Celebrity
Sammy Davis Jr. shows off his underrated drumming chops in rare jazz performance
Even if he's mostly known as a singer, this rare performance shows some of his many other talents!
Amy Hornsby
02.12.20

Sammy Davis Jr. might be known as one of the singers from the Rat Pack, but singing wasn’t all he could do.

In a video that has gained almost 1.5 million views on YouTube, Davis Jr. also showed off the diversity of his musical talent on a recently unearthed episode of the Ed Sullivan show.

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The episode, which first aired in 1963, is an eye-opening introduction for many people to the wealth of Davis Jr.’s talent. After Ed Sullivan introduces him, he appears with his band and explains he will begin with a different kind of performance:

“These are my guys, who I work with all the time…that travel on the road with me. I asked Mr. Sullivan if we could do the kind of thing that we do on a nightclub or in theaters, when we’re doing variety and that is—can I join you guys?”

He motions to his bandmates, indicating that he would be sampling some of the on-stage instruments instead of his usual microphone at the front of the stage.

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He jokes around with the pianist, saying:

“What do you mean, shaking your head? You done forgot who your leader is? Sinatra might be my leader, but I’m your leader.”

He gets a laugh from the audience as he references renowned singer Frank Sinatra, another member of the Rat Pack. Though the line-up of the infamous Rat Pack changed many times over the years (and while its original leader was Humphrey Bogart), the most well-known ensemble was led by Sinatra. With the other four members—Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop—often appeared in movies and live acts together, they each had their own separate careers as well.

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Davis Jr. references the fact that Sinatra was the main figure of the quintet, despite what we come to learn about Davis Jr. himself having extraordinary talent that many have since argued surpassed Sinatra’s.

He then sits at the drumkit and the band starts to play together.

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In keeping with the way the band usually plays on the road, the musicians jam together with ease and familiarity, with the camera focusing on Davis Jr. on the drums. Although the drums are usually a background instrument to keep time, with Davis Jr. at the helm, it’s like he’s leading the piece, creating and steering the rhythm as he shows adeptness for the instrument.

YouTube commenters remarked on just how natural he seemed on the drums:

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“The best part is he’s having the time of his life too, effortless.”

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“Gosh Sammy was multitalented. He could act, dance, tap dance, sing, play different instruments, host. He was very multitalented. None of his friends could hold a candle to him. I loved Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin but they were not as talented as Sammy.”

When the rhythm changes, Davis Jr. takes a few beats to change from sticks to brushes, then continues playing the drum on brushes with a gentle, piano-led jazz tune.

As the piano and the rest of the band continues, he casually gets up from the drum kit and heads over to the vibraphone where he adds another layer to the piece. His mood is one of complete enjoyment and relaxation.

On the vibraphone, he stuns the audience once more!

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After starting up a melody on the vibraphone, he yells out “let’s go Ray!” and the trumpet player joins in on the melody.

What we see is not only a multi-talented musician, but one who loves what he does.

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As a black performer in the 30s all the way up to the time of his death in 1990, Davis Jr.’s career was not always as easy as other musicians. When asked about his handicap in a game of golf, he famously replied: “Handicap? Talk about handicap—I’m a one-eyed Negro Jew.”

In the comments below the video, people remarked on his quiet genius:

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“The most talented member of the rat pack by far.”

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“Remember when celebrities had to be good at something to be a celebrity?”

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“Back when stars weren’t a by-product of marketing and auto-tune.”

Check out the full performance in the video below!

Please SHARE this with your friends and family.

Sources: YouTube/tony genovese, Wikipedia

By Amy Hornsby
hi@sbly.com
Amy Hornsby is a contributor at SBLY Media.
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