Jazz Landmark Album, 1959?

1959 was the year of great recordings including “Mingus Ah Um”, Dave Brubeck’s “Time Out”, “Art Pepper + Eleven” featuring fantastic arrangements by Marty Paich, Ornette Coleman’s “The Shape of Jazz to Come”, and the iconic “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis. Each of these had a huge influence on jazz as the be-bop era was waning and players were seeking new directions.

oluntunjiOne record that is less noted but no less important is Babatunde Olatunji’s “Drums of Passion” recorded in 1959 and released in February of 1960. One of the first “world music” albums recorded in the USA, it sold over five million copies.

The late Tom Terrell argued that Drums of Passion was “note for note, rhythm for rhythm, groove for groove, vibe for vibe, and influence for influence—the single most important recording of the last century.”

Jazz and pop music certainly moved toward more African-influenced grooves during the 60’s and beyond. Santana actually covered one song, “Jin-Go-Lo-Ba”, from this record in 1969, as did FatBoy Slim in 2004. Give this one a listen and let me know your thoughts.



One comment

  1. This from Tom Smith (http://tinyurl.com/c6ndl9b) – left on my Facebook page:
    Olatanji when he first arrived, was more the phenomenon for introducing Yoruban music in a nicely filtered generic way, that was less threatening at the time to middle class whites. Don’t get me wrong. he was a great. But in my opinion Ellington, Gillespie etc found him a genius because all this unfiltered familarity was a new sound to them, despite Dizzy’s introduction to African drumming via Cuba, which ironically in its most unfiltered way is a lot edgier than Olatanji. What I always found ironic about jazz musicians’ reactions to Olatanji was that they weren’t hearing anything new or groundbreaking to jazz. What they were actually hearing was the oldest lineage to what jazz already was, which is why they resonated to him. A lot of westerners fail to realize that no one African (even today) identifies himself to a country. Africans instead resonate to tribe. As are most Nigerians, Olatanji was Yoruban, while that tribe constitutes the larger majority of captured American slaves, meaning that most contemporary African Americans share historical lineage to Yoruban culture. The original American slave drumming style was a mostly Youban creation, which of course over many decades is modified and refined into something else. Still, it is very doubtful that jazz would have sounded the same if slave culture had come from say the Zulus of South Africa, whose sound is very different. So yes, Olatanji’s modified Yoruban drumming certainly influenced jazz in a big way…but saying it went down in 1960 (as opposed to probably 1660) is putting the cart before the horse.

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