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Don Cosmic Drummond
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Time Zone:EST (New York, Toronto)
Messenger: Ras KebreAB
8/5/2009 3:11:25 AM
In Memory of a true musical genius, and my personal musical hero.
The great Don "De Lion" Drummond.
The musical legacy of Don Drummond by Joseph Carney.
Don Drummond leaned forward in his chair.
His trombone rested, for the moment, balanced in between his stiffening thighs and the wooden floor strewn with cheap rugs. He ran his right index and middle fingers back and forth in a perfect semi-circle through the space between his throat and the collar of his well recognized, turtleneck sweater. He twisted his head, left and right, in perfect counter rhythm to this ventilating hook, and embraced the slow, cooling, pause that it delivered. Looking out across the modest expanse of Studio One’s recording chamber, he could see, on this warm Kingston July day in 1964, a staggering collection of musical talent that would go on to advance Jamaican (and in turn, all) music to epic heights.
Only just into his twenties, he was already a giant among aspiring giants.
Who were the other giants in the room?
Along with sound system champion and visionary producer Coxsone, the rest of the newly dubbed Skatalites readied their instruments. Lloyd Knibbs, drums; Lloyd Brevett, bass; Jerome “Jah Jerry” Haines, guitar; Jackie Mittoo, piano; Roland Alphonso and Tommy McCook, tenor saxes; “Dizzy” Johnny Moore, trumpet; and Dennis “Ska” Campbell, baritone sax. On vocals were the lovely Beverly Kelso and the distinguished firm of Braithwaite, Livingston, and McIntosh. The last three Wailers would eventually be better known as Junior, Bunny, and Tosh.
He exhaled and unconsciously tapped his right foot up and down as the session’s lead vocalist stepped up to the microphone.
Robert Nesta Marley was ready to take a pass through “Simmer Down.”
Contrary to the song’s title, Don felt the heat recollecting itself under his turtleneck.
A still deeper fire burned far below his comfortably worn garment.
His heart, his head, and his very soul were all flicked by the flames of a great “pressure reach.”
In a few months, there would be the conflagration that would be the end of Don Drummond.
By 1965, Don Drummond would look back at this and other such days of speed from the tortuously, slowed purgatory of the Bellevue mental asylum - as a convicted murderer.
Held responsible for the horrific stabbing death of his girlfriend, dancer and singer, Anita “Margarita” Mahfood, Don Drummond would die behind those bars and locks in 1969.
The authorities would claim suicide. Most would reason that it was yet another murder. From this final bloody mess, Don Drummond’s music would live on.
Don Drummond was born in 1943 in Kingston. Rough circumstances led him to the famous Alpha School of West Kingston before the time he was ten.
Alpha was named correctly, as the premier bastion of strictness. It was a truly tough reform school run by nuns with surprising resources. Along with schoolwork and prayer (and beatings) music was emphasized as the chosen method of rehabilitation.
Don Drummond became an excellent trombone student. So quick was his development in both orchestra and marching band settings, that soon he would be asked to become a young instructor and would be regarded by most as a master
The timeline of his career in and out of Alpha is stunning. He was gigging in clubs by age eleven. He backed touring jazz greats like Sarah Vaughn and George Shearing by the time he hit his teens. More gigs, local tours, and even recording followed for the star teen.
In Don Drummond’s education at The Alpha School and his early public career, three strong factors emerge that would shape his work and eventual influence.
First, he was educated with technical precision.
Second, he was bathed in the wellspring of jazz.
Third, painfully, some of these jazz gigs, at harshly segregated places like Kingston’s Colony Club, would also combine with his Alpha days and home life to fuel an intense hatred of white authority and of whites.
Hate, always a burden, led to even more mental instability. Trips to the sanitarium became mile markers on the young man’s journey.
Still, as Don Drummond’s career continued to flourish, his mates in both jazz and ska grew to accept and work with Don’s stays in the hospital.
McCook elaborates “We were playing without Don on a number of occasions when he was in Bellevue, but he was always able to come out periodically and join the group for recordings and play with the band.”
Don Drummond worked through an obviously huge amount of pain. The pain’s reoccurrence and frequency (and failure to cease) seem to place him not just in the angry young man sect of his generation’s group of artists yet also in the most tragic group of post colonial affliction.
All throughout the twentieth century Caribbean, where one race was relentlessly barraged with the brainwashing message of their own inferiority, “schizophrenia among the black urban poor was rampant.”
It was seldom diagnosed medically, however, and the victim was instead locked up or cast out of the community. In the case of a uniquely talented musician like Don, the locks were never permanent and the community – musical peers – helped hold him up
what makes Don Drummond (or any horn player) great ?
