“He was a musical prophet created by the people, not one imposing himself on them in pursuit of stardom, but having it thrust upon him. Drummond observed their tribulations and aspirations then reshaped them into a blues allegory reflected through his compositions and plaintive trombone tone.”
With this quote from musicologist Herbie Miller, we make an attempt to rise up the musical legacy of Jamaican trombonist Don Drummond.
Don Drummond, aka Don Cosmic, was born in 1932, Kingston, Jamaica. To state anything more than that, would be a travesty. Apart from the fact that like all legends, nothing seems to known about his early days, men like Don D are just here for a short while, then gone…
Don Drummond was a part-time music teacher at Alpha School, a rather strict Catholic school for boys who were nearly all from poor, underprivileged backgrounds. Alpha veered towards the European musical tradition of marching and classical music. Don D graduated from being one of the schools top seniors, to its supreme tutor.
In 1940's Jamaica, big band swing and jazz ruled, and the starting place for musicians was the Eric Dean Orchestra. Drummond joined them in 1955 having been voted Best Trombonist in 1954, and then formed The Don Drummond Four. He was also cutting specials for sound systems before being spotted by Clement 'Coxone' Dodd, performing at the Majestic Theatre.
Drummond had just completed one of his many short visits to one of the local mental hospitals, and didn’t even own a trombone, but Coxone was impressed enough to take Drummond on him as a solo artist and session player. In the meantime, the specials Drummond had previously cut were starting to be released commercially in Jamaica and England to critical acclaim. Drummond started his recording career sometime around 1956, with his first record being "On the Beach" with Owen Grey on vocals.
In 1962, Chris Blackwell started releasing recordings in England, and many of Drummond’s compositions first saw the light of day on the Island and Black Swan labels. In 1964, under Coxsone's supervision, keyboardist and musical director Jackie Mittoo began to assemble the best musicians in Jamaica to create a sound that would dominate the music scene for years to come. The seeds for the Skatalites were sown while Mittoo played in the Sheiks, alongside Johnny Moore (trumpet) and Lloyd Knibbs on drums. Drummond was the man Mittoo turned to, and he quickly became the most prolific composer and musician in the band. The Skalites would go on to be a who’s who of Jamaican musicians including the great Rico Rodriguez.