Drummer Al Harewood passed away on March 13th at the age of 90. Harewood was a reknowned drummer best known for playing on many classic Blue Note Jazz recordings in the 1950’s and 60’s as well as playing well several well regarded live jazz groups.
Alphonse “Al” Harewood was born in Brooklyn, New York June 3, 1923 to Benjamin Harewood and Clarissa Sealy Harewood. He was the second child of six (four boys, two girls) born to the natives of Barbados British West Indies who had relocated to America in search of a better life. As a young boy Al as he was called to the performing arts and became a gifted tap dancer with ties to The Bill Bojangles Robinson school of dance. He also had an affinity for cars. He attended and graduated from Automotive High School.Music was the foundation of his life. Al’s musical career had a very humble beginning Al’s older brother Eustace was a drummer who performed on local gigs. When Eustace was drafted into World War II his drums were left behind. (Due to a childhood bout with pneumonia Al was declared unfit for military service). When Eustace returned from the service he was quite surprised to see that Al had become quite accomplished on drums and encouraged him along further.
Al’s journey through the heights of the music word received a major windfall when his good friend Arthur Edgehill (himself an accomplished drummer in his own right) had the misfortune of having a booking conflict having gigs with the great singer Dinah Washington and trombonist J J Johnson at the same time.
Edgehill referred Al to substitute for him on the Johnson gig which became the the beginning of an illustrious career as a highly in demand drummmer playing both on recordings and live performances with some of the most important figures in Jazz music history including but not limited to Dexter Gordon, Ron Carter, Stanley Turrentine, Horace Parlon, George Benson, Mary Lou Williams, Betty Carter, Benny Golson, Stan Getz, Grant Green, Lou Donaldson and a host of others.
Al became known as a consumate percussionist who fed his leaders swinging driving rhythms without clashing or getting into their way. His sensitivity with his cymbal work was so revered that many of his peers called him “Mr Tips”. Drummer Kenny Washington who also teaches percussion at Julliard has stated publicly that he makes all his drum students study Al’s work with the likes of Dexter, Turrentine and Horace Parlan. At one point Al himself was an adjunct professor at Livingstone College of Rutgers University in New Jersey.Music was one foundation and connection to family was another.
In 1955 Al married Geraldine Williams which became a 40 year sunshine filled love affair that only ended when Geraldine transitioned in May 1995. In those years they loved to entertain in their home, go on family picnics and take regular trips to their home in their beloved Barbados. Surprising even Al himself flowers blossomed again with an 18 year very special connection with his constant companion Barbara Stephens. They enjoyed much laughter, daily viewing of Judge Judy, hanging with children in the family and Al’s trips to Barbados continued. Al himself stated outwardly on many occasions that if were not for Stephens he may have left this earth several years ago. Al had one son Carlos who preceded him in departing this life.
In addition to Ms Stephens he is survived by his cousin Cyril, niece Sandra, nephews Kevin, Norman, Jason and Todd, sister in law Jean, great nieces Aura and Ebun, great nephews Jonathan and Cameron and a host of other extended family members and friends.