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.
Sonny Greer was born on December 13, 1895 in Long Branch, New Jersey. He played with Elmer Snowden’s band and the Howard Theatre Orchestra in Washington, D.C. before joining Duke Ellington, whom he met in 1919. He was Ellington’s first drummer, playing with his quintet, the Washingtonians, before moving with Ellington into the Cotton Club.
As a result of his job as a designer with the Leedy Drum Company of Indiana, Greer was able to build up a huge drum kit worth over a considerable $3,000 at the time, including chimes, a gong, timpani, and vibes.
A heavy drinker and a pool-hall hustler, often needing to retrieve his drums from the pawnbroker, in 1950 Ellington responded to his drinking and occasional unreliability by taking a second drummer, Butch Ballard, with them on a tour of Scandinavia. Sonny became enraged and the subsequent argument led to their permanent estrangement.
Greer continued to play, mainly as a freelance drummer, working with musicians such as Johnny Hodges, Red Allen, J. C. Higginbotham, Tyree Glenn, and Brooks Kerr. He appeared in films, briefly led his own band and never recorded as a leader. He was part of a tribute to Ellington in 1974, which achieved great success throughout the United States.
Drummer, percussionist and vocalist Sonny Greer passed away on March 23, in 1982.
There is a reason for cover art. It speaks in silence for the artist. Thus, the listener should take a moment to immerse him/herself to visually understand the message the artist is attempting to convey. What I found in the artwork was a mini story of the instrumental journey from boyhood to arrive with a full arsenal by manhood. I realized I was viewing the preface of what was to come. Aptly titled The Saga, I knew a journey had taken place to get to this point as I inserted the disc into my computer. What I heard was an unexpected voice of a young man who had traveled far beyond his musical prowess. I was immediately reminded of Herman Hesse and Siddhartha’s sojourn, who left home to discover life through the lens of the world, only to return with greater self-awareness and peace.
To say he is compelling storyteller falls short of the message his music delivers. He is a messenger, come from a long line of griots who has given voice to a generation that unwillingly is forced to take the baton as have generations before him. From deep in the Louisiana culture you will hear the Second Line and rhythm and blues influences in his music. The very first drumbeat of Parallel sets the tone for his acknowledgement of the turbulent ecological and racial times the country is in. I am hearing the protest songs of the Sixties expressed in a rap delivered by Dashill Smith.
Blueprint delivers another message and eases us into a zone where discomfort is our journey foretelling, through the voice of Allana Hudson, the lies to humanity that contradict our ancestor’s wisdom. A fusion of sound that is ethereal beckons us forward in Tabula Rava, reminiscent of Mahavishnu, Santana, Zawinul and Return to Forever. Beginning with an Eastern calling and announcement of something majestic approaching, it builds to a cacophonous revelry in the spirit. It’s like witnessing something for the very first time that takes your breathe away or gives you pause. That tingly feeling of excitement that leaves you fulfilled for that brief moment in time. In The Saga is the journey of ups and downs, loves and loss, in the varied experiences that greet us along the way.
In Madeira there is settledness I hear when one finds a space that is easy and comfortable. This is where find solace With A Peace Of Mind that remains constant throughout our lives if we only allow it. Sharynwood Drive is my return home with all that has been discovered and learned, to be passed on to a new generation of explorers.
The Saga is a simple story told through the complexities of the music. The voices used to tell his story vary in emotion but the message is consistent. Listen carefully and you will see he has taken on a journey through the history of jazz, incorporating his youthful sensibilities within the standard language of jazz. One can feel the pulse of the music and there is beauty in the nuances throughout with the able assistance of his 11 accomplices. This was my musical journey with this young man of infinite wisdom, yet to be fully unleashed upon the world.
For those legions of jazz enthusiasts following the music trends, we await patiently for each decade to spew forth those chosen few who will humbly add their talent to the lexicon of the music. We guard the bastion for the rise of the exceptional to step forth onto the global stage. To our delight, our stalwart diligence has revealed just such a young man from amongst his peers. Hailing out of the birthplace of jazz, the name is familiar to us. It is Guerin… Morgan Guerin.
