Rashied Ali, a drummer who applied his advanced technique to free jazz, died today in New York. He was 76. Born Robert Patterson, Ali became a disciple and close colleague of his fellow Philadelphian John Coltrane. He played on some of the most uninhibited recordings of Coltrane’s final years, including the astonishing Interstellar Space, a series of free duets. I was on a selection committee for Grammy nominations in 1974, the year Impulse! Records released Interstellar Space. Pianist Billy Taylor, one of the other members of the committee, said during the listening session, “I can’t imagine two people making more music than that.” It was a tour de force for both musicians. In this video clip from an Eastern European television program, Ali discusses Coltrane’s impact on his life and music.
Here is Ali with his quintet in June of 2008. The other players are tenor saxophonist Lawrence Clarik, trumpeter Josh Evans, pianist Greg Murphy and bassist Joris Teepe.
Rashied Ali, RIP.
Allan S. Chase says
I’m terribly sorry to hear this. I had the honor and challenge of playing regularly with Rashied Ali from 1992 to 2000, all but the last gig being in the band Prima Materia which he co-led with Louie Belogenis, with shifting personnel (William Parker, Wilber Morris, Greg Murphy, Uri Caine, Joe Gallant, guests John Zorn, Ahmed Abdul-Malik, Dave Douglas, Frank London, Steven Bernstein, Andrew Cyrille, etc.). It was an amazing and life-changing experience.
I think there are some little-known facts that might be of interest in reflecting on him. This is off the top of my head and perhaps not the best time to be making a list, since I just heard about his death here.
-He could play standards on the piano quite nicely, melody and changes from memory, and often did for his own pleasure, like in his basement recording studio before a rehearsal or session.
-When I would arrive there for rehearsals or recording, if not playing the piano or doing carpentry or wiring (he built the studio with one friend helping with electronics), he might be playing powerful and convincing funk or hip-hop on the drumset, along with a contemporary track. He was interested and open to new music of many kinds. I think his older son, and his younger daughters kept him in touch with this, but he also liked to interact with young musicians (younger than me).
-In Prima Materia he was passionate about playing Coltrane repertoire, including a lot of things from before he was in the band: Spiritual, A Love Supreme (first movement), etc. While I would be very careful about referencing his relationship with Elvin Jones, personal, professional, or stylistic, there was an obvious connection (not imitation, just connection) when we played in coordinated, unified tempo. He’s so known for his more fragmented, “multi-directional” rhythmic approach that his time playing (jazz, funk, blues) is much less known.
-How many jazz people know that he toured the college pub and concert circuit extensively by van in Jorma Kaukonen’s (Jefferson Airplane/Hot Tuna lead guitarist) trio, with Jaco Pastorius on bass in the early or mid ’80s? There’s one line on this in Jeff Tamarkin’s Jefferson Airplane book. I think they were sometimes billed as Hot Tuna. The college kids may not have known what they were hearing.
-Of course he had amazing stories, some of which he told in published interviews with Bob Moses and others. Philly Joe (as trolley driver, drummer, teacher), Coltrane, Ayler, his brother, Alan Shorter, etc.
-He had a reputation (argumentative, angry) that wasn’t entirely accurate. By the time I met him in 1992, he was very reflective about his ego as a young man (turning down “Ascension” because he didn’t want to play with another drummer, etc.). He was direct and opinionated in a very reasonable, solid way, but also very supportive, open, and respectful of different kinds of music, skills, types of people, etc. — a beautiful person to be around.
-His years as a clubowner should be more documented. He said he quit because he missed playing, but had to be behind the bar 100% of the time to monitor the cash and alcohol flow.
One more story about Rashied: When I brought the charts for that session, after being prompted by the opening of a piece, he was able to sing all the themes accurately from memory — that is, from his 1967 memory of playing and recording the pieces once; he said they didn’t perform them. As I recall, he hadn’t listened to the Coltrane CD yet, and none of the pieces had titles when recorded as far as he knew. (I’m relying on my memory for some details here.)
Lenny Ladner says
You mentioned in your comment that Amed Abdul-Malik was playing with Rashied Ali.
Is that the same A.A. Malik who played with Monk and Johnny Griffin (They may be dead but their music lives on)???
Rashied’s death is another loss of an acquaintance ( I knew him during the 70’s in the Ali’s Alley days).
Allan Chase says
Yes, it was the same Ahmed Abdul-Mailk, but he was playing oud. I believe the first real Prima Materia gig (Rashied Ali-d, Louie Belogenis-ts, Allan Chase-as/ss, William Parker-b, Joe Gallant-el bs/b, Ahmed Abdul-Malik-oud) at the old Knitting Factory, probably November 1992. I have a datebook and a cassette of it somewhere.
Ahmed was a former bass teacher of Joe Gallant, at NYU. He had had a stroke and was not doing too well at that point physically, and I believe it may have been his last performance, but I’m not sure of that. He passed away about 10 months later.