U.S. drum legend Vernel Fournier dead at 72 (from a Nov. 2000 report)
JACKSON, Mississippi -- The jazz world has lost one of its premier brush drummers, New Orleans native Vernel Fournier.
Fournier, who played with such jazz greats as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Ahmad Jamal, died Saturday in Jackson, Mississippi, of complications from a recent stroke. He was 72.
"He was such a fluid player," said Alvin Fielder, an internationally recognized jazz drummer and longtime friend. "He played beautiful brushes and with the brushes he was totally self-taught. All the other drummers would just go by and watch him in awe."
Fournier caught national attention in Chicago in the '50s as a drummer in the Ahmad Jamal Trio. He's best known for his quasi-rhumba beat on the trio's hit "Poinciana."
In the 1960s, Fournier moved to New York where he performed and taught jazz for about 30 years, until a debilitating stroke in 1994 damaged his spine and left him unable to play.
Vernel Anthony Fournier (born July 30, 1928 in New Orleans, Louisiana, died November 4, 2000 in Jackson, Mississippi and, from 1975, known as Amir Rushdan, was a jazz drummer probably best known for his work with Ahmad Jamal from 1956 to 1962.
Fournier left college to join a big band led by King Kolax. After Kolax downsized to a quintet, Fournier moved to Chicago in 1948, where he played with such musicians as Buster Bennett, Paul Bascomb and Teddy Wilson.
As house drummer at the Bee Hive club on Chicago's South Side in 1953-55, he accompanied many visiting soloists, including Lester Young, Ben Webster, Sonny Stitt, J.J. Johnson, Earl Washington (musician) and Stan Getz.
From 1953 to 1956, he also worked many recording sessions with Al Smith, Red Holloway, Lefty Bates, and others. He joined Ahmad Jamal’s trio in 1957, along with bass player Israel Crosby, and remained with the group until 1962, appearing on a series of recordings for the Chess label. The best known of these, Live at the Pershing (1958), became one of the best selling jazz records of all time, remaining on the Billboard jazz charts for over two years.
After leaving the Jamal trio, Fournier joined George Shearing for two years before rejoining Jamal briefly in 1965-66. He then took a long-running gig with a trio at a restaurant owned by Elijah Muhammad.
He converted to Islam in 1975, and took the Muslim name of Amir Rushdan.
He worked with Nancy Wilson, Clifford Jordan, Billy Eckstine and Joe Williams, John Lewis and Barry Harris.
Fournier was also a teacher of drumming, working at Barry Harris’s Jazz Cultural Theater, the New School, and the Mannes College of Music.
A stroke in 1994 made him a wheelchair user and unable to play drums, but he continued his teaching activities.
He died from a cerebral hemorrhage in Mississippi in 2000.