Charles “Don” Alias was born on December 25, 1939 in Harlem, New York City, the son of Caribbean immigrants. Absorbing the lessons of neighborhood Cuban and Puerto Rican hand drummers, while in high school he played conga with the Eartha Kitt Dance Foundation, and in 1957 accompanied the singer at the Newport Jazz Festival.
Mothballing his musical career to study biology at Erie, Pennsylvania’s Cannon College, he followed those studies with a stint at Boston’s Carnegie Institute for Biochemistry. While there Alias regularly moonlighted at local clubs in the company of students of the nearby Berklee School of Music, among them conguero Bill Fitch and bassist Gene Perla, and played bass in a short-lived trio featuring Chick Corea on guitar and Tony Williams on drums.
When Perla landed a gig with Nina Simone, he convinced the singer to hire Alias to assume drumming duties. By the end of his three-year residency he was serving as musical director, and eventually captured the attention of Miles Davis, with whom Simone regularly shared festival bills. He would go on to record four albums with Miles Davis including sitting in to play the drums on the recording of Miles Runs the Voodoo Down on the album Bitches Brew in 1969, when neither Lenny White nor Jack DeJohnette were able to play the marching band-inspired rhythm.
Settling back in New York City in the late Seventies he along with Gene Perla formed the Afro-Cuban fusion group Stone Alliance, which would be resurrected in 1980 with pianist Kenny Kirkland and tenor saxophonist Bob Mintzer. Performing on hundreds of recording sessions, he can be heard playing with Carla Bley, Uri Caine, Jack DeJohnette, Roberta Flack, Joe Farrell, Dan Fogelberg, Bill Frisell, Hal Galper, Kenny Garrett, Herbie Hancock, Elvin Jones, Joe Lovano, David Sanborn, Philip Bailey, Joni Mitchell, Jaco Pastorius, Carlos Santana, John McLaughlin, Lalo Schifrin, Nina Simone, Steve Swallow, the Brecker Brothers, James Taylor, Weather Report, Lou Reed, Blood Sweat & Tears, Pat Metheny, Don Grolnick Group and Jaco Pastorius, on the short list.
Percussionist Don Alias, best known for playing congas and other hand drums, but was also a capable drum kit performer, passed away suddenly in his Manhattan home on March 29, 2006 in New York City.