Glenn Robb, at 78 a sensitive, swinging, Scotsman at-heart. He visits my home, the basement comes alive

May 9, 2011, Ottawa, Canada: As I was putting the finishing touches on the Griffin Studio Album session, Part II, Glenn Robb came knocking, responding finally to my entreaties. In his late seventies, Glenn is an unerring, tasteful, piercing, blue-eyed drummer whose deft, musical touch defies nature and invites explanation.

Swing, jazz drummer Glenn Robb

Glenn Robb at his Grestch Anniversary kit

Born of Glaswegian parents, Glenn recalls his regal initiation into the drumming fraternity. One day in the 1940s he was swinging a baseball bat in Lansdowne park when a silver Greyhound rumbled through the gates towards the Cattle Castle, pulling up to the loading ramp of the Colosseum. A dapper, slick black haired drummer hoisting fiber cases caught Glenn’s eye. He offered to assist the newcomer.

The band was Tommy Dorsey’s, the drummer Louie Bellson. “Thanks kid, here’s a dollar for helping me. Say, do you want to come in and check out my drums?”

Glenn remembers the finer details of the multi-tom, double bass drum kit finished in white marine pearl. And he’d decided his instrument before Louie’s calf heads had acclimatized to their new home.

Louie is present in Glenn Robb’s touch to this day. So is Jake Hanna, the American swing legend, whom Glenn counts as a close friend and partner in crime. Back then, Glenn purchased a brand new Gretsch kit, 13, 16, and 22”, with matching snare—a 1959 black sparkle Gretsch Anniversary drum kit. Even when Glenn strokes these drums lightly, the delightful paradox is the heavy response.

Down in my basement studio, I handed Glenn my 18” 80-year-old heavy K Zildjian, Constantinople vintage. “This is really heavy,thick at the edges,” I warned him. “Most drummers hate it, so don’t feel you have to say something nice. Maybe you’ll shed some light on why I hear music from the thing.”

Glenn stroked the cymbal gently, playing a light jazz ride, quickly adapting to my stick, much heavier than his usual. In moments he’d reached a decision. “This is gorgeous…this is beautiful,” Glenn exclaimed and handed it back to me. I welcomed it back into the fold with open arms, grateful that my druthers had intersected with those of a master.

I’ve asked Glenn to speak into a hard disk recorder and share tips on the way things unfolded in terms of touch, feel, meter, and tone. Glenn has unique insights following a career, still in motion, spiked with gigs with big names the likes of Benny Goodman, Bud Freeman, Cab Calloway and others he’ll no doubt share with us.