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Epilogue | Henry Adler

He walked with giants in world of drums

DUNEDIN — His mother would sit him on the kitchen floor, set up a string of pots and pans and hand over a wooden spoon.

Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang!

When he heard songs on the radio, he tapped his fingers in time. As a boy, he went to New York's Edison Hotel and watched the entertainers play, studying their motions.

Soon, his father bought him his very own drum. By age 15, he played regularly in nightclubs with big bands. He was still largely untrained, but he just had it.

And so, Henry Adler became a household name.

• • •

Mr. Adler — a renowned musician, teacher and inventor of the Adler method of drumming — died Tuesday in Dunedin after battling congestive heart failure. He was 93.

His list of famous friends was a musician's dream: Wingy Manone, Joe Marsala, Louis Prima, Larry Clinton, Roy Burns. He was close friends with Buddy Rich, often called the world's greatest drummer.

Mr. Adler lived most of his life in New York and New Jersey. He married in 1941 and put his performing career to the side. The thought of taking his new wife, Yolanda, on the road while he performed in clubs was unappealing.

In Times Square, he ran an elite music school and store. Top musicians hung out there, shooting the breeze and munching on chopped liver, lox and coleslaw with Mr. Adler.

His sense of humor was playful — he'd do impressions of musicians and drum on his belly. But he was passionate about teaching and could be fussy and particular, his daughter said. He wanted his students to strive for greatness.

"I remember my dad saying, 'It's not just the talent,' " said his daughter, Karen Brocklehurst. "You need to work, because lots of people have talent. If you're not willing to do the work, you're never going to make it the music business. But, boy, did they love him because he changed people's lives. He gave them direction."

Jim Petercsak, now a professor at the Crane School of Music at the State University of New York at Potsdam, trained with Mr. Adler in the 1950s. His teacher gave him a little gold pin with the Henry Adler logo — the "H" was made of drumsticks.

"At that particular time, Henry would charge $10 a lesson," said Petercsak. "It wasn't cheap. But you'd pay him $10 and he'd take you out to lunch and spend $15."

He studied the science of the wrist, fingers and arms and developed his own technique for drumming, which people still use today. He got frustrated when he saw drummers throw their entire bodies into playing, winding up exhausted. It's possible to control yourself, he believed.

"He had a system he taught, a very rigorous technical system that made people very proficient," said Petercsak. "If you studied with Henry, most people came out with a system that gave them good hands."

He ran two publishing companies and created a line of musical instruction books, including one co-authored with Buddy Rich. He was inducted into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame and posed for a photo next to Ringo Starr.

Mr. Adler stopped teaching eight years ago when he moved to Dunedin to be with his daughter. He lived quietly, but reporters and drum enthusiasts tracked him down. He was happy to chat.

He still got letters in the mail from would-be drummers. They needed his advice.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at or (727) 893-8857.


Henry Adler

Born: June 28, 1915.

Died: Sept. 30, 2008.

Survivors: daughters, Valerie Capetta and her husband, Ernest, Karen Brocklehurst; grandchildren, Gary, Jeffrey and Amy. Predeceased by wife, Yolanda.

He walked with giants in world of drums 10/04/08 [Last modified: Saturday, October 4, 2008 8:11pm]
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