Chicago jazz drummer Barrett Deems had an illustrious career, playing with the likes of Louis Armstrong, Charlie Barnet, and Jimmy Dorsey. Dubbed the world's faster drummer, Deems inspired this Armstrong quote: "Barrett Deems made coffee nervous." After playing with various bands, Deems returned to Chicago in the mid-sixties, where he refined his Buddy Rich-style drumming by playing with local swing groups. In 1978, Deems and a stellar group of musicians recorded and released Deemus, a solid collection of swing and dixieland. That album, which includes the complete recording session, has recently been reissued on the Chicago-based Delmark label.
Deems' rapid-paced style confidently leads the group, but he generously gives other players a chance to shine. Swing clarinetist Chuck Hedges wails on "After You've Gone," perfectly in sync with Deems' fast tempo. Don DeMichael (also a well-known jazz journalist) rips through "Shine," his vibe-playing jumping out at the listener. This trio also stands out on "Seven Come Eleven," although guitarist John Defauw also strums a tasty, if understated, solo. Benny Goodman co-wrote the song, and Hedges perfectly encapsulates the legend's sound and enthusiasm. During the jam, a member of the band yells "yeah," and the listener agrees—the track represents an exceptional group swinging hard.
But Deems extends beyond swing, as he gently leads the group on "Six Appeal," which is mainly a showcase for DeMichael's vibes and Defauw's subtle yet complicated guitar lines. Cole Porter's "I Love Paris" focuses on Steve Behr's light piano, perfectly capturing the song's upbeat, airy quality.
The stand-out track on Deemus, however, has to be the lightning-fast tempo overhaul of "Get Happy," with Deems' intricate drumming patterns at the forefront. Bassist Wilson McKindra plays at astonishing speeds while Behr's piano lends the song a dixieland flair. Such dramatic reinterpretations often pale in comparison to the original, but the speed enhances the carefree tone of the song and lyrics. Here Deems demonstrates why he was known as the "world's fastest drummer."
Soon after recording Deemus, Deems formed his own 18-piece big band, which became a mainstay at Chicago clubs such as the Note and the Elbo Room. With his group, he recorded two more albums: How D'You Like It So Far (1994) and his final album, Groovin' Hard (1998). He played into his eighties, still showing his skillful drumming chops.
Swing and traditional jazz fans will enjoy Deemus, as it pays tribute to important artistic eras in the music genre. Deeems may have passed away in 1998, but his drumming excellence and clear love of jazz live on in this welcome release.