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Percussionist and Sideman Don Alias Dies at 66

Percussionist Don Alias died suddenly March 28 at the age of 66. One of the best sidemen in jazz, Alias worked with musicians including Miles Davis, Chick Corea and Joni Mitchell throughout his illustrious career, though most of it was spent alongside bassist Gene Perla. The two were working on a joint memoir at the time of Alias’ death.

Alias was born to Caribbean immigrants in Harlem, New York, on Christmas Day, 1939. He learned much of his unique drumming styles on the streets of New York. By the time Alias was in high school, he was performing with the Eartha Kitt dance troupe and the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band. After graduating from Gannon College, Alias went on to study at Boston’s Carnegie Institute for Biochemistry where he befriended musicians at Berklee.

It was there that Alias and Perla met. After forming a band with another Berklee student, Perla got a job with Nina Simone and recommended Alias to play drums for her performances. While on tour with Simone, Alias began attracting attention from other musicians including Miles Davis. He and Alias worked on Davis’ 1970 Bitches Brew.

Throughout the 1970s, Alias worked with the likes of Weather Report, Jaco Pastorius, Joni Mitchell and Roberta Flack. In the 1980s, Alias continued to work with big names, as well as start his own bands. Alias and Perla revived their band Stone Alliance and released several albums. While living in Canada in the late ’80s, he started a 10-piece jazz band called Kebekwa.

Alias reunited once again with Perla and Stone Alliance in 1996. The band went on to release several more live albums.

Originally Published