Cadence Magazine
The American Review of Jazz & Blues

Excerpt from Interview with DENIS CHARLES  1/17/87, Philadelphia
Taken and transcribed by Ludwig van Trikt

To order copy of full interview, see information below.

CAD: How did you develop your unique cymbal approach? 

DC: I was born in St. Croix in the Virgin Islands.  I played music when  I was 7 or 8 years old.  I played the bongos in a band.  My mother and  father separated and I stayed with my father until I was 11 in St.  Croix, then I moved with my mother who was living in Harlem on 118th  St.  I was very fortunate because on the street my mother was living on  it was only a block away from Minton's Playhouse.  I went to school  around the corner from Minton's so I would see Monk 's name, Art Blakey's  name, Lockjaw Davis, etc.  In Harlem at that time ( this is around 1945)  jazz was all over Harlem just like rock is now.  Charlie Parker, Fat  Girl, Fats Navarro, Monk, Bud Powell, it was beautiful.  Art Blakey  lived around the corner from me on 117th St.  I started listening to the  music.  I heard a record by Bud Powell and Fats Navarro with Sonny  Rollins and Roy Haynes was the drummer.  I used to listen to drummers  all the time but Roy Haynes got to me!  In 1949 I said I want to play  like that.  I taught myself, I tried to learn how to develop my  independence in both hands.  It drove me nuts too, I finally got it.

                *  *  *  *  *

CAD: Do you see any comparisons between the New Orleans rhythms and the Caribbean rhythms that you are more familiar with? 

DC: Oh, definitely.  I would talk to Blackwell a lot about that.  A lot  of what he does goes back to African rhythms which Blackwell is very  much into.  Blackwell has been to Africa; there is definitely a  connection there.  . . .

. . .I feel very blessed, really, and honored  because the tradition snatched me up just from me listening.  I revere  Charlie Parker and Monk along with Miles, etc.  It 's such a beautiful  music for me to feel that I 've contributed just a little bit to it.  I 'm  honored; this is my whole life.  It 's a struggle and still continues to  be.  I view it as a continuum; I 'd like to be part of the continuum.  Sometimes you play a record by Billie Holiday or Bud Powell and it will  just touch your soul, it 's so beautiful.

CAD: Where do you see your place in the realm of that continuum?

DC: Just to be playing regularly with people like Luther Thomas, Billy  Bang and Steve Lacy.  Especially when you know the history of this  music.  The history of it keeps me alive.  I still love to listen to  those records by people who are even now contributing.  It 's a long  history, name after name after name. . . .

. . . Bang and William Parker and a bunch of the other  younger cats, they somehow made me feel very good when they had me play  with them.  I get so much out of just being with them, they are young,  they know the history of it and they are trying to contribute . . .

 . . . The cymbals are very important.  I traveled with Art Blakey and his  Messengers for 3 months, he had McCoy Tyner, Billy Harper, Joony Booth,  Billy Hardman and Slide Hampton... Art was always my inspiration, it was  a  thrill, like a saxophonist being with Charlie Parker.  I learned so much  from him, we lived together in the same hotel rooms.  He told me ... "The drummer has got to have control, the drummer is the traffic director; he  knows just  when to play the head of the tune."   When he wants it up  at the start of the next soloist the stick is flat on the cymbal.  So  the cymbal is singing!     And then he crashes.  BOOM!  Then the next  soloist comes and Art dies down

                *  *  *  *  *

CAD: Are you optimistic about the rest of your life? 

DC: Oh, definitely.  I 'm like Joe Henderson said, "totally committed"  and that 's it! I 'm hopeful and I 'm going to keep on every day. Every day  I practice and exercise and this will be every day `til I leave here.  I  just would like to have a pad, keep myself clean and eat well and, of  course, play.  That 's all I want to do.

Copyright 1987 Cadence Magazine. (CadNor Ltd). This is an excerpt from an extensive interview with Denis Charles from the October 1987 Cadence (Jazz) Magazine. (Vol 13 #10).

 Cadence Building, Redwood, NY 13679. USA

 PH :315-287-2852, Fax 315-287-2860.

Back to Articles List

Back to articles list
Next Article



E-mail us at


View Guestbook
Sign Guestbook

E-mail us

[Home] [Discography] [Tributes] [Writings] [ Articles] [Photo Gallery] [Obituaries] [Resources]