Remembering Alphonse Mouzon


Alphonse Mouzon (1948–2016)

(Photo: Tenacious Records/DownBeat Archives)

Drummer-producer-entrepreneur Alphonse Mouzon, who died on Dec. 25 after a long illness, will be remembered as a powerhouse figure behind the drum kit. He was 68.

Mouzon’s resume included work in the earliest incarnation of Weather Report, stints with pianist McCoy Tyner and trumpeter Donald Byrd in the 1970s, membership in the pioneering fusion band The Eleventh House with guitarist Larry Coryell and performing in the daring Trilogue co-operative with trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff and bassist Jaco Pastorius. Over the decades, Mouzon also frequently fronted his own funk-fusion bands.

On Sept. 7, 2016, Mouton was diagnosed with Stage 3-4 Neuroendocrine Carcinoma. By Oct. 10, his kidneys began failing and he was hospitalized for 13 days. He used a crowd-funding platform to help pay for treatment, but his health issues persisted, and he succumbed on Christmas Day.

Born on Nov. 21, 1948, in Charleston, South Carolina, Mouton was of African, French and Blackfoot descent. Following graduation from Bonds-Wilson High School, where he received his early musical training, he moved to New York to study music and drama at New York City College and medicine at Manhattan Medical School. Mouzon took drum lessons from pianist Billy Taylor’s drummer Bobby Thomas, and while attending college he played in the pit band of the Broadway musical Promises, Promises.

By the early ’70s, he began making his mark on the burgeoning fusion movement while also studying acting at The Lee Strasberg Institute in Hollywood, California. (Later in his career, Mouzon appeared in the 1996 Tom Hanks film That Thing You Do! and in the 2007 doo-wop drama The Dukes.)

His early recording credits include Weather Report’s 1971 self-titled debut, McCoy Tyner’s 1972 album Sahara and 1973’s Song Of The New World. During this period Mouzon recorded a string of successful albums as a leader for Blue Note: The Essence Of Mystery (1972), Funky Snakefoot (1973), Mind Transplant (1974) and The Man Incognito (1975).

Mouzon joined forces with Coryell in 1973 to form The Eleventh House, a trailblazing fusion group that also featured trumpeter Randy Brecker, keyboardist Mike Mandel and bassist Danny Trifan. The band’s 1973 debut on the Vanguard label, Introducing The Eleventh House, stands as a classic of the genre on the strength of such potent numbers as Coryell’s “Birdfingers,” Mandel’s odd-metered “Adam Smasher” and Mouzon’s “The Funky Waltz.” Coryell and Mouzon had several reunions over the decades and collaborated last year on a new Eleventh House recording, Seven Secrets, scheduled for a June release on Savoy Jazz.

Coryell expressed tremendous admiration for of his fallen comrade: “We shared a mutual desire to expand our audience for jazz by mixing in simple ideas that could evolve into musical complexity; in other words, reel in these new listeners with some simple funk figures, then play some bebop over that. Alphonse’s concept was more along the deep funk route, like ‘The Funky Waltz’ he did on the first Eleventh House album. And from there we were on our way, pursuing a jazz-based book of contemporary improvised music. It’s so funny that what started out [with] a ‘Let’s see if we might work together’ meeting back in 1973 turned out to be a bottomless pit of streaming creativity and, for the most part, solidarity.

“We had a long relationship, and I will never forget Alphonse’s great tenacity of character. He was a totally virtuous, stand-up guy. The man was a truly soulful brother-in-arms for the art of music who had an unimaginable amount of talent. Nobody could play the drums like that, nobody could write like that or produce like that. There has never been anyone like Alphonse, and there never will be anyone like Alphonse, period.”

The list of artists with whom Mouzon recorded during his illustrious career reads like a “Who’s Who” of jazz and pop and includes Gil Evans, Roy Ayers, George Benson, Freddie Hubbard, Hubert Laws, Sonny Rollins, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Carlos Santana.

In 1992, Mouzon formed Tenacious Records and released his album The Survivor. Subsequent releases for his label include On Top Of The World, Early Spring, By All Means, Love Fantasy, Back To Jazz, As You Wish, The Night Is Still Young, The Sky Is The Limit, Distant Lover, Morning Sun and Absolute Greatest Love Songs And Ballads.

His all-star straightahead outing from 2011, Angel Face, featured Arturo Sandoval, Wallace Roney, Antoine Roney, Shunzo Ohno, Bob Mintzer, Ernie Watts, Cedar Walton, Kenny Barron and Christian McBride. Mouzon played piano, trumpet and drums on that album.

Mouzon is survived by his sons Jean-Pierre and Alphonse Philippe; his daughter, Emma Alexandra; two sisters and two granddaughters. DB

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