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DON ALIAS
Don Alias in the Village Vanguard in New York City. It was taken sometime in the 1970's.

Don 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.

Don 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.

While 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 her.

Working 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.

Listen to this story in Don's own words.