This drummer was a childhood friend of trumpeter Fats Navarro in Key West, FL, shedding immediate light on Al Dreares' type of jazz: superior, straight-ahead hard bop devoid of either pretension or commercial gloss. Dreares' name is not in the pantheon of top drummers in his genre: despite his associations with Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, and so forth, his discography is a trifle short of offering a full-scale smorgasbord. In a period of two decades beginning in the mid-'50s, Dreares recorded only 16 different sessions, this pile added to slightly by the later issuing of live performances including a set with Gillespie at the Newport Jazz Festival.
What there is of Dreares on record is still sufficient to set hipsters spinning with discussion. Which, after all, was the hippest rhythm section that this drummer played in during this magical time of hard bop and modern jazz? Those that appreciate the dark side would say it is the work with pianist Mal Waldron and bassist Julian Euell, particularly the version of Waldron's ballad "Left Alone" featuring Jackie McLean on alto saxophone. For pure swing, however, the bouquet would have to be passed to the wonderful trio with pianist Freddie Redd and bassist George Tucker. Likewise, few listeners would deny the greatness of pianist and bandleader Randy Weston's recordings with Dreares and Ahmed Abdul-Malik on bass.
The drummer's father was a trumpet player who encouraged Dreares to study formally at New York City's Hartnett Conservatory. From 1953, Dreares gigged for several years in the Paul Williams band -- no relation to the diminutive pianist and pop singer -- before connecting with the jazz elite, including guitarist Kenny Burrell, alto saxophonist Gigi Gryce, and the aforementioned Mingus. By the late '50s Dreares was leading some of his own groups as well as giving birth to memorable piano trio jazz with bandleader Phineas Newborn. In the '60s and '70s the drummer often worked in a similar way with a somewhat more fiery pianist, Don Pullen. Drumming credited to Al Drears is indeed the work of Dreares with a missing E, but there is also a pianist named Al Drears who is of no relation to the drummer.