Alias was a working kind of guy. He
began his career in percussion pursuing Afro-Cuban
music from the black side of Harlem where there
were many great players doing the Latin thing.
Don gave up a career in medical science to be
a musician. He has worked with musical
legends such as Miles Davis, Nina Simone, Mongo
Santamaria, Roberta Flack and David Sanborn.
Don stopped by the LP Photo Studio to talk about
products and to get his photo taken.
Afterward, he came to my home for a very insightful
interview about his varied career.
Two products that caught his attention were the
newly revamped line of cherry wood Valje®
Congas now bearing the name of one of Don's great
inspirations, Armando Peraza. Needless to say,
he was ecstatic about these drums. Very
much a part of Don's varied work is the clay Udu
drum that LP now carries in nine different models.
These are the very same drums that were developed
by Frank Giorgini.
Alias comes from Harlem, New York City. He played percussion
as a child and had the benefit of growing up in
a time and a place where he could see and hear
Mongo Santamaria and Art Blakey on the same Apollo
Theater stage. He also speaks fondly of
hearing Arsenio Rodriquez, the blind Cuban tres
player (a Cuban style guitar) and a great conga
drummer/guitar player perform in a bar on 125th
Street. Don is basically self taught.
Except for a couple of lessons from the late percussionist
Sunny Morgan. He grew up playing Afro-Cuban
rhythms from dance band traditions as well as
African and Haitian rhythms for dance classes.
moved to Boston to pursue a career in medical
science. While in Boston he met Afro-American
conga drummer Bill Fitch and spent many nights
at the Berklee College dorms. There he jammed
with Bill and sometimes they were accompanied
by drumset player Tony Williams, then interested
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
the band drummer. 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.
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 they thought alike. When
he worked with Nina, Don often worked the same
halls as Miles Davis. Don's rhythmic work
was admired by Miles, in particular 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.
learn more about Don Alias, please CLICK