Dave Black, who died on December 4 aged 78,
was an accomplished and versatile jazz drummer.
Although Black enjoyed a brief period of prominence as a member of Duke
Ellington's orchestra, most of his career was passed as a successful, if
largely unsung, professional whose exemplary technique was much admired
by other drummers.
David John Black was born in Philadelphia on January 23 1928 and began
life as a percussionist by banging on household pots and pans at the age
of three. He became obsessed with the drumming of Gene Krupa, memorising
and reproducing Krupa's recorded solos. After hearing Krupa in person,
at the age of 13, he determined to become a professional musician.
In 1948 Black won a drumming competition sponsored by Krupa. He played
in local bands and took special note of the work of tap-dancers,
believing that tap-dancing and jazz drumming were closely related.
In 1953 he was spotted by Ellington's drummer, Louie Bellson, who was
planning to leave and form his own band. He recommended Black as his
replacement and the young man passed the audition, but had to wait until
Bellson was ready to move.
Meanwhile Black joined the Ray Bryant Trio, resident at the Blue Note,
Philadelphia's leading jazz club.
In this capacity he spent the summer and autumn of that year
accompanying such leading jazz figures as Charlie Parker, Buddy DeFranco
and Zoot Sims.
In replacing Bellson, towards the end of 1953, Black was taking over
from perhaps the most powerful drummer of the day. Bellson had startled
the jazz world by using a drum kit with two bass drums, among other
innovations, and Black was obliged to master the technique of playing
these at the same time as familiarising himself with the Ellington
For the rest of his career, Dave Black's virtuosity with the twin
bass-drum pedals was renowned.
Ellington's co-composer, Billy Strayhorn, wrote a piece, Gonna Tan Your
Hide, especially to feature Black's drumming, and his playing generally
can be heard to advantage on the album Ellington Showcase (1955). As the
only white musician in an otherwise all-black orchestra, Black
experienced some difficult moments while touring, especially in the
Jimmy Woode, Ellington's bass player at the time, recalled one
particularly distressing incident while rehearsing at Savannah, Georgia.
"The police came in and said, 'You, you, you and you — out! Off the
bandstand!' They were all white or light. Dave Black, the drummer, was
the only white man. The others were all light-coloured. In a situation
like that there's nothing you can do."
Black's time with Ellington ended in late 1955, when he contracted
polio. After several months in hospital he settled in San Francisco,
where he joined Bob Scobey's Dixieland band and also played regularly
with the great pianist Earl Hines. He met his wife, Olga, while playing
with Scobey at the Downbeat Club, where she worked as a waitress.
Dave Black soon became a fixture of the Bay Area jazz scene, playing in
clubs, hotels and restaurants throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
In 1986, together with the trombonist Rex Allen, he formed a posthumous,
or "ghost", Gene Krupa Orchestra to play in the style of his first hero.
This toured successfully for several years, both as an attraction on its
own account and as accompaniment to the singer Mel Tormé.
In later years Black played long residencies at the Claremont Hotel,
Oakland, and the Trattoria Uva in Nappa. He continued working until a
few months before his death.
Dave Black is survived by a son. His wife and another son predeceased