Bringing Back the Beat

Ever heard of syncopated drumming? Well, that may soon change due to the efforts of one former Long Beach drummer.


Syncopated drumming is a form of simplistic rhythm drumming that was popularized in Long Beach in the 1950s and 1960s. Now, the old parade-style of drumming that school and local bands played over 50 years ago is slowly disappearing, but one musician is keeping it alive from 980 miles away.

“As I got older and moved away, I realized that’s a very special sound to that city,” says Greg Odell about syncopated drumming. “Nobody else is doing that quite like Long Beach does.”

Odell, who was born and raised in Long Beach has played since he was a youngster.

He says John Bonham, Led Zeppelin’s drummer, was one of his favorite artists. Bonham had a “heavy-sounded” drum set. Now, Odell listens to more jazz and artists in that genre like Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane.

Odell was a drummer in Wilson High School’s band and graduated in 1987. He moved to Portland, Oregon in 1994 and says he was missing the sound he grew up with in Long Beach. So he founded The Society for Syncopated Drumming.

He says the society was formed because he realized that syncopated drumming was not being taught to the new generation of drummers in Long Beach.

- Photo courtesy Greg Odell

– Photo courtesy Greg Odell

“[We want] to preserve and promote this dying art form,” he says. “We do this by supporting reunion groups [in Long Beach] and offering knowledge of this art form to young musicians.”

Although miles away, Odell reaches out to reunion groups, music instructors in middle schools and high schools and new groups wanting to learn about this style of drumming via email and Skype.

An upcoming event on behalf of the society will be a four-hour clinic for Wilson High School band members free of charge on August 12 at Wilson from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Odell and his partners have already provided the students with music cadences from Wilson’s old music.

Besides hosting special events such as the upcoming clinic, the society supports Long Beach groups in other ways. The society loans out equipment, gives instructors educational information and makes videos showing choreography techniques and training videos, too.

“As far as the videos go, that’s something we have done on our dime,” says Odell on not charging the instructors or groups for the videos they make for them. “We don’t have a lot of money, but we do have a lot of creativity.”

He says what is most important at this moment is doing what they can to help kids who are drummers know how to play and have their performances ready.

Odell has manifested his passion for syncopated drumming in another group. He formed The Last Regiment of Syncopated Drummers in 1998 in Portland. Although, he makes his efforts to keep this style going in Long Beach, he also makes the same effort in his current residence.

The Last Regiment has performed the halftime show for the Portland Trail Blazers and performed at past Pride parades in San Francisco among other events.

As Odell thinks about his favorite drum solo, he lets out a laugh. Buddy Rich was his answer.

“He’s just an amazing drummer to watch,” he says. “I’m impressed by his skill and dexterity on the drums.”

Odell is a musician who has dedicated his life to making music, specifically syncopated drumming, thrive. Whether he is bringing back old style drumming to his hometown or playing with his regiment, he is one drummer who definitely plays by his own beat.

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