Alias in the Village Vanguard in New York
City. It was taken sometime in the 1970's.
Alias comes from Harlem, New York City. He
has played percussion as a kid and had the
benefit of growing up in a time and place where
he could see Mongo Santamaria and Art Blakey
on the same Apollo Theater stage. Except for a
couple of lessons in listening to the music from
the late percussionist Sunny Morgan, Don is basically
self taught. He grew up playing Afro Cuban rhythms
out of the dance band traditions as well as African
and Haitian rhythms for dance classes. He also
speaks fondly of seeing the blind Cuban tres player
(a Cuban style guitar) Arsenio Rodriquez, who
was black like himself and a great conga drummer/guitar
player performing in a bar on 125th Street.
moved to Boston to pursue a career in medical
science. While in Boston he met African American
conga drummer Bill Fitch and spent many a night
at the Berklee College dorms. There he'd jam with
Bill and sometimes be accompanied by drumset player
Tony Williams, who, at the time, had a great
interest in Afro-Cuban rhythms.
up in Boston, Don became part of a band called
Los Muchachos, along with bass player Gene Perla.
When Gene got a gig with Nina Simone, he got Don
the job as drummer with this band. At that time,
Don had no skill on the drumset and, as
he said, wasn't quite sure how to work the high
hat pedal. He got through the first job by sheer
luck and, at the end of his three-year stint
with Nina, he was musical director of the band.
Nina liked Don because she said he thought like
with Nina, Don often worked the same halls as
did Miles Davis. Miles was caught by Don's
rhythmic work, and was fascinated when Don
would play the cowbell. When it came time to record
the famous Bitches Brew album, Don was invited
to join the session. A session that had people
like Lenny White, Jack DeJohnette and Joe Zawinul.
Don was in awe of these legends. All takes at
the session were one-take affairs until it came
time for the tune, "Miles Runs The Voodoo
Down". After a few false starts, Don stopped
the band. For a young Don to have done that took
immense courage. He told Miles he had been working
on a rhythm that would be perfect for it. Don
played it for everyone and then Miles told him
to teach it to DeJohnette. When it appeared that
Jack was not going to execute the rhythm as it
should be, Miles told Don to get behind the drums
and play the tune. It was done in one take and
the rest is history.
to this story in Don's own words.