Drummer Alphonse Mouzon, 68, Dies in Los Angeles

Jazz and fusion great played with Weather Report, Eleventh House and many others

Alphonse Mouzon image 0
JazzTimes

Alphonse Mouzon

Alphonse Mouzon, the dynamic, versatile drummer who played in Weather Report’s first incarnation and in Larry Coryell’s Eleventh House; recorded with Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Miles Davis, Donald Byrd, Al Di Meola, Wayne Shorter and others; and enjoyed a wide-ranging career as a leader, died on Christmas Day at home in Los Angeles, according to the New York Times. He was 68 and was diagnosed with stage 3-4 neuroendocrine carcinoma, a rare cancer, in September. As reported in the Times, Mouzon suffered cardiac arrest.

Though he was recognized as a profound presence in the history of jazz-rock fusion, Mouzon played across jazz and pop’s stylistic spectrum-his early ’70s work with Tyner is nonpareil postbop-and thought of himself as a complete musician. “I don’t want to be stuck in one category, fusion,” he told JazzTimes in 2001. “I like all kinds of music. And whether I’m playing in a smooth-jazz, straight-ahead, fusion or R&B setting, I still play with intensity and energy.”

Born Nov. 21, 1948, in Charleston, S.C., Mouzon got his first gig at 12 years old, filling in on drums for an organ trio. The foundation of his style-funk, R&B and rock-was built through “record hop” performances as a teenager, drumming along to vinyl spun by a DJ. A man of varied interests even at a young age, Mouzon moved to NYC in the late 1960s after high school, studying music and drama at City College of New York while also working through medical technologist training at Manhattan Medical School. A break in music came with his performance in the pit orchestra for the Broadway play Promises, Promises, where he took over for drum mentor Bobby Thomas. That friendship led to his meeting Wayne Shorter and playing on Shorter’s 1971 Blue Note release Odyssey of Iska.

With Shorter, Joe Zawinul and bassist Miroslav Vitous, Mouzon was one of the founding members of the groundbreaking fusion band Weather Report, and he played on the group’s self-titled 1971 debut. Following Weather Report, Mouzon joined forces with guitarist Larry Coryell to form the Eleventh House, a hugely virtuosic jazz-rock outfit that also included Randy Brecker on trumpet. He would collaborate with Coryell on multiple occasions over the years, including a reunion of the Eleventh House in 1998. “He embraced New York and New York embraced him,” Coryell wrote to JazzTimes earlier today. “We met in 1973 to discuss forming a thinking-man’s fusion band. … Alphonse was a prolific, original composer; on top of that, he was a drummer with more power and strength than I’ve ever heard.” (Coryell’s full-length tribute will appear in JT‘s March issue.) Mouzon also became known for his slick, personal sense of fashion, and on the back cover of Eleventh House’s debut LP, from 1974, he can be seen dressed to the nines in bellbottoms and platform shoes.

Also a vocalist and skilled keyboard player, Mouzon recorded four solo albums for the Blue Note label in the first half of the 1970s-The Essence of Mystery, Funky Snakefoot, Mind Transplant and The Man Incognito-recordings that deftly blended jazz-rock, R&B, soul-jazz and pop, and later became useful to hip-hop’s sample-heavy, crate-digging subculture.

Throughout his career, Mouzon was a busy session and touring drummer, performing and/or recording in jazz, funk and rock contexts with artists including Roy Ayers, JoAnne Brackeen, George Benson, Eric Clapton, Ron Carter, Stanley Clarke, Sheila E., Gil Evans, Roberta Flack, Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard, Jaco Pastorius, Christian McBride, Sonny Rollins, Carlos Santana, Cedar Walton, Stevie Wonder and many others. Beginning in the late ’70s, he was the organizer/producer of the disco project Poussez, which scored dance-floor hits with “Boogie With Me” and the erotically charged “Come on and Do It.”

Mouzon formed his own label, Tenacious Records, in 1992 and released several albums over the years, with a variety of collaborators. His 2011 Tenacious release Angel Face featured several different acoustic quintets and an all-star cast of horn players including Arturo Sandoval, Wallace Roney, Don Menza, Bob Mintzer, Ernie Watts and Antoine Roney.

His interest in theatre never abated. He studied at the Lee Strasberg Institute in 1975, with further studies in the 1990s, resulting in appearances in several films, among them 1996’s rock-and-roll period piece That Thing You Do!, written and directed by Tom Hanks, and the 2007 crime comedy-drama The Dukes, starring Chazz Palminteri.

According to the Times, Mouzon is survived by two sons, a daughter (Emma Alexandra Mouzon, a singer who performs on Angel Face and appears on its cover), two sisters and two grandchildren.