Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Big Black~The unpublished book, 'Big Black, The Drummer From Georgia'


As this is my first blog, please forgive any discrepancies or ramblings telling you this story. Fourteen years ago, I played a gig in a cool underground bar on the West side. I played with a singer, a guitar player, a trap drummer, maybe a sax player, and a conga drum player whom I had heard of for years but never met. Conga drummers were not an essential part of a band or rhythm section, so I rarely encountered playing with them unless it was a Latin gig or a Festival gig. But this was a jazz-blues club gig!
His name was Big Black, and I had heard his name being passed around over the last 35 years as a conga drummer who played with most all the giants of jazz. We went on and played the gig and after it was over, he came up to me and complimented me on my playing, as I reciprocated, he asked if I wanted to hear any of his original tunes. This struck me as strange, because a conga drummer normally doesn't think melodically or lyrically, only rhythmically. I said sure and a week or two later I swung by his one bedroom apartment in Venice Beach. I listened to his instrumental songs and immediately realized that he had delineated the drum part, the bass part, the guitar part, and the horn melody of each song. He asked me if I could transcribe each song and I said sure I could, but it would be better to use a workstation keyboard and "bang" each part into the song and store it on the workstation keyboard.
As he sung me his repertoire of songs, I was amazed at the intelligence, the melodicism, and the rhythmic structure of each song, pulling from American Jazz, Latin, African, and Island roots.

After  a few years went by working on each song, I had totally learned his catalog of songs. In the process of cataloging his material, we would talk shop, talk story about his personal and professional life, and he would slide down memory lane and recount every jazz giant he played with or entertainment personality he had encountered, as if it was yesterday. At one point I was so mesmerized by these stories and about his life, I forgot about the music we had done together, because his stories were so much more interesting. I am not discounting his talent as a songwriter of instrumental jazz tunes and other songs that included lyrics, but his personal life seemed far more interesting to me as a songwriter, as well as a musician, who was familiar with all of the people whose paths he had crossed.

This is a story about a black man, born Daniel Ray, who grew up in the South prior and during World War 2. He discovered rhythm and music at an early age, discovered a talent playing only one conga drum, left home after Middle School, moved to Florida, and proceeded to discover how to incorporate the conga drum into American Music~because before him, there was only Latin drumming for Latin music ONLY. He brought the conga drum into a Jazz setting and then into a POP Music setting. Before him there was no one. after him, there were many. He opened the door for a little bit more of Africa to slide right into the AMERICAN POP MUSIC SCENE. I hope you enjoy his story. Here is a link to preview one of his journeys with Muhammed Ali in the 1974 pre fight Concert in Zaire from the movie "Soul Power"

As a result of the racial and killing incidents in Fergerson, Washington D.C, St. Louis, Florida, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, and other cities across the US, I feel the time is right to put this out as a reminder to those who patrol and control our streets and neighborhoods that they are not above suspicion and vigilant scrutiny to racial profiling, racial bigotry, and racist actions. We are better than this. We can be better than this. 

I will be posting excerpts from Chapters in the book, and would love to hear your comments and critiques. This is NOT the final daft, but very close. I encourage all who visit to make yourselves known via any of the social media platforms or emails.

Danny Ironstone