Jamaican Music

Memories of my friend; the Great Don Drummond

Written by Winston Smith

Arguably the best trombone player Jamaican ever produced DON “D” was what most people called him. Some of them didn’t know his name. Others never saw him in person or seen him perform, but most people who were connected to any kind of music in Jamaica during the fifties and sixties would probably know about the best Trombone player of that era. There were not very many Trombone players during that period. Of course there men like Carl Masters, Von Muller (Mullo) and a few more that were there before Don came along, but none of them lit up the spotlight like he did. This man has been heard by a number of foreigners who gave laurels for his brand of music. He was undoubtedly the best at the short time he spent with us.

Some others have suggested that if he had been in another part of the world, he would have been rated among some of the top players of the day.

That goes without saying anymore, when you take into consideration some of the other folks who travelled to other shores, did leave marks of excellence; Ernest Ranglin, guitar; Dizzy Reece, Trumpet; Wynton Gynair, Tenor Sax; Joe Harriott, Alto; Wynton Kelly Piano, just to name a few.

A whole lot of stories have been written about Donald, most of them by opportunists that never knew him, never even as much as seen him in performance.

He came out of Alpha during the 50’s when men like Ossie Hall, Blue, Blue Buchanan, Mickey Elliott, Lester Sterling and his brother that played the trumpet, along with Dizzy Johnny Moore and Little G McNair, (Jebus) as he was more popularly called (Little Jesus).

It might be noticeable that I did not mention Roland Alphonso and that’s because came out of Stony Hill

There were days when that little house on the corner of Campbell Street and Vincent Street could have rocked over the gully that passed behind it.

He himself was not living too far from there. Just a short walk to Robert Street in Allman Town where his mother lived.

I wasn’t living very far from there myself, just a few hundred yards up on Arnold Road.

On any given night, he would walk up to where I lived and would say, “a double bill (movie) outa Tropical, yu waan go”. I would respond something like “bwoy, I doan hav nuh money, and then he would say I have two and six, so come awn.”

We went across Race Course to Slipe Road and into the Tropical Theater; we went in the front section, because these were cheaper seats. As soon as the signature tune started playing, this was the time the lights went low, we got up while it was dark, climbed over the little railing that separated the sections just for the hell of it, and sat in the section that was considered the better seats.

This man did things that all of us did, but also did things other folks did not do.

He was the only musician that I ever saw who came to the bandstand with his instrument in the case all put together, sat down in front of everybody, open the case, take out the instrument, dissect it, pull the chamois from his pocket shined the parts one by one, put them back together, got up and walked away without playing a note. Most of the times, it was my job to go bring him back. Some of the times, I wasn’t able to. But there are the times when he would go through the same ritual and when he got to the part where he would put his lips together an made that funny wiggle, you knew he was going to blow.

Like the Sunday evening he was supposed to be on the bandstand at Bournemouth Club and Tommy Mc Cook said to me, go up into the hills and see if you can find him. I took somebody’s bicycle and rode all over Wareika Hill without any success. Decided to turn back and on my way down Seaview Avenue, I caught up to him walking with the case in his hand. He jumped on the bicycle and we got to the club. As I was about to go through the front he said “no man, I have something a want you fi hear before a go upstairs.” We went up the back stairs that lead to the back of the stage. Without any ritual he started to play something I never heard before. Then he asked, “You like it”? I said, “What is that”? He said “you kno like it”? I said “I affi hear it again.” He did it again and said “weh you think”? I said I like it but “weh you get that from”? He replied “Bwoy, that’s what I was a work pon, that is why I late. Yu think I can carry this upstairs an gi dem fi play”? I responded “How them fi play and them nuh know it” I asked? He had sheets of music of the song. So I said “what you going to call it”? (THIS MAN IS BACK?), he said. That tune was eventually recorded and became one of his top shots (hits).

Of course you know he went upstairs and that song lasted the better part of one hour.

I found out about his obsession for music one night I was coming through Halfway Tree, ( Xylophone virtuoso) Lenny Hibbert was playing at the V I P Lounge, originally THE GLASS BUCKET CLUB, Don was supposed to be there  with Lenny, but no, I saw him sitting at the gate on a book that was about two inches thick. I asked him if he wasn’t supposed to be inside, he said yes but he was not ready yet. He asked me to sit beside him, he wanted to talk. He then got up off the book, opened it and said to me. “You see all dem people ina diss book, I good like most a dem an’ betta than some.” So I could only let him know that he had not gotten the exposure that these men had.

He was talking about men like (world renowned musicians) J. J. Johnson, Kai Winding, Bennie Green, Curtis Fuller and people of that caliber.

After a while I convinced him to go in and play and forget about this obsession that he had.

