Jul 31, 2014
“I'd put him on the Mount Rushmore of New Orleans drummers, along with Smokey Johnson, Johnny Vidacovich and Herlin Riley." -- George Ingmire, DJ, WWOZ New Orleans.
Idris Muhammad, one of the most versatile and funky drummers of the past fifty years, has died at the age of 74. His cause of death has not yet been confirmed, but friends noted that Muhammad had been receiving dialysis treatment in New Orleans — where he had returned from New York City to retire back in 2011.
Born Leo Morris in New Orleans, the young man was mesmerized by the chants and rhythms of the Mardi Gras Indians. By the time he was 16, he had played the drums for Fats Domino's 1956 hit, "Blueberry Hill," and later played with the Hawketts (led by Art Neville) on their iconic anthem, "Mardi Gras Mambo."
After he relocated to New York (and then Europe), he discovered the Islam faith and changed his name to Idris Muhammad. It was his mastery of those rhythms – slinky, funky, martial, liquid – that made him a master session musician. Over five decades, he logged hundreds of recordings and thousands of performances with the likes of soul artists like Sam Cooke, Jerry Butler, and Roberta Flack; jazz mainstays like Pharaoh Sanders, Ahmad Jamal, and Joe Lovano; and most recently, as a member of saxophonist Big Chief Donald Harrison's tribe.
But for me, it was his recordings with saxophonist Lou Donaldson, aided by ultra-funky guitarist Melvin Sparks, which were his finest moments. The genre of “jazz-funk” or “acid jazz” was an amalgamation of jazz, R&B and funk, and no one could handle the drum kit like Idris Muhammad. He anchored Donaldson’s band from 1965 to 1971, supplying the beat for classics like “Alligator Boogaloo”, and“Everything I Do Gon' Be Funky (From Now On)." He loaned his talents during the seventies to the likes of George Benson, Gene Ammons, Paul Desmond, Leon Spencer and Sonny Stitt. He remained in demand through the next twenty years, recording with Randy Weston and
He released 13 albums under his own name, most notably 1974’s Power of Soul which brought Randy Brecker, Grover Washington Jr., Bob James, Joe Beck, Gary King and Ralph MacDonald together for sessions produced by Creed Taylor. Check it out and see why no one did it better than Idris.