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Old 12-06-2006, 10:04 AM   #1
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RIP Dave Black

He lived right next door to my Aunt, Uncle and cousins. I can't believe he played with such legends as Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker and more.

Dave Black -- drummer with Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker
Jesse Hamlin, Chronicle Staff Writer

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Dave Black, a brilliant jazz drummer who swung Duke Ellington's orchestra in the mid-1950s and was equally at home playing with Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday and Earl "Fatha'' Hines, died at home in Alameda on Monday of complications from pancreatic cancer. He was 78.

A creative percussionist who played with exemplary fire and elan, Mr. Black was a drummer's drummer whose inventive solos inspired many younger players. They consider his dazzling solo on "Gonna Tan Your Hide'' -- a tune written for him by Ellington's close associate Billy Strayhorn -- a classic.

"That solo is really ahead of its time,'' Steve Smith, the jazz-mad drummer who made his name with Journey, told The Chronicle two years ago. That was when Mr. Black was playing like a demon every weekend at Uva in Napa with Philip Smith's Gentlemen of Jazz.

"There's an incredibly fast (double) bass drum roll, and then he slowly starts with his hands on top of that and speeds his hands up, which takes a lot of coordination. I don't know of anybody else who was doing anything like it in those days. And there's some really swinging poly-rhythms, too,'' added Smith, who, like other drummers, used to visit Mr. Black in his little Alameda house and picked up tricks from the master.

Born in Philadelphia, Mr. Black began drumming at age 3, banging on cups and cans and a toy drum sent by a Scottish aunt. He was crazy for Gene Krupa's drumming. He played Krupa's records over and over, memorizing the solos. Mr. Black was 13 when he first saw his idol perform live, and his fate was sealed.

"I could hardly walk out. My knees were shaking,'' Mr. Black recalled in 2004. "He had so much stuff, and he was such a showman. When I saw him in that black tuxedo in that white light -- Whoa! Then Buddy Rich came on the scene, and that was the end of the barrier for drummers, man. There was nobody like him in terms of what he could do. Like somebody from another planet.''

Mr. Black studied with vaudeville percussionist Jess Altmiller and in 1948 won a drum contest sponsored by Krupa. He worked around Philadelphia with various groups and jammed with tap dancers, who fed his sense of rhythm.

"When I came up in Philadelphia, drummers and tap dancers were one of the same. We all used to hang out together,'' said Mr. Black, who made a name for himself playing with the Aristocrats, an early '50s rock band. A friend brought the great drummer Louie Bellson, then with Ellington, to hear Mr. Black. They became good friends. In 1953, Bellson left the Ellington band and recommended Mr. Black as his replacement.

The young drummer auditioned in New York and met with Ellington's approval, but he wasn't hired until he joined the band several months later at New York's Paramount Theater. In the interim, Mr. Black played in the house band at the Blue Note in Philadelphia, working with bebop stars like Parker, the genius alto saxophonist, and clarinetist Buddy De Franco.

"I was young and fiery then, man,'' recalled Mr. Black, who toured and recorded with Ellington for two years until he fell ill with polio and spent months in a Portland, Ore., hospital. When he recovered, he settled in the Bay Area with his wife, Olga, a waitress at San Francisco's Downbeat Club. He became an indispensable player on the local scene.

Mr. Black toured with the famed "Frisco'' jazz trumpeter Bob Scobey for eight years, worked with the great pianist Hines and performed in all kinds of settings with the best swing musicians in the area. His ears were always open to new sounds.

"I try to listen to everybody,'' Mr. Black said. "I don't put anything down. If you don't understand it, don't say nothin'. You can get something from everybody, man.''

Mr. Black's wife died several years ago, and his son, heavy metal drummer Lawrence "Brintley'' Black, died in 2004. He is survived by his other son, Brian Black, of Springtown, Texas; two sisters, Christine Billings and Doreen Johnson, of San Marcos (San Diego County); and two grandchildren.

A musical memorial will be held at 2 p.m. Dec. 17 at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1420 Lafayette St., Alameda.
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