Roy "The Kidd" Harte
Long-time jazz fans will know him as being on the
forefront of the progressive jazz movement
on the West Coast, Roy Harte is certainly one of the most inventive,
trend-setting drummers of
jazz history. Playing with groups like Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse
All-Stars and opening one of
the trendiest drum shops of it's time in Hollywood, Drum City
on Santa Monica Blvd., with none other
than Remo Belli himself, helped to carve a niche for Roy in the
annals of jazz. His musical associations
include the greatest names in west coast jazz; Bud Shank, Laurindo
Almeida, Shorty Rogers,
Howard Roberts, Herbie Harper, Bob Gordon, Marty Paich, and countless
Born on May 27, 1924, in the Bensonhurst area of
Brooklyn, Roy's youth reads like a movie script.
His father, Morris, worked for the U.S. Postal Service and in
1936 was assigned the graveyard shift at
the Harlem branch, located behind the Apollo Theater at 125th
Street. Morris would take Roy into
work with him and have the stage manager at the Apollo, who was
a friend, baby sit. Roy would fall
asleep in one of the practice rooms below the stage. But, the
music would awaken Roy and he would
listen to the steady beat being played above him. Soon, Roy was
imitating what he heard on practice
drums that were with him downstairs. By the age of fifteen, Roy
was playing on a professional level, and
performing with some of the top bands in town. While in high school,
Roy was playing with Muggsy
Spanier and Dizzy Gillespie. In the 40's, Roy played with the
orchestras of Billie Rogers, Boyd Raeburn,
Vido Musso, and the Stan Kenton All Stars. In his road days, Roy
was highly acclaimed for his work as
a drummer, appearing in the top ten "Best Drummer" polls
in Downbeat Magazine, throughout the
decade of the forties. In 1947, Roy decided that California was
the land of opportunity with a great climate.
So, he came to Los Angeles with the Lucky Millinder Band and convinced
his parents to come along.
(Here is Roy working with a
very young Sal Mineo in
preparation for his role in
"The Gene Krupa Story")
Roy made a point of spending time at many of the
major drum manufacturing facilities around the country,
learning the technical aspects of drum production and helping
them learn more of the practical needs of a
working drummer. It was only natural for Roy to open a professional
drum shop once he came to Los Angeles.
Roy's first was located at the corner of Gower and Santa Monica
Blvds. It stayed at this location for two years.
But, in spring of 1952, Roy expanded to a larger building, one
block north. Roy partnered with Remo Belli to
open Drum City. He also made a deal with Charlie Emge and rented
him office space in that building for the
Hollywood headquarters of DownBeat Magazine for the next six years.
Drum City soon became the hippest drum shop in town.
The upstairs rooms, along with DownBeat's office, saw
many big name drummers give lessons to aspiring students. It was
a place that saw impromptu jam sessions and
special parties, a place that inspired creativity and innovation.
Roy and Remo designed the synthetic plastic drum
heads, which became the standard for the music industry. In 1954,
Roy held the first "Percussion Fair" which
featured the latest drum equipment from the leading manufacturers.
This became an annual event and brought
national attention to Drum City, building a reputation as one
of the nation's foremost drum retail and instruction
centers. By 1960, during the six weeks of the Fair, the clinics
saw 32 public schools participate, ten
parochial schools, and eleven drum and bugle corps.
(Here, Roy helps Fred Astaire prepare for a scene
a movie where he has to play a drum solo)
Los Angeles in the 50's was a great place for a
working musician. Within a half mile radius of Drum City,
the record industry was going crazy. You could find Western Recorders,
Goldstar Studios, Capitol Studios,
Decca Records, RCA Victor, and Radio Recorders just blocks away.
It was natural for Roy to get in on the act.
He was instrumental in the creation of the Pacific Jazz record
label with Richard Bok, and, after teaming up with
bassist Harry Babasin, decided to start another label, Nocturne
Records. It was tremendously successful in it's
brief existence, and really gave definition to the West Coast
jazz movement of the day. Roy was also a member
of the Laurindo Almeida Quartet that was responsible for the original
forms of the Bossa Nova. Using techniques
which included brushes on bongos, Roy was revolutionizing the
way people looked at jazz, inventing new percussion
instruments and ideas as he went along. That group released two
ten inch albums on Pacific Jazz
and received four and five star ratings in DownBeat reviews.
The sixties brought major changes to jazz. Rock
'n Roll became the popular music of the day and drove jazz underground.
Roy and Harry brought Nocturne back to life and released a series
of albums that were extremely innovative for their
time, but they didn't gain the prominence they had in the fifties.
In the 70's, they created a new entity for the preservation
of Jazz In Hollywood with the Los Angeles Theaseum. Roy and Harry
continued for four decaded recording with
everyone in the Hollywood jazz scene. Within the L.A. Theaseum,
they started another label they called Jazz Chronicles.
They released a small portion of their archives, highlighting
the talent that remained unrecognized in the more commercial
work of the city a mission they started back in the early
50's. Now, Roy is working with the son of Harry Babasin,
Von, to create a non-profit organization called Jazz In Hollywood
dedicated to the historic preservation of the
schools of west coast jazz and to the innovative evolution of
(Roy Harte, in the '50's)
Roy remains and intrical part of Jazz in Hollywood,
owner and proprietor of Drum City,
head of Nocturne Records, N. R. Music Publishing, Swinghouse Publishing,
the Los Angeles Theaseum, and President of the Jazz In Hollywood
the Nocturne collection!
[Jazz in Hollywood
- Harry Babasin]
© Copyright 1954-2010 - N.R. Music Co.
Photos courtesy of The Roy Harte Archives