Paying tribute to the Skatalites DON DRUMMOND led by brilliant Swiss improviser SAMUEL BLASER on trombone and a band of all-stars who include Soweto Kinch and Alex Wilson, recently in action with the Bansangu Orchestra, Blaser explains the origins of the project in this exclusive marlbank interview preview

“I decided to form this band after a talk with Juhamatti Kauppinen, a ska, dub and reggae lover for whom I recorded some trombone for his latest release on Playground, at the Tampere Jazz Happening in Finland. I told him my dream was to pay tribute to Don Drummond. He booked the the idea right away and offered to perform at his festival in November 2019. I am still super-excited about it and can’t believe it’s happening! 

“At that time I was starting to perform regularly with bassist Ira Coleman who was by the way a member of Ernest Ranglin’s band. He’s the first member to have joined my group. Then Ira recommended me to get in touch with Dion Parson who will be on drums and Alex Wilson, a British keyboardist living in Switzerland who connected me to Soweto Kinch and Alan Weekes — Alex and Soweto were in Ernest’s band too. Michael Blake and I have been playing together for many years. We share the same love for that music. It was all natural for me to ask him to join the band.”  
Cosmic Don poster
This is quite a departure for you, isn’t it?
“It is in a way but not entirely. In fact, I have always played and listened to Jamaican music. I used to be a member of a well-known reggae band when I was 16-years-old. Since then I have been a regular session player for several productions with musicians like Spahni the LKJ, Lee Perry and Dennis Bovell drummer. I have always been dreaming about starting such a project but never found the right opportunity.” 

What was Don Drummond’s biggest contribution to the sound of the trombone?
“His playing was really unique and his music is still very mysterious to my ears full of imagination and tradition. What an incredible sound: Slightly out of tune; great lines and ideas; super melodic. Voted best trombone by Downbeat in the 1950s. Don himself used to think he was the best trombonist on earth although he never really travelled outside of Jamaica. Trombonists like JJ Johnson did travel to Kingston to hear him. I am not sure it’s true but I like to think that way.” 

What appeals to you most about paying homage to him?
“Right before moving to New York in 2005, a friend of mine in Switzerland gave me a tape and told me to listen carefully to Don D. I didn’t know who he was back then. Since then I have been listening to that tape a thousand times and I am still discovering new stuff in there. It’s amazing how rich this music is. To my knowledge I don’t think anyone else has really paid tribute to the trombonist except for Rico Rodriguez and that was right after Don Drummond's death. Rico, who was one of Don’s protégés and whom I unfortunately met only once, used to travel to my hometown very often — his dentist was there. He used to play with local bands too.”
If push were to come to show what would be your ultimate Don Drummond playlist topper and why?
“Well, I am still working on that and I am not really sure at this point which tunes we are going to perform. The problem is I like them all! I don’t really want to do what the Skatalites are doing. It wouldn’t make any sense. What actually interest me is to personalise Don’s music with the talent of my band members and deliver a different vision/approach. The sound is still in my head. I need to sit down and take the time to imagine the music. I am also considering including other people music like Count Ossie (Don D was going to the Wareika Hills to play drums with him) from an album called Tales Of Mozambique. Alex Wilson will be helping me to build a nice programme!”

Will there be a studio record as well as touring dates?
“Touring dates and a studio record are on the wish-list of course. All I need to do at the moment is launch the project and then see how much potential there is. With such a line-up I am not worried much but it’s the first time I am leading such a project and I am honestly a little nervous. As far as touring we are planning to get additional concerts in November 2019. My agency is currently working on this. Perhaps we could bring that music in the UK and Ireland! Hopefully we will tour more after that.” SG