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James Black
February 1 , 1940 - August 30, 1988
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James Black
Though he's little known outside of New Orleans and never recorded an album under his own name, drummer James Black was a Crescent City legend capable of performing everything from complex modernist jazz to gritty funk.

An accomplished composer as well, Black had a reputation for being an irascible bandleader, intimidating with his personality just as much as his skill.

Born in New Orleans on February 1, 1940, Black soaked up the city's trademark "second line" rhythms from a young age, and by the early '60s was already doing session work for the likes of Fats Domino.

His main interest was jazz, however, and he played in a group with the young Ellis Marsalis on piano and Nat Perrilliat on sax. Nat Adderley (along with brother Cannonball) used all three on his 1962 session In the Bag, to which Black contributed two compositions.

The following year, Marsalis cut an underrated album of modern jazz called Monkey Puzzle; this time out Black handled four of the seven compositions, including the intricate 5/4 piece "Magnolia Triangle," which ranks as perhaps his greatest work.

Black went on to play with Yusef Lateef and Lionel Hampton in the mid-'60s, although his career was interrupted by a stint in the Angola State Penitentiary (during which time he actually played in a prison band with blues pianist James Booker and saxophonist Charles Neville).

In the late '60s, Black paid the bills with R&B gigs around New Orleans, and in 1968 caught on at the Scram label as a house drummer.

He played on Eddie Bo's "Hook and Sling," helping to make it one of the great New Orleans funk singles, and soon took his place alongside Smokey Johnson and the Meters' Ziggy Modeliste as one of the city's top funky drummers.

Meanwhile, he continued to play jazz on the side as part of Ellis Marsalis' band ELM Music Company; they took up residency at Lu and Charlie's beginning in 1972 and became local favorites.

During the '70s, Black also led his own group, the James Black Ensemble, which often featured his longtime girlfriend "Sister Mary" Bonette on vocals. He attempted several times to record a full-length album, including once for the Sound of New Orleans label and another time at Allen Toussaint's studio, but the sessions never progressed beyond a few tracks.

Black continued performing in New Orleans into the '80s, still playing with Ellis Marsalis (as well as Marsalis' then-teenage pupil, Harry Connick Jr.); he also served as the drummer for the 1982 Marsalis Family album Fathers and Sons.

James Black died of a drug overdose on August 30, 1988.

In 2002, the Night Train label assembled a compilation of mostly unreleased tracks, many from Black's aborted LP sessions; I Need Altitude: Rare and Unreleased New Orleans Jazz and Funk, 1968-1978 ran the gamut from heavy funk and psychedelic soul to soul-jazz, and featured several of the drummer's own vocals. In the spring of 2003, Ellis and Wynton Marsalis presented a program of Black compositions as part of the Jazz at Lincoln Center series.

Drummerworld Sound
Eddie Bo

Magnolia Triangle
Ellis Marsalis

Dee Wee
Ellis Marsalis

Whistle Stop
Ellis Marsalis

Lee Dorsey

The Next Ball Game
Inell Young

Idris Muhammad on James Black...

James was originally a trumpet player. In college he played the trumpet. Then he could write and arrange music. Man, he wrote some hip, hip, hip music. Back then, he was a cold-blooded jazz player. James Black was so great that his life ended so fast. That's how great he was. He lived a very fast life and the next you know it was over. He wrote about four tunes with Nat Adderley and Cannonball. Before Coltrane was playing like he did, Nat was playing like that in New Orleans. If you find this record, 'In the Bag,' with Nat Adderley (cornet), Cannonball Adderley (alto sax), Nat Perriliat (tenor sax), James Black (drums), Sam Jones is playing bass and Ellis Marsalis is playing the piano - it's a great record. James was an exceptional drummer. The arrangements that he was writing threw Cannonball and Nat down. Nat Perriliat had been playing with James so he knew most of his tunes. James brought some new tunes and threw Nat and Cannonball down to learn these tunes 'cause the tunes were so hip. And he swung so heavy. "

Wynton Marsalis on James Black...

Out of the cats in my father's band (Nat Perillat, James Black, my father), I liked James the most. He wrote a lot of tunes, like "The Magnolia Triangle." He had the talent. But he had a volatile personality. He was always getting into some kind of trouble, and he was always ready to fight at the drop of a hat. You never knew what he was going to do; he was unpredictable. But as a boy of like, seven, six, eight, there was always something about him I liked. He also was a trumpet player. I was influenced by his music. I liked his songs, like "A Love Song," and things that the people wouldn't know...

