I had a nice conversation with drummer of Robert Barry last night. [October 11, 2010]. He told me that he is now 78 years old and I’ll tell you, for my ears, he is still playing beautifully. I mentioned that I had read the article “Two beats from a different drummer” and that I was particularly interested in Mr. Barry’s take on Ike Day. You might wonder who’s that … Johnny Carson asked Buddy Rich who was the greatest ever and Buddy answered without hesitation “Ike Day.”
I’m 72 and I never had a chance to hear Ike Day, but the legendary drummer’s name was mentioned time and again while I was coming up.
As a youngster Robert Barry actually came in contact with Ike Day’s drumming and it is worth quoting here what he had to say.
SS: Who were some of your inspirations on drums?
RB: I know I heard Max Roach early on. And Baby Dodds and Ike Day, because he lived in the neighborhood. He was a child prodigy. At the age of 12 he was working professionally. He had such a sense of timing; he wouldn’t even need no music. He played in pit bands in downtown Chicago. They would say: “And now we bring to you… Ike Day,” and the other drummer would get up and let him sit down. That was something to behold. He made a drum set sound like there were melodies coming out of it. He had all the coordination. Max would look for him, Jo Jones, Buddy Rich. Everybody knew him: Miles and Sonny Rollins. But he was strung out on heroin, and that’s what took his life. The heroin had weakened his body so much he ended up dying of tuberculosis. He started shooting all that dope and hemorrhaged. He was so weak that when they put him on the operating table, he couldn’t make it. He couldn’t survive the operation.
SS: How old was he?
SS: He and Wilbur used to play together?
RB: Wilbur Ware, yeah they were partners. That’s how they got their dope money. They used to go around and play as a duo. Shit, when they come in, the sets would stop. Wilbur used to sing, and would be playing bass, and a lot of time Ike didn’t even have no drums. He’d just play on the bar, and Wilbur would sing standards or sing the blues. Those two were a phenomenal pair. They’d come in and the band would say, “Ladies and gentlemen, in the house we’ve got the great Wilbur Ware, the great Ike Day — they’re gonna do a number for you.” But all they wanted was to get some dope money. Yeah Wilbur would pass the hat while Ike was playing, they get their money and they gone, gone to cop somewhere.