Famous Jamaicans: Trombonist Don Drummond, the Ska Legend of Jamaica

Jamaican Culture; Jamaican Music; Famous Jamaicans Jamaican Attractions; Jamaican People


Creating some of the best musical arrangements in Jamaica's popular music, like Eastern Standard Time, Music Is My Occupation and others which are still being imitated today, Drummond was critical to the emergence and development of Jamaica's popular music.
Don Drummond in a Pensive Mood

Introduction

Bearded, and with fingernails looking like claws, trombonist Donald Drummond, popularly called 'Don Drummond,’ appeared in the No 1 Home Circuit Court for his trial in 1966 on a charge of murdering his live-in lover, 23-year-old rhumba dancer, Anita 'Margarita' Mahfood. Followed keenly by lovers of ska, for which Drummond was regarded as almost magical in his handling of the trombone, the trial attracted a packed courtroom for every day it lasted.


At the end of the trial, his fans reacted with sorrow for the man as they heard the verdict of the jury - guilty but insane. Drummond showed absolutely no emotion on hearing the verdict; he just stared blankly ahead. He was committed to the Bellevue Asylum Hospital, where he died under mysterious circumstances on May 6, 1969.


Creating some of the best musical arrangements in Jamaica's popular music, like Eastern Standard Time, Music Is My Occupation and others which are still being imitated today, Drummond was critical to the emergence and development of Jamaica's popular music.


School Days


Don Drummond & The Skatalites - Music Is My Occupation (1964)


Born in 1934, Drummond's musical journey began when he entered the Alpha Boys' School on December 10, 1943. Alpha Boys' School, situated along the busy thoroughfare of South Camp Road in east Kingston, has over the years acquired the reputation of being the nursery for some of Jamaica's greatest musical legends.


Out of the music program grew the Alpha Music Band, which started in 1892. Throughout the years, it has produced such stalwarts as the jazz greats Joe Harriott and Dizzy Reece; world-rated saxophonist Wilton Gaynair; UK chart topping trombonist Rico Rodriguez; almost the entire horn section of the incomparable Skatalites band of the 1960s, in addition to vocalists Leroy Smart, Yellowman and many others, too numerous to mention. One of the best-known Alpha graduate, however, was the world-rated trombonist, Don Drummond, who attended the institution between 1943 and 1950.


Don Drummond & The Skatalites Eastern Standard Time (1964)


History has it that Drummond was taken there by his mother, who could no longer control his truancy. Two years later he was placed in the music band, and taught the most awkward of instruments - the trombone. No instrument was quite like it, given its push and pull manoeuvres, and its queer seven-position note scale. Yet Drummond was able to master the instrument in almost “no time.” He soon began entertaining his peers and teachers with his crisp, sharp, multiple short notes that many found difficult to pattern.


While at Alpha, Drummond was described by Principal, Sister Ignatius as a very quiet, introspective boy, who worked hard, seldom smiled, and spoke little, idiosyncrasies which followed him through life, and was perhaps symptomatic of his later demise.


National and International Fame


Don Drummond & The Skatalites - Addis ababa (1964)


Upon his graduation from Alpha, Drummond was recommended to, and accepted by the famous Eric Deans All Stars band as trombonist. It was the beginning of a brand new world for the teenager, whose earliest efforts were mainly jazz-oriented recordings, foremost among which was a piece entitled The Answer.


By the mid-1950s, Drummond had established himself as the island's top trombonist, while some musicologists placed him among the top three in the world. Drummond also had stints with The Sonny Bradshaw and Kenny Williams orchestras. His main influences then were the American big band sound and the "jitterbug boogie," which shaped his next set of recordings, demonstrated by Schooling The Duke, Reload and Looking Through The Window.


During the mid to late 1950s, the influence of rhythm and blues and the sound system began to be felt in Jamaica. The music of the day was evolving into something new, and the American boogie, which had caught on in Jamaica, was making a transition into ska.

Drummond became part of this musical craze when he joined the likes of Tommy McCook, Roland Alphonso, Johnny Moore, Jackie Mittoo, Lloyd Knibbs and others to form the Skatalites band in 1963. From then on, he became a household name. The Skatalites were regarded as one of the most important bands during the ska era of Jamaican music. Among their repertoire of songs is Addis Ababa, Far East, Schooling the Duke and Confucius.

Who could ever forget those exhilarating trombone solos that popularised Justin Hines' Carry Go Bring Come, Dotty, and Bonny's Dearest and others.


Drummond did the bulk of his recordings for producers Clement 'Sir Coxson' Dodd and Arthur Reid, but also had some popular cuts for Randys and Leslie Kong, for whom he did the very mournful Snowboy and Vat7. He also graced producer Justin Yap with his presence, on the top-10 hit Confucius.


Backed by the Skatalites band, Drummond recorded close to 200 selections, while writing or improvising on a vast amount. In addition, he had some memorable performances at clubs like The Bournemouth in Rockfort, The Glass Bucket in Half-Way Tree, The Silver Slipper in Cross Roads, and several theatres across the island.


Drummond however, suffered from mental illness which not only affected his career, but also necessitated frequent stays at the Bellevue Mental Hospital.


Don Drummond’s Lingering Influence


Don Drummond & the Skatalites - Confucius (1965)


The month of May will always be remembered by ardent music fans and historians as the one in which Drummond passed away. It was 52 years ago that this illustrious Jamaican met his demise under controversial circumstances. It was believed, but never confirmed, that the mentally-challenged trombonist was beaten to death while an inmate at the Bellevue Hospital in east Kingston.


Regarded as Jamaica’s best trombonist in his time, Don Drummond’s life and music continue to marvel. Widely accepted as a musical genius, Drummond has left us more than a hundred improvised and original compositions, which will not only continue to entertain us, but have become pieces for study by present and future generations of musicians.


References

http://digjamaica.com/m/blog/idigreggae-8-facts-about-don-drummond/

https://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130512/ent/ent6.html

http://www.nlj.gov.jm/REGGAE%20EXHIBITION/Don%20Drummond.htm

https://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Musician-Don-Drummond-guilty-of-lover-s-murder-by-reason-of-insanity_13016604


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Jacqueline Cameron

An entrepreneur with years of writing experience running the gamut from blogging to project reporting. She lives in Kingston, Jamaica and is the chief writer/editor for the Jamaica So Nice Blog. Jackie represents an e-commerce business called "Jamaica So Nice" which offers authentic Jamaican products. She speaks about it with animation, "I love the experience of living in Jamaica, and I introduce Jamaica to the world through the "Jamaican experience," which is captured in our people, culture, products and attractions."

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