Jazz Red (Spain)

The drummer Denis Charles, who was a member of Cecil Taylor´s group, passed away  on March 26 from a heart attack, after returning from a European tour with the Thomas Borgmann trio and just a few days before the release on the Eremite label  of the second record with Denis as leader [Captain of the Deep]. Denis was one of the most imaginative of the free jazz drummers, always beyond the routine and full of resources and "Matrices". His sound -- crude and primitive, almost  in a sacred state -- place him in the line of Africanists which goes back to Art Blakey,  for whom he felt a profound admiration.

Originally Caribbean, Denis was born in St.Croix, Virgin Islands on December 4,1933  and grew up in Harlem with his two brothers and his mother who moved to New York after her divorce. His brother Frank also played the drums and both of them played the congas -- like their father and grandfather -- they were used to working with calpso bands. When he was 17 years old, after studying at New York Vocational School, he, like many other young black men, had problems with the law and spent two years in prison. In the book Black Music, Leroi Jones tells us that the first thing Denis remembers about returning to the street was hearing Art Blakey´s  "Tempus Fugit." Taking Art as his model, Denis dedicated himself to listening to Bird, Monk... while continuing to play in calypso bands.

His committment to jazz took place when he met Cecil Taylor. Steve Lacy on soprano sax and Buell Neidlinger -- who bought him his first trap set -- on bass were in Cecil´s group which played at the Five Spot and recorded in Taylor´s first record "Jazz Advance" on the Transition label. After playing at the Newport Jazz Festival, Denis appeared on Steve Lacy´s first record, "Soprano Sax," on Cecil Taylor´s following records: "Looking Ahead," "The World of Cecil Taylor" and "Air"; and with Gil Evans´ Big Band, on "Great Jazz Standards." He even was in the play "The Connection," and accompanied Jimmy Guiffre at the Five Spot and  played with Wilbur Ware at Birdland.

Ornette Coleman, the spiritual transgressor of the music, together with Cecil Taylor opened Denis´ ears to the new music which was developing at the beginning of the `60s. Denis was surrounded by this exciting environment. He formed a group with Steve Lacy, Rodwell Rudd and Henry Grimes and interpreted the compositions of Thelonius Monk, and also  worked with Archie Shepp, Don Cherry and Sonny Rollins. After the death of his wife and two sons he left the music scene and only played occasionally with dance groups until he returned to play at the end of the `70s.

In this last period of his career he played mostly on  recordings on the Italian label, Soul Note, together with musicians like Billy Bang, Jemeel Moondoc, Peter Kuhn and Steve Lacy. More recently he appeared with bassist William Parker on the debut album of the group "In Order to Survive." The Swedish  label, Silkheart, finally released his debut album as a leader with the Denis Charles Triangle, "Queen Mary".   In spite of this remarkable recording career, Denis' name remained unjustly forgotten and his death interferees with our enjoyment of his second recording, the newest release from Eremite, and with  the re-release of a recording with violinist Billy Bang, soon to be available from hatOLOGY.

Translation: M. MacLennan




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