Gary Chester

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Gary Chester
Birth name Cesario Gurciullo
Born (1924-10-27)October 27, 1924
Died August 17, 1987(1987-08-17)
Genres Pop, rock, rhythm and blues
Occupation(s) Drummer, session musician, drum instructor
Instruments Drums, percussion

Gary Chester (born Cesario Gurciullo, October 27, 1924 – August 17, 1987) was a studio drummer. According to The Complete Idiot's Guide To Playing Drums, "When talking about the great studio drummers, Gary Chester deserves a place near the top of the list."[1] His work appears on thousands of tracks, including hundreds of hit records from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. He logged over 15,000 studio sessions over three decades.[2]

Chester occupied the same position of studio prominence on the East Coast recording scene that Hal Blaine did on the West Coast,[3][4] and had the musical abilities and creative spirit to roll with all the changes in popular music flow that happened during his lifetime. Beginning with doo-wop and rhythm and blues recordings, Chester also showed a great knack for rock, folk rock, rockabilly, and pop. In 1970-1971, Chester was the Musical Contractor for the Broadway musical production of Purlie.[5] In 1964, Gary formed a group, 'Gary Chester and the Beatle Beat' which released its only album entitled Yeah, Yeah, Yeah! consisting of a dozen Beatles' cover songs.


Born in Siracusa, Italy, Chester's first successful recording session was to replace a studio drummer. He repeated his success with artists on songs that are considered to be hits, to the extent that Eugene Chadbourne has advocated the renaming of the "oldies" radio station format to "Gary Chester radio."[2]

As a result of Chester's work and instruction, a pro studio drummer can play well in any requested musical genres. In the studio, a drummer will often be given a sheet of music to read with one or two words describing the style. From this basic information, an accomplished drummer will understand the groove and feel of the song. Some of today's most famous studio drummers are renowned for their ability to adapt to any style of music.[citation needed]

As his reputation grew, Gary became a respected teacher, with drummers searching out his expertise and demanding techniques. His drumming systems have been used and endorsed by drummers such as Kenny Aronoff, "Gary Gibbons". , Danny Gottlieb,[6] Max Weinberg, Chris Adams, Tico Torres, Lindy Morrison, and Dave Weckl, each having studied under Gary.[citation needed]

His daughter Katrina Chester, is a rock and roll singer.

Instruction technique[edit]


Chester devised a system involving internalized patterns employing a drum 'melody' in an attempt to expand drummers' coordination and groove ability. His use of the ostinato[7][8] figure employed more than repetition; he created drum melodies for a song with variation and development of the drum phrase or motif using the entire drum kit. He advocated alternating an ostinato line to fit changing harmonies or keys to enhance the song. Chester's system also taught how to set up an ostinato with one limb or more and playing freely with the remaining limbs, allowing one drummer to sound like a small percussion section.[9]

Ambidexterity and rhythmic vocalization[edit]

Chester focused on teaching skills like creativity, improvisation, four-limb independence and ambidexterity, cross-dominance, playing solid time, alignment of limbs, and making an independent contribution to the song while playing to match the song rather than playing to show off. For example, his instructional techniques included learning to overcome their natural handedness (or laterality) by playing both right-handed and left-handed. This offered the studio pro greater flexibility, smoother groove transition, and a more complex, unbroken riff or fill. This ambidexterity also permitted the drummer to switch the ostinato from right-to-left or vice versa, thereby letting the free hand (or foot) develop a richer drum melody. One additional benefit was more open handed drumming which increases hand mobility around the set as the drummer does not need to cross and uncross his or her arms as often.[citation needed]

The core concept of Chester's New Breed instruction style was five-way independence. The student was given a system (three parts of a rhythm) and was required to play a written melody with the fourth limb. Chester also taught his students to "sing" each part that each limb played (rhythmic vocalization) while drumming to "train your ears to accept and understand what you’re doing." While coordinating and reading, the student would also be required to sing the quarter note, back beat, up beat and the melody for each system. Once the student performed each two page written melody and sang four different parts, he/she was required to play the same exercise with a left hand lead. Here, countless new rhythms were played, read, coordinated in time to a metronome, while singing.[10] As a result of Chester's instructional techniques, the student would: (a) Develop independent four-way coordination; (b) Master sight reading ability and note recognition (c) Left hand would now be able to play ride patterns (d) Control time keeping through metronome and singing (by singing the quarter note, one could always play in time) (e) By gaining the ability to play and sing the melodies written, the student enhanced creativity and musicianship. If one could play what he/she sang, all playing situations became a breeze.[10]

Published literature[edit]

Famous American jazz drummer Louis Bellson said of Gary's first drumming book published by Modern Drummer Publications, New Breed: "A classic!" "An original that uses an approach found in no other book!" "He wrote the book on drumming!"[11]

  • New Breed
  • New Breed II

Selected discography[edit]


  1. ^ "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Playing Drums, 2nd edition". Retrieved 2007-11-19. 
  2. ^ a b Chadbourne, Eugene. "Gary Chester". Retrieved 2011-10-09. 
  3. ^ "Gary Chester". Drummerworld. Retrieved 2011-10-09. 
  4. ^ Firth, Vic. ""Idiots Guide to Drumming." p.228". Retrieved 2011-10-09. 
  5. ^ "Internet Broadway Database: Purlie Production Credits". Retrieved 2011-10-09. 
  6. ^ "Danny Gottlieb: Teaching". Danny Gottlieb website. Retrieved 2007-11-19. 
  7. ^ "Glossary & Dictionary". Drummer Cafe. Retrieved 2011-10-09. 
  8. ^ "Improvisation and the Classical Musician: Groovy, Baby . . . (Ostinatos, Part I)". 2006-04-20. Retrieved 2011-10-09. 
  9. ^ "What is an ostinato?". Retrieved 2011-10-09. 
  10. ^ a b RhythmTech School of Drums - About
  11. ^ "Books and Library Index List Details: Modern Drummer 13 February 2008". Retrieved 2011-10-09. 
  12. ^

External links[edit]