His Instruments: Drums, Alto & Tenor Saxophones, Piano, Fender Rhodes, EWI, EWI Vocoder, Organ, Flute, Moog Bass and Percussion.
The Band: Curtis Olawumi/flugelhorn, Daniel Wytanis/Trombone, Grace Sommer/violin, Julius Rodriguez/organ, Roland Guerin/electric bass, Paul “PapaBear” Johnson/electric bass, Risa Pearl/vocal, Dashill Smith/rap, Allana Hudson/spoken word, Patrick Arthur/electric & acoustic guitar, Brandon Boone/electric & upright bass.
Carl Anthony / Notorious Jazz / September 7, 2016
Emil Richards was born Emilio Joseph Radocchia on September 2, 1932 in Hartford, Connecticut. He began playing the xylophone at age six and went on to graduate from the Julius Hartt School of Music. He took private lessons from Asher George Zlotnik and performed with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and with various jazz musicians in New England.
After serving as Assistant Band Leader of the First Cavalry Army Band for two years, his career took off. He became first call percussionists for jazz, rock and other popular music as well as performing on countless movie and television soundtracks.
In 1954 Emil moved to New York City and played jazz gigs with Charles Mingus, Ed Shaughnessy and Ed Thigpen, while doing studio recordings for artists such as Perry Como, the Ray Charles Singers and Mitch Aires. In 1955 Emil joined the George Shearing Quintet and stayed with the group for over four years, playing 51 weeks a year.
1959 saw Richards settling in Los Angeles,California and working with the Paul Horn Quintet, Jimmy Witherspoon, the Shorty Rogers Big Band, Don Ellis, Lalo Schifrin, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Kenton, Shelly Manne, Alphonse Mouzon, Dakota Staton, Gábor Szabó, Lenny Bruce and Lord Buckley. He also recorded with Frank Sinatra, Nelson Riddle, Judy Garland, Sarah Vaughan and Doris Day. In 1962, in response to a request from President John F. Kennedy, he and a small jazz combo joined Sinatra on a tour around the world for the benefit of underprivileged children.
He would go on to work with Harry Partch, go on a world tour, then return to Los Angeles to perform and record with among others the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, Bing Crosby and Nat Cole, Frank Zappa’s Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Symphony Orchestra. He also worked on film scores for Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, Henry Mancini, Elmer Bernstein, Johnny Mandel, Quincy Jones, Oliver Nelson, Neal Hefti, Lalo Schifrin, Dave Grusin, Michel Legrand, Alex North and Bill Conti, to name a few.
Emil began collecting ethnic percussion instruments that became so diverse and expansive that is became known as the Emil Richards Collection. Having served several terms on the Board of Directors for the Percussive Arts Society, and donating the largest single-donor collection of instruments to the society museum, he directed the sale of part of the collection to be sold to the L.A. Percussion Rentals so that the instruments continue to be heard.
Percussionist Emil Richards remains active in Musicians’ Union Local 47 as part of their campaign to get musicians credited in the film industry.
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Peter Michael Escovedo was born on July 13, 1935 in Pittsburg, California of Mexican heritage. With his two brothers, he formed the Escovedo Brothers Latin Jazz Sextet, before Santana hired him and his brother Coke to play in his band.
Long well known on the San Francisco Bay Area music scene for several decades, in 2002 Pete made a notable national television appearance on the “By the Hand of the Father” episode of the PBS Austin City Limits program. He would go on to lead the 14-24 piece Latin big band Azteca.
Escovedo, along with his sons Juan and Peter Michael recorded with Latin Rock group El Chicano and their 3 piece percussion is featured on the studio album.
Percussionist Pete Escovedo has recorded eleven albums as a leader for Concords Jazz, Crossover and Picante labels, Fantasy and EsGo/Fantasy. He continues to tour, perform and record Latin Jazz at 80 years old.
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