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Jazz Drummer Specs Powell Dead of Kidney Disease at 85


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SAN DIEGO--Jazz drummer Gordon “Specs" Powell, who recorded with Billie Holiday and played for “The Ed Sullivan Show" as part of the CBS network orchestra, has died of complications from kidney disease. He was 85.

Powell, who also had heart trouble, died Saturday at a care center near his home in the northern San Diego County suburb of San Marcos, according to his son.

Powell began his career doubling as a pianist, but rose to fame as a drummer during the swing era and became a fixture on the 52nd Street jazz scene in New York.

In 1943, he was hired by CBS, becoming one of the first black musicians to play for a national network.

“He made sure he worked harder than anyone else, he was always prepared, he went to all of his sessions--he called them dates--in suits, impeccably dressed," said his son, Ted Smith. “It was never a bad day for him, and if it was, he wasn't going to let it show."

Powell was a versatile percussionist who carried a kit filled with castanets, clickers and other noisemakers he referred to as his “bag of tricks."

The demands of the Sullivan show prompted him to ask instrument maker Martin Cohen to invent a stand that would allow him to play his bongo drums standing up, instead of slowing down to settle them between his knees.


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