Donald Bailey – Born To Drum

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Donald “Duck” Bailey is one of the few musicians who have significantly impacted the music industry. When you talk about drummers with style and influence, be sure to find Donald somewhere on the list. He has assisted to put in place the pulse of jazz for more than 50 years.

Well, you may not find him on the top list of innovators in this set, but he has played a vital role in shaping it. Consider his 9-year gig with Hammond B3 legend Jimmy Smith for instance. This happened between 1956 and 1964, where he was the drummer that cemented the band’s guitar and drum. He was the instrumentation of the organ combination for the B3.

Donald Bailey
donald bailey

That is not all; Donald Bailey also crafted a trap set vocabulary that allowed Smith to play quickly. Smith could lay flat, pedal-generated bass tunes while delivering incredible crescendos that made him the remarkable drummer he was. Bailey is considered a selfless drummer who focused more on helping others grow.

The generation of drummers that have come after him has all received great musical wisdom from the drummer. He is the one who brought together a band that included George Burton on the piano, Tyrone Brown on the bass, Ideal Pope on the tenor saxophone, and Charles Tolliver as a guest on the trumpet.

One of the factors that set Donald aside from other drummers is his unique sound. Jazz fans know his sound very well, even if they may not remember his name. It’s pretty amazing how he has maintained such a low profile, even though he is better a drummer than many other famous musicians. But that is just who he is. He floats under Smith on the Blue Note albums. He sets the time and tempo for pianists Hampton Hawes and Jimmy Rowles. He has also been a member of the “Three Sounds” and many other classic groups. How did Donald become such a great drummer?  Well, living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he had a considerable influence from great drummers.

Donald started playing drums at the age of 10. His style and concept behind the throne were influenced by the late Haasan Ibn Alli, who is a legendary pianist. There was also his brother Morris, who encouraged him to follow his passion and work hard. This was a very heavy and extensive training that prepared him for the market. He later joined the Jimmy Smith Group in ’52, where he stayed for eight years, playing the instruments and improving his skills. He established the future of this group, and he is credited for that.

Donald Bailey Performing
donald bailey performing

Donald learned a lot from other musicians.  He was open to other varieties of music, aside from what Haasan was offering. And that is why he can work in any type of jazz using just a few cymbals and drums. When he moved to Los Angeles in 1965, Donald used his extensive knowledge to start playing with Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars.

He performed and worked on projects with a wide variety of high-profile musicians, including Sarah Vaughn, Carmen McRae, and Kenny Burrell. Due to his nomadic gene, he relocated to Japan, spending six years learning other techniques. He is a well-developed drummer with a unique style and approach to music.

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