Denis Charles

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Before he passed away at the age of 64 from pneumonia, drummer Denis Charles enjoyed a diverse and nomadic career. Born in St. Croix, Charles began his professional musical career at the age of seven…
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Looking Ahead
Before he passed away at the age of 64 from pneumonia, drummer Denis Charles enjoyed a diverse and nomadic career. Born in St. Croix, Charles began his professional musical career at the age of seven playing bongos with a local band. Charles moved to New York in 1945. Enamored deeply with Art Blakey's physical style, Charles began playing anywhere and everywhere. He met Cecil Taylor in 1954 and the two began to play together, culminating in Taylor's 1958 set, Looking Ahead. After this stint with Taylor, Charles met and played with Steve Lacy, Gil Evans, and Jimmy Giuffre (Charles was the drummer that Giuffre decided was his last and began recording without one). Charles also met drummer Ed Blackwell, who would become his greatest influence. Blackwell's polyrhythmic approach sat well with Charles, who was reconnecting with the rhythms of his island childhood. When Charles met Sonny Rollins (who also has Caribbean roots), they recorded a lackluster set of calypso-influenced jazz tunes. Undaunted and forever itinerant, Charles returned to Lacy's band and stayed though 1964. In 1967, he played with Archie Shepp and Don Cherry, but fell onto hard times until 1971. He became a fixture on New York's downtown scene, guested on dozens of recordings, and played tours with Frank Lowe, David Murray, Charles Tyler, Billy Bang, and others. Charles played funk, all kinds of jazz, rock, and even Caribbean folk music. His first of three recordings under his own name was a set of Crucian material called Queen Mary, after a sugarcane field worker who led a worker's insurrection against the Danes. After a final tour with Wilber Morris, Charles fell ill and passed away in his sleep.