The heartbreaking roster of musicians who perished in 2016 just increased by one. Jazz fusion drummer Alphonse Mouzon is dead at age 68. Always innovative and tasteful, the master percussionist was diagnosed with a relatively rare and advanced neuroendocrine carcinoma in September.
On November 25, Mouzon publicly thanked his former wife, Allison Mouzon, for a generous donation that he intended to use to seek medical treatment in Mexico. Today, Facebook friends and followers are adding condolences to Alphonse’s post.
His name may not be as familiar as Prince, Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Bernie Worrell and other music notables who left the planet this year, but the death of jazz fusion drummer Alphonse Mouzon puts a big hurt on jazz aficionados around the globe.
Mouzon’s musical career started when he was in high school in South Carolina. Born November 21, 1948 in Charleston, Mouzon learned to play drums under the tutelage of Charles Garner and Lonnie Hamilton III. Mouzon’s masterful chops were evident even then, prompting Hamilton to hire Mouzon to do public shows with his professional band. A great first gig, but Alphonse had bigger musical ideas. Shortly after graduating from high school, Mouzon relocated to New York City and studied at Manhattan Medical School while furthering his drum education, taking acting classes, and working as a med tech at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital where he was employed until 1969, according to Mouzon’s bio at Tenacious Records.
Before being signed to Blue Note Records in the early 1970s, Mouzon served as a session drummer on Tim Hardin’s recording of “Bird on a Wire” and played in the pit band of a Broadway show called Promises, Promises. Mouzon’s description of the experience of being the youngest musician on Broadway at the time appeared on the official Weather Report website earlier today.
“I guess I was playing in a place called Small’s, a jazz club in New York, and Bobby came to see me along with Harold Wheeler, who’s now the music director with Dancing With The Stars. Harold was 25, I was 19, and they introduced me to him, and they said, oh, they want me to do this show. Bobby was the drummer for Promises, Promises, but he wanted to go across the street to a TV show with David Frost, so they needed a replacement. So he brought Harold Wheeler to my gig. And that’s when I got that job at 19 years old. I was the youngest kid at that time on Broadway.”
In 1970, Mouzon founded seminal jazz fusion combo, Weather Report, with Czech bassist Miroslav Vitouš, Austrian born keyboard master Joe Zawinul and American soprano sax player, Wayne Shorter. Earlier today, the Weather Report website noted that Mouzon was born to be a drummer and remained “hopeful and upbeat” to the end.despite a dire prognosis.
“Alphonse was one of those people who was born to be a drummer. He started banging on things when he was a toddler in Charleston, South Carolina. His family didn’t have much money, so he made his own drums out of boxes and tin cans. He used to tap dance on the front porch and play his homemade drums, earning pocket change.”
During the course of his illustrious career, Mouzon participated in musical projects with the likes of Larry Coryell, Jaco Pastorius, McCoy Tyner, Stanley Clarke, Al DiMeola, Les McCann, Sonny Rollins and Miles Davis. He recorded with Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Carlos Santana and Chubby Checker. Herbie Hancock, Ernie Watts, Chet Baker, John Klemmer and Gil Evans projects also benefited mightily from Mouzon’s musical mastery.
[Feature image via Carlos Castilla/ThinkStock/Getty Images]