This would have to be tone. Sliding, literally, from the shape shifting brass trombone, as it did, Don Drummond was able to call forth something both strong and tender. He made the trombone a voice of nuance, capable of rallying out and out celebration (“Independence Ska”, “Lucky Seven”) and referencing plaintive, even mournful, reflection (“Addis Ababa”, “Eastern Standard Time.”
In the land of wood and water, it was the hills. Don Drummond, a singularly gifted talent, a technically schooled craftsman, angry young man, jazzer, mental patient, tone explorer, dance man, and composer, drifted into the hills of Wareika.
The pure music of the Rasta had called. He had listened and embraced it.
In these hills and other gathering spots, what some had regarded as a cult had actually developed into a religion.
Rastafarianism had become for many a true inner and outer root philosophy that stemmed from the oldest known Christianity (the Ethiopian Orthodox Church) and the descent of Solomon and Sheba.
Sacred ganja was in abundance, but the greatest sacrament was the reasoning of the worth and self determination of one's own soul and mind.
Here, a musician prolific on vinyl and on the bandstand, still only making just enough scraps of money to get by, would gladly sacrifice a gig's pay or a day's work to be of higher spirit.
In the hills, frustrated and perplexed with his denial from the larger worldwide aesthetic center, Don Drummond clung to a new chart.
Musicians like Ras Michael and Count Ossie had taken the African buru drum and through nyabinghi called "down with the black and white oppressors!"
Food, thoughts, and fires were shared in circles.
Jah was the omnipotent center of the music of these grounations. Under a standard of green, gold, and red they had turned away from America. They now faced towards Ethiopia specifically. They followed with zeal, the chosen Lion of Judah, Haile Selassie I. Jah led them further (like the prophet Garvey had said) towards all of Africa.
Drummond's embrace of Rasta ways completed the long cycle of his young life.
He steered his music towards the tough and political ("Occupation", "Around the World.")
Don Drummond dared even his least interested dancing fans to look eastward past the legacy of self hatred, to dream beyond the physical and psychological bonds of imposed slavery, and to reclaim the dark and beautiful history of great kingdoms ("Addis Ababa", "Mesopotamia", "Eastern Standard Time".)
The ingredients of minor over major tonal juxtaposition, Rasta heritage, and content of memory and message formed the seed that would birth rock steady and reggae. This trademark style, eerily flickering around the black keys of the piano, would be seized and furthered by "Augustus Pablo, Bob Marley, Hugh Mundell, and hundreds of vocal groups from Burning Spear to Israel Vibration."
In the hills, Don Drummond realized that he and other musicians had to be brave enough to face their own problems and destiny in their own way.
Rasta credo and Drummond's prolific output formed a potent brew that would lend vitality to those who didn't make the trip. The soundtrack of the struggle would be forever preserved and renewed.
Don Drummond recorded hundreds of songs in only a few years. His work was released on many different labels and shepparded by ground breaking producers, like Sir Coxsone, who always knew when to step back and "let the musicians get on with it."
He showed incredible artistic ambition for a man only beginning his twenties. All the while, Don Drummond maintained a remarkably steady hand at the creative wheel despite an unstable mental condition and erratic home life.
Perhaps his misplaced hate consumed him. The system of post-colonial Jamaican apartheid surely helped neither in treating his ailments or encouraging understanding. The music business of the 1960's Caribbean and the competition that it fostered was itself wicked. Don Drummond never received much financial reward.
In spite of the obstacles that he faced, Don Drummond's greatest creative legacy lies in the fact that he chose to continue as an artist with a message.
His direct contact with those who would become the leading lights of reggae music (Coxsone, Marley, Tosh, Wailer) charted a course of "no look back."
Jamaica was portrayed as complex and complicated in its now independent modernity due to the incredible wellspring of talent that Don Drummond helped lead and influence.
Artists all around were encouraged by concrete example to feel more, to seek more, and to know more
Today, through influence and parallel consciousness, this circle of artists is ever expanding.
It includes the 1970's afrobeat of Fela Kuti kicking against relentless government oppression in Nigeria, and laughing at death.
It harbors the 1980's Ethiopian jazz and vocals of Mahmoud Ahmed refusing to suffocate under the Stalinist Derg regime.
In the 1990's and 2000's it has seen the appropriately named Alpha Blondy bringing reggae directly to political Pan-African struggles. Reggae, says Blondy is " the voice of angels that must carry the listener on clouds all the way to heaven."
8/5/2009 5:11:57 PM
Yes! The Original Ska-father! Many of the melodies that we hear even in todays Reggae and Dancehall came straight from that man's trombone.