Idris Muhammad, Legendary Jazz Drummer, Dead at 74
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Idris Muhammad, a funk, R&B and jazz drummer of the first order, has died at 74. His cause of death was not immediately known, but Muhammad had been receiving dialysis since retiring to his native New Orleans in 2011. In accordance with his conversion to the Muslim faith, Muhammad was immediately buried after dying on Tuesday (July 29).
Born Leo Morris, Muhammad made an early name for himself in soul and R&B circles. At just 16, he played drums on Fats Domino’s 1956 smash ‘Blueberry Hill.’ Other early highlights included work with Sam Cooke, a turn on Curtis Mayfield‘s timeless ‘People Get Ready‘ and a stint with a group called the Hawkettes, which featured his neighbor Art Neville (later of the Meters and the Neville Brothers) on piano.
But there was much more to come from Muhammad, who had a keen ear for the rhythms of his hometown. “He was eclectic in terms of his playing,” family friend Dan Williams told NOLA.com. “He mixed the New Orleans sound, that sound of the street music, with jazz music and rock ‘n’ roll, and had all that intertwined.”
Muhammad’s big jazz break came at the turn of the ’70s when, while serving a theater stint, he was contacted by the Prestige jazz label with an offer to join their house band. That led to a series of memorable dates alongside soul-jazz, bop and free-jazz artists like Lou Donaldson, Grant Green, Johnny Griffin and Pharoah Sanders, a former bandmate with John Coltrane.
He continued to work across a broad genre spectrum, however. Stints with Herbie Hancock, Grover Washington Jr., Ahmad Jamal and David Sanborn were balanced by tours with art rockers Emerson Lake and Palmer, and a turn on Roberta Flack on 1973’s charttopping ‘Killing Me Softly.’ He played with Larry Williams, dabbled in disco with the titanic ‘Could Heaven Ever Be Like This,’ and saw his ageless ‘Turn This Mutha Out,’ from 1977, rise to No. 21 on the Billboard R&B chart.
By the 1990s, Muhammad had been remade into a leading light of the acid-jazz movement — a reputation originally built on a pair of CTI albums, ‘House of the Rising Sun’ and, his masterpiece, ‘Power of Soul.’ The latter, a 1974 release, became fodder for countless hip hop tracks.
Rest in peace to Idris Muhammad and condolences to his family and friends.