There are so many stories I could tell you about this man, but the biggest one of all is the one I am about to relate now.

It was about two o’clock in the morning. It was the ending of the Christmas Holiday, New Year’s night. A group of us had just ordered a drink in the “BABY GRAND” in Cross Roads, Lenny Hibbert walks in, just finishing his gig at the V I P LOUNGE. We are just getting ready to kill the rest of the night when Margarita (Don’s Girlfriend) walks in(to the club) half dressed. She was still wearing whatever she was dancing in at THE COTTON CLUB at Red Gal Ring. Margarita said “One a oono hafi carry me home, Junie a go kill mi wid beaten if him know seh me out yah.” He should have been playing at The Bournemouth Club with The Skatalites. Only he never showed up that night, and I wasn’t there to go look for him. Well we were all good Samaritans, so Lenny suggested since I lived next door to him, I should follow him to Johnson Town where she lived. We took her home, watched her open the door and we drove off.

The Next morning about 9:30, someone came up to me and said a news flash had just come on the Rediffusion that Donald killed Margarita last night.  Of course you know that I refused to believe that considering the fact that I dropped her off not many hours ago. If she had been killed last night, we took home a ghost.

Well yours truly waited for the next newscast and did not do any more work for the rest of the day.

There are a lot of folks like Don Drummonds in Jamaica who have wound in the same way, wasted because of economic conditions. I have seen them walking the streets stark naked. I’ll never forget the day I was going through Race Course (Heroes Park) and found him sitting under a little tree. I stopped to chew the fat and while talking with him, I noticed that every few minutes he would take something out of his left hand and throw it in his mouth, much like the motion you make when you eating roasted corn. Out of curiosity, I said what are you eating? He opened his hand to show me some red dirt. When I walked with him to his mother at Robert Street and told her, she said he does things like that all the time and when it gets bad he turns himself in to the Belleview hospital for the mentally disturbed.

I know this man’s music to the point where no other instrumentalist could get me off track with his tone and style. Quite a number of people have tried to copy him and even though he is not around to improve on it, they have been unsuccessful. He rewrote a number of artist’s tunes but he did it in such a way that if you weren’t up to date with your music you couldn’t tell they were not his. One of his favorite artists was Mongo Santamaria.

When he did the solo in CARRY GO, BRING COME, he left a standard there that if you wanted it to sound good, you’d better play note for note, or else; and that was an original.

It’s only a pity he ended up the way he did, but as history will tell, there are lots of geniuses that end up in the waste basket just like he did for various different reasons. May his soul (RIP).

Actually, I met Don when he was in school at Alpha (Boys School). I must admit that my obsession for music is what caused us to meet the first time. I was passing by the back of the school one day while the band of boys was outside practicing. Somehow I found out that they did this every day. I started making regular trips there just to sit outside the fence on my bicycle and listen to what I considered free music. Being obsessed like I said, and being one the greatest whistlers that I know, I figured if I could learn to play one of those instruments, I would achieve one of my goals. On one of my trips I got bold and called one the boys to the fence and said to him, “how can I get in there to learn to play some music?” He pointed out a man to me who at the time was the music teacher. I tried to get this man’s attention without any success, but about three days later Don came to the fence and asked if I would like him to tell the man I wanted to talk to him. Of course I nervously said yes. He went over and told the man who came over to me and asked me what I wanted to talk about. I asked how I could get to come into the school to learn to play. Folks may find it hard to believe the answer I got. “You have to go out and commit a crime, so that they can send you in here”. I later found out that was not the truth. I don’t have to tell anyone how that made me feel. But I got some gratification out of the fact that years later when Lenny Hibbert took over that same job; he looked at a group of guys that he was using to form his first band and told them that if I ever decided to play music, a number of them would be out of work.

I do not think it was very many years after that the group of guys mentioned here left school. But Don being the kind of person was, admitted that he was the boy that spoke to the man that day. We didn’t hang out much together, but whenever he would be appearing somewhere, yours truly would always try to make it. I don’t know when he met Margarita, but the night when he brought her to sit at my table which consisted of several other men, he said to her this is who you must dance with and no one else, I found out that this was an item that was to be considered seriously. At one stage of her life, she lived two doors from me on the corner of Lissant Road and Blake Road with her father and a couple of sisters, so I guess I was considered a guardian. There is no question as to whether he was seriously in love with her, but he warned her not to go out and do any more of this Rhumba Dancing because his woman is not supposed to be exposing her body to other men, (she was half naked most of the time while dancing) and that’s what she did on that fateful night. It is hardly likely that anyone could fathom the feelings that run through a mind such as his. He could be a pussycat this minute and raging tiger the next, and what he did mostly was exuded his rage into music or peacefulness.

About the author

Winston Smith