All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Serving jazz worldwide since 1995
All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Cymbalism

Don Alias and Miles Davis

By Published: March 21, 2012
It was M'tume, the nephew of the great saxophonist Jimmy Heath
Jimmy Heath
Jimmy Heath
b.1926
sax, tenor
. The drummer was Leon "Ndugu" Chancler, who changed his name to N'dugu. M'tume and N'dugu started to hang out a lot together and between the two of them, developed a kind of racial arrogance. Right away, the drums became a major problem. N'dugu had brought along a Tony William's kind of set; a really small eighteen-inch bass drum. Miles was into his Buddy Miles
Buddy Miles
Buddy Miles
1947 - 2008
drums
sound and was always complaining to N'dugu, trying to get him to take the head off the bass drum and to take off his rings and watch. N'dugu's hair was braided and Miles would say, "Play like your braided hair," because back then, if your hair was braided, you were supposedly really Black.

M'tume just didn't draw from Afro- Cuban or Latino roots in percussion, though he had his own unique sound. Miles wanted both M'tume's sound and mine in his music, so I tried to compliment M'tume's music with my Afro- Cuban roots, but it was sometimes difficult to make the sounds compatible. I really wanted it to work, but it was hard because he had some sort of challenge going on with me. If I mentioned that I was going to play three conga drums, he would arrogantly tell me that was what he was going to do.

During that time, I played conga drums without any small percussion instruments aside from the occasional cowbell, so M'tume and I were really trying to make our conga sounds merge. Later on Miles had Airto Moreira
Airto Moreira
Airto Moreira
b.1941
percussion
, who was one of those percussionists; along with Nana Vasconcelos
Nana Vasconcelos
Nana Vasconcelos
b.1944
percussion
,who was well-schooled in Brazilian hand percussion. They really changed the course of fusion by introducing new textures and sounds to percussion.

On parts of Live/Evil (Columbia, 1971) he used Airto, and I have to say that he was the one who showed hand drummers like me about the small hand percussion and textures. I had shied away from smaller percussion instruments for a long time because I didn't want to deal with it. I was a conga player. For the time being however, M'tume and I were really concentrating on congas. As well, M'tume and N'dugu were really concentrating on being as African as an American could be.

Contrary to certain individual's belief, there are a lot of soulful people of many colors out there who can play percussion and drums. People of Africa and of African descent have a certain indigenous thing that lets us say this in our music, but if you travel the world, you will find out that there are a lot of other people out there that can play our music.

Photo Credits

Page 1, Miles Davis: Anthony Barboza

Page 2, Don Alias: Melanie Futorian


comments powered by Disqus