Chandler’s performances were not just musical experiences; they were captivating spectacles that left audiences in awe. His rhythms were the heartbeat of New Orleans, a city where music flowed through the streets like a river. Even though the details of his life may be scarce, the legend of Dee Dee Chandler lives on, a testament to the enduring power of music and the pioneers who shape its course.
So, the next time you find yourself tapping your foot to the infectious beat of jazz, remember the almost mythical figure who laid the foundation for the rhythms that continue to move us today. Edward “Dee Dee” Chandler, the drumming pioneer of jazz, may be a mystery, but his legacy echoes through time, reminding us of the magic that can be found in the simplest of instruments and the most captivating of performances.
Photo Credit: This is the only known photo of Chandler and possibly the earliest photo of a bass drum pedal as well. (Image courtesy of the William Ransom Hogan Jazz Archive of Tulane University.)