Dave Tough (April 26, 1907 - December 9, 1948, sometimes known as Davie or Davey Tough) was an American jazz drummer associated with both Dixieland and swing jazz in the 1930s and 1940s. He has been described as "the most important of the drummers of the Chicago circle".
Born in Oak Park, Illinois, Tough's interest for drumming was not fully supported by his family or community. Fortunately, his suburban Chicago home allowed Tough to find his way to southside Chicago, exposing him to an exciting and evolving jazz scene. Here Tough broke cultural and musical boundaries taking the scene's fresh sense back to a seemingly different suburban upper-middle class world.
He worked with such musicians as Bud Freeman, Woody Herman, Eddie Condon, Red Nichols, Red Norvo, Tommy Dorsey, Bunny Berigan and Benny Goodman. Berendt describes him as "one of the most subtle and inspired of drummers" with "a rhythmic palette on which he held in readiness the right colour for each soloist".
Dave Tough appears as the poet-drummer "Dick Rough," who played at Chicago's legendary Green Mask, in the Autobiographical Novel of Kenneth Rexroth. Rexroth describes Tough as the "first and greatest of the hipsters and one of the few really great musicians in the history of jazz." (p. 163)
In the later 1920s, Tough floated between Nice and Paris doing freelance work. Overseas he worked loosely with George Carhart and while in Paris sessioned extensively with Mezz Mezzrow. He toured and recorded throughout early 1930s Europe, mostly on the Tri-Ergon label. Though without official record, Tough spent portions of 1942-44 in the Navy playing behind Shaw's Naval Band. Tough was to lead only one album, a small-sided release by the Jamboree label. Although he had varied successes, he also had difficulties with alcoholism and illness that caused him to lose a number of prominent jobs.
His stint with Artie Shaw, one of the most important bands of the Swing Era, should certainly be mentioned! Quoting from the liner notes by Burt Korall for the 1981 double album, "The Complete Artie Shaw, Vol. 5, 1941-42" on the RCA Bluebird label: "At the very center of this magic was a tiny giant named Dave Tough. A little over 100 pounds soaking wet, this diminutive, unobtrusive gentleman contributed something very special and uplifting to the bands for which he played drums. He brought unusual dimension, depth and excitement to jazz drumming. His cymbals hummed and sang; his drums breathed and exploded -- all in service of the beat. Never was he too loud or too soft. He knew exactly what and how to play. And his time was perfection.
"Dave's time was so perfect that your ideas would just flow," Max Kaminsky says. "He allowed you to lean back and think, providing the rhythmic security you needed. With most drummers, you have to make rhythm. Whenever Dave played, the rhythm was right there, solid, and pushed you right out of yourself. I can't say enough about this wonderful man and musician!
Shaw concurs: "Dave was one of the greatest band drummers, ever. Yet despite all the accolades he got from the musicians, fans and writers who knew his capacities, he still was underrated. None of the so-called scholarly books on jazz give Dave his due."
Although he was not known as a bebop drummer himself, he was a fan of bebop, and he admired the drumming of Max Roach. Though not a flashy, crowd-pleasing drummer such as Gene Krupa or Buddy Rich, he was widely admired by other musicians for his taste and subtle rhythmic drive.
He died, aged 41, from cerebral trauma after falling down in a Newark street.
He was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 2000.
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