The multidirectional rhythms/polytonal percussion realm remembers Rashied Ali as its progenitor. He was the leading exponent of the style, and his work has remained one of the most admired across the globe. Rashied learned his drumming skills from Philly Joe while most of his inspiration came from Art Blakey. Ali was not just a drummer but an inventor of art.
Rashied Ali developed his own style called “free jazz,” which takes one from working as a human metronome. It’s a style that many percussionists have come to love and use. Rashied was born and raised in Philadelphia. Unlike many drummers, he did not start drumming as a toddler. Instead, he began serious percussion work when he was serving in the US army.
His initial foot was in rhythm and blues, and also rock groups immediately after his service. He worked with local Philly RnB groups like Dick Hart and the Heartaches, Big Maybelle, and more. He gradually shifted into the jazz scene, working with Lee Morgan, Don Patterson, and Jimmy Smith.
Rashied was a notable figure in the early 1960s when the Big Apple emerged. He became a fixture in the avant-garde jazz industry, enabling free music spirits like Don Cherry, Pharaoh Sanders, and Archie Shepp to scale the heights of their careers. He was then able to release his major recording titled “On This Night” with Archie Shepp. At the same time, he found a space with Half Note, a group by John Coltrane. He visited many other clubs around Manhattan, playing excellent music at every encounter.
Towards the end of 1965, John Coltrane wanted to use a two-drummer approach for a gig at the Village Gate. Percussionist Trane complemented Elvin Jones and Rashied Ali for the great work they had already done. And with that, they started a musical odyssey that has been traveling through ages. Trane focused on the outer harmonic limits that changed the jazz scene, while Rashied introduced the multi-rhythmic and polytonal drumming style. These two legends became the fuel behind the free jazz fancy seen in Coltrane.
When Coltrane passed on in 1967, Rashied moved to Europe, where he played in different regions before settling for a while in England to study under Philly Joe. Today, many musicians and experts still discuss the emotion-evoking music from the Coltrane/Ali combination. They still try to analyze and review while enjoying it in different formats. Ali introduced a new era of music that will forever stay in the hearts of many enthusiasts.
When he came back to New York, Rashied was sharpened beyond what most could imagine. Hence, he took his spot at the top of the city’s music. He worked and recorded with a wide range of top-ranging musicians like Jackie McLean, Alice Coltrane, Garry Bartz, and many more.
The New York jazz scene had seemed to be dying in the early 1970s; Rashid responded by opening a loft-jazz club and establishing a companion enterprise. He may have started a musical outlet for New York avant-garde, but he soon became the city’s jazz music center. Rashied died in 2009 from a blood clot in his lung. His work continues to carry his name on.