Scott Jordan on James Black...

James Black was the James Booker of the drums. He had a restless and explosive musical personality, little patience for sub-par musicianship, and the ability to play everything from ferocious funk to beautiful ballads. He drummed as a sideman for diverse artists such as Fats Domino, Yusef Lateef and Lionel Hampton, but when he died from an overdose in 1988, he'd never recorded an album as a bandleader. Perhaps his greatest artistic achievement was his contribution to Ellis Marsalis' classic 1963 modern jazz album, Monkey Puzzle; Black wrote four of the album's seven songs and infused the whole album with challenging labyrinthine rhythms.

James Black (at the right)


(best guess so far)
1960s - (Fats Domino sessions - exact tracks unclear)
1960s - (Johnny Adams sessions - exact tracks unclear)
1960s - (Dixie Cup sessions - exact tracks unclear)
1960s - (Dave Bartholomew sessions - exact tracks unclear)
1967 - Eddie Bo & Inez Cheatham - Lover & A Friend
1967 - Hooper, Mary Jane & Richie Matta - Stolen Moments
1968 - Roy Ward - Horse With A Freeze
1968 - Mary Jane Hooper - I've Got Reasons / Teach Me
1968 - Mary Jane Hooper - I've Got What You Need
1969 - Inell Young - The Next Ball Game
1969 - Betty Harris - There's A Break In The Road
1969 - Roy Ward - Horse With A Freeze
1969 - Eddie Bo & The Soul Finders - We're Doin' It (Thang)
1969 - Eddie Bo - If It's Good To You (It's Good For You)
1969 - Eddie Bo - Hook And Sling / Hook And Sling pt2
1970 - Eddie Bo - Check Your Bucket / Check Your Bucket pt2
1970 - Lee Dorsey - Riverboat [on Yes We Can Can LP]
1970 - Eddie Bo & The Soulfinders - Showdown
1971 - The Explosions - Hip Drop
1971 - Sonny Jones - Sissy Walk
1973 - Chuck Carbo - Can I Be Your Squeeze
1973 - David Robinson - I'm A Carpenter

1962 - Nat Adderley Sextet - In The Bag (Milestone Records)
1963 - Ellis Marsalis Quartet - Monkey Puzzle (AFO)
1964 - Yusef Lateef - Club Date
1964 - Yusef Lateef - Live at Pep's (Impulse)
1964 - Yusef Lateef - Live at Pep's, Vol. 2 (Impulse)
1964 - Yusef Lateef - Psychicemotus
1965 - Yusef Lateef - 1984
1980 - Eric Gale - Touch of Silk (Sony)
1981 - Jasmine - Tropical Breeze (Inner City)
(feat. Cassandra Wilson)
1982 - Marsalis Family - Fathers & Sons (Columbia/CBS)
1983 - Ellis Marsalis - Syndrome (ELM)

Posthumous releases:
- Various Artists - New Orleans Heritage Jazz 1956-1966 (Opus 43)
(incl. Ellis Marsalis recordings)
1998 - Various Artists - The NEW New Orleans Music: Vocal Jazz (Rounder)
(James Black's last recording)


1962 - AFO Executives (aka All For One Executives) - AFO (AFO) ("Old Wyne")
1963 - Ellis Marsalis Quartet - Monkey Puzzle (AFO) ("Whistle Stop", "Dee Wee", "Magnolia Triangle", "Monkey Puzzle")
1964 - Yusef Lateef - Live at Pep's (Impulse) ("Magnolia Triangle")
1964 - Yusef Lateef - Live at Pep's, Vol. 2 (Impulse) ("Magnolia Triangle")
1989 - Dr. John - Brightest Smile In Town (Clean Cuts) ("Monkey Puzzle")
1990 - Ellis Marsalis Trio ("Whistle Stop")
1992 - David Torkanowsky - Steppin Out (Rounder) ("A Love Song")
1994 - Ellis Marsalis - Whistle Stop ("Whistle Stop", "Dee Wee", "Magnolia Triangle", "Lil Boy Man", "Monkey Puzzle")
1995 - Johnny Adams - The Verdict (Rounder) ("Down That Lonely Road")
1998 - Mark Turner - Mark Turner (Warner Brothers) ("Magnolia Triangle")
2002 - Stanton Moore - Flyin' The Koop (Blue Thumb) ("Magnolia Triangle")

Eddie Bo

this page was built with the big help of Stanton Moore, who made me aware of this great drummer...

thanks for your visit!