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Alphonse Mouzon: From Charleston Heights to Bel Air

By Published: October 1, 2008
Not long after arriving in New York, Mouzon took drum lessons from Billy Taylor's drummer, Bobby Thomas. "Bobby recommended me, when I was nineteen, for [the Broadway show] Promises, Promises. Bobby took me under his wing, and he was a good friend of Wayne [Shorter]. So when Wayne was doing his record The Odyssey of Iska (Blue Note, 1970), Bobby recommended me. So Promises, Promises led to Wayne Shorter, and Wayne Shorter led to Weather Report. But, before we got to Weather Report, I was at the Apollo Theater and Joe Zawinul was playing with Cannonball Adderley, whom I had met in 1966." Shortly after meeting one another, Zawinul and Mouzon made a recording with folk singer Tim Hardin called Bird On A Wire (Columbia, 1970). "And right after that we went to Columbia with Weather Report. I was twenty-one years old."

Mouzon spent much of the 1970s as a member of guitarist Larry Coryell's fusion band Eleventh House, with whom he recorded a number of exceptional albums. During this period, he also recorded several very successful R&B/dance albums, a genre which he would like to revisit with a future recording.

The 1980s found Mouzon recording and performing with the likes of Freddie Hubbard, Michael Brecker, Hubert Laws and Herbie Hancock. In the 1990s, he recorded the soundtrack album Dingo (Warner Bros., 1990) with Michel Legrand and Miles Davis. Mouzon originally met Davis during the 1960s while playing with the McCoy Tyner band. "I had met Miles Davis' girlfriend. But I didn't know she was his girlfriend. I gave her my card and told her I was playing this weekend at the Village Vanguard with McCoy Tyner. She says, 'Oh yeah, me and my old man are comin' out.' That Friday I'm playing and I look from the stage and I see this girl walking down. And I say 'Oh, there's that girl I met. ...Who's that behind her?' Oh my goodness! He was on crutches, because he had just wrecked one of his Ferraris. It was Miles Davis. And they came all the way around and sat at the booth, three feet away from my drums. And Miles started hitting my bass drum with his crutches. He was loving what I was doing, and the way I was dressed. I was always dressing 'Hollywood' with platform shoes, jewelry, and all the scarves. [chuckles] Like a cool, upscale hippie, you know. Afterwards he wanted to trade me for Al Foster." Mouzon told Davis he would have to think about it. "[Miles] was like a vampire. I thought he was going to 'woo' me, and I'd say 'I can't resist him.' But I fought him off. I couldn't do that to McCoy."

Alphonse MouzonIn 1992, Mouzon formed his own record company Tenacious Records, through which he has produced and marketed many of his subsequent recordings. Because he objects to the piecemeal method of selling music through downloads on the Internet, Mouzon prefers to maintain control over his projects. He views his albums as single integral units. "I look at my music as film, as a movie. You don't take little snippets out. You buy the whole movie. You don't download a scene. I don't like that." CDs purchased through Tenacious Records are each individually autographed by Mouzon before shipping, as a show of gratitude for purchasing the entire recording. Interestingly, in 2006 Mouzon also started his own film company, Tenacious Films, which produces documentaries and independent films.

The new millennium has seen no slowdown by this versatile and talented performer. After the success of Jazz in Bel-Air, a new recording is already in process. Mouzon's next album will be entitled Angel Face and will feature his twelve-year-old daughter Emma as vocalist. "I had her overdub four more harmonies, so she's singing a five part harmony. It sounds like a female version of Take 6." Mouzon has high expectations for the album. "That's going to be my Grammy. I have Kenny Baron on it, and Cedar Walton, great piano players. I have Arturo Sandoval, Wallace Roney, and Shunzo Ono playing trumpet, Ernie Watts, Antoine Roney, and Bob Mintzer [on sax], Christian McBride and Henry "The Skipper" Franklin on bass. I play drums and piano. And I play trumpet on one cut."

Mouzon continues to tour and play high profile live performances. "August the 4th [2008], was a historical moment. We played before 15,000 people when we did a double bill as the Eleventh House. We got Wallace Roney replacing Randy Brecker, and we brought in Julian Coryell, Larry's son, playing guitar. Excellent guitarist. And we had Victor Bailey from Weather Report, on bass. We opened for Return to Forever. So Stanley [Clarke], Chick Corea, and Al Di Meola. It was good to see Al again, and Lenny of course, Lenny White. We got the band together and did a double bill. It was awesome."

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