Regulars at O'Hara's on East Las Olas Boulevard may have noticed that when Danny Burger does a drum solo, he doesn't sound quite like anyone else. It's not merely that he's good -- after all, he's played with some of the biggest names in jazz music, from Dizzy Gillespie to Zoot Sims -- but there's something unusual in his drum rolls, a rising and falling pitch that turns the rhythm into a roller coaster ride.
The secret? It's all in the lungs.
Actually, Burger doesn't keep his technique a secret at all. He's shared it with countless students, bandmates, and friends. He's even devised a name for it.
"I call it a tompani," he says. "Like a cross between a tom-tom and a timpani drum."
Tom-toms are the standard drums found in most drum kits, while timpani are the large kettledrums used primarily by symphony orchestras. With timpani the player can change the pitch by stepping on a pedal that tightens or loosens the drum's head, thereby producing a higher or lower sound.
The so-called tompani, however, is merely a length of nontoxic plumber's tubing Burger purchased at a hardware store. He found exactly the right diameter that fit into the holes (which all drums have to prevent pressure build-up) in his particular set. By blowing into the tubes, Burger can tighten and loosen the heads of his drums, just like a timpani.
"I originally started out just using it as an embellishment," Burger says. "But the more efficient I got, I started doing solos with it."
The tompani hides in a handy little spot right next to Burger's stool. When Burger gets in the mood to use it, he discreetly lifts it to his lips without the audience noticing.
It's a delightful effect: Suddenly Burger's drums become not just rhythmic but melodic. As a musical instrument, the drums usually vary only in degrees of loudness. But Burger has added an extra dimension of actual notes.
"I can play a whole song, like a blues song, if it's in the right key," Burger claims. "I keep my floor tom in G, and that's the basic key for the blues."
As far as Burger knows, there have been only two other drummers in history who have utilized the tube trick: Chuck Morey, who played in a jazz combo with Burger's father during the '50s, and Roy Brooks, a well-known session man from Detroit. Brooks, who was recently profiled in Downbeat magazine, nicknamed his device the Breath-A-Tone.
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"I saw him play with Father Earl Hines in New Orleans, 1969," says Burger. "He still does it."
Burger, now in his late forties, has encouraged plenty of drummers to head to the hardware store for some tubing. Oddly enough, almost no one has followed his advice. "I had one of my old students come up to me once," Burger recalls. "He told me, 'Hey, I stole your idea.' I said, 'Good!'"
Heidi Lee, who plays drums in a couple of local bands, says she's picked up plenty of pointers from Burger but hasn't yet given the tompani a try. "I want to try it," she says shyly. "Just because it's his thing, you know?"
"It's easy," says Burger. "Just plug it in and wail.