Jack DeJohnette and Don Alias have a Percussion Discussion, Herbie Hancock’s New Standards band, 1997
Born on August 9, 1942, in Chicago, Illinois, Jack DeJohnette studied classical piano for a decade before taking up the drums as a teenager. An acclaimed percussionist, he has worked with many famous names in jazz, such as John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Esperanza Spalding. DeJohnette received a 2008 Grammy Award and was named a “Jazz Master” by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2012.
Jack DeJohnette was born on August 9, 1942, in Chicago, Illinois. When he was just 4 years old, he began studying the piano; classical piano would take up the next ten years of his life. When he entered his teens, DeJohnette’s musical interests expanded to blues, pop and jazz. It was also while in his teens that DeJohnette started on the drums, the instrument that would define his career.
DeJohnette became part of Chicago’s music scene in the 1960s, through the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and by drumming with John Coltrane. Following a move to New York City in 1966, DeJohnette joined the acclaimed Charles Lloyd Quartet. He stayed with the group until 1968. Between 1969 and 1972, DeJohnette was part of Miles Davis’s fusion band, and was heard on the transformative recording Bitches Brew (1970).
DeJohnette’s first album as a leader, The DeJohnette Complex, came out in 1968. He formed his own groups—such as Directions and Special Edition—in the 1970s, but also continued to work as a sideman. In 1979, DeJohnette received France’s Grand Prix du Disque award.
A defining point of DeJohnette’s career came when he began drumming in a trio with pianist Keith Jarrett and bassist Gary Peacock in the 1980s. This collaboration would continue for decades. However, while DeJohnette may be best known as a drummer, he has played keyboards for many projects over the years, as well as creating his own compositions.
In 2005, as DeJohnette was touring with the Jack DeJohnette Quartet, The New York Times wrote that he was likely “one of the most important musicians in the last 40 years of jazz.” That same year, DeJohnette founded his own record label: Golden Beams Productions. This label released DeJohnette’s Peace Time, which earned him a 2008 Grammy Award for best new age album.
The National Endowment for the Arts named DeJohnette a Jazz Master in 2012, one of the highest honors in his field. Though he could choose to sit back and rest on his laurels, DeJohnette instead remains a productive force in music. He recently collaborated with Bruce Hornsby, Esperanza Spalding and others on Sound Travels(2012), and continues to tour and perform in a variety of venues.
Don Alias, a percussionist who had a long career as a sought-after sideman, working with an illustrious array of artists in jazz and pop including Nina Simone, Miles Davis and Joni Mitchell, died on March 28 at his home in Manhattan. He was 66.
His death was announced by Melanie Futorian, his companion, who said the cause was under investigation.
Born Charles Donald Alias to Caribbean parents in New York, Mr. Alias liked to say that he learned percussion on the streets, picking up the techniques of Cuban and Puerto Rican hand drummers.
While in high school, he enlisted as a conga player with the Eartha Kitt Dance Foundation, which offered classes at a Y.M.C.A. Ms. Kitt herself took him along to the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival, where he performed with the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra, his first professional experience.
At the urging of his family, Mr. Alias (pronounced uh-LIE-ess) studied biology at Gannon College in Erie, Pa., and the Carnegie Institute for Biochemistry in Boston. Playing in Boston clubs by night, he met students from the Berklee School of Music, most notably the bassist Gene Perla.
It was Mr. Perla who got Mr. Alias a job as a drummer with Ms. Simone, even though he had no experience with a full drum kit. He handled the challenge and eventually became Ms. Simone’s musical director. In 1969, his work in her ensemble caught the attention of Miles Davis, who was then developing the hazy jazz-rock that would suffuse his album “Bitches Brew.”
Hired as an auxiliary percussionist for the album, Mr. Alias ended up playing a trap-set part, along with Jack DeJohnette, on the track “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down.” His lean and loosely syncopated beat, inspired by New Orleans parade music, is one of the album’s most distinctive rhythms.
Mr. Alias was the first-call percussionist for a host of other artists as well, including the singer Roberta Flack, the alto saxophonist David Sanborn (with whom he toured as recently as February) and the pianist Herbie Hancock. As a conga player, Mr. Alias could augment a rhythm section in a way that was urgent but never intrusive.