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Archie Alleyne

Award-winning jazz drummer Archie (Archibald Alexander) Alleyne has had a long and illustrious playing career that has included performing with many of the giants of the jazz world. He has also been a successful bandleader and businessman and oversees of The Archie Alleyne Mentorship Program and the Archie Alleyne Scholarship & Bursary Fund.

His career has spanned over 60 years performing at all the principal Toronto jazz establishments in Toronto – House of Hambourg, 1st Floor Club, Colonial Tavern, Top O’ the Senator, Montreal Bistro, George’s Spaghetti House, Bourbon Street, including the ones still in existence – The Rex, The Pilot. Self-taught, save for a few lessons with Jack McQuade(Long & McQuade), Alleyne began his career as the house drummer at the town Tavern in Toronto starting in 1953 he accompanied jazz legends such as Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Carmen McRae and Teddy Wilson. During this period, he also played in local studios and in the jazz bands of Ron Collier, Don (D.T.) Thompson and others, toured in Canada and the USA with Marion McPartland and performed in Antigua with Teddy Wilson. After an automobile accident in 1967, Alleyne became a restaurateur (The Underground Railroad, Toronto) and 1970-82 was not active in music.

He resumed his career in 1982, establishing a quartet with the vibraphonist Frank Wright. Initially an all-black group, and sometimes known as the Gentlemen of Jazz, it was completed by Connie (Conrad) Maynard (piano) and Bill Best (bass) – replaced in 1983 by Wray Downes and Steve Wallace respectively – and has played in Toronto clubs and for social events sponsored by the Ontario government. Alleyne toured in 1985 with Jim Galloway in Great Britain and, as frequent sideman 1988-9 to Oliver Jones, travelled to Cuba, Ireland, Spain, Egypt, the Ivory Coast and Nigeria, appearing in the NFB’s Oliver Jones in Africa (1989). Regarded as Toronto’s premier jazz drummer during his years at the Town Tavern, he has maintained a straightforward, swinging style distinguished by his deft brush work.

He has traveled all over the world with various artists, appearing in Birdland, New York, The Blue Note in Chicago, Baker’s Keyboard Lounge in Detroit, Festivals in Europe, and tours in Egypt, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Scotland, Ireland, Spain, Rome, Cuba and the Caribbean.

In the late 1980s, Alleyne and friend Rudy Webb created Evolution of Jazz (EOJ), a music and dance program aimed at connecting black youth with musical legacies. Today, Alleyne continues the work he started with EOJ through the Archie Alleyne Scholarship & Bursary Fund (AASBF).

“During the early days of EOJ,” says Alleyne, “we focused on school children in deprived areas where I felt the attention was most needed. For the most part, we’d go into the school with a little troupe of musicians and dancers. If there was funding, we’d rent a local theatre and bus the kids in. Part of it was to expose the youth to styles of black music that wasn’t angry music.”

The funding for the EOJ program came entirely from the Ontario Arts Council, and it was launched at a time when the provincial government was frantic to fund programs that addressed the circumstances and conditions of troubled neighbourhoods. “On occasion, certain schools had enough talented and committed kids that we went in there and mentored them through the show,” says Alleyne, “but all the performers in the show were kids from this school. After those shows, you could just see the pride and confidence radiating from them. We felt if, at the end of the day, we’d inspire one kid to take up music, then it was worth it.”

Today, along with EOJ, Alleyne uses the AASBF to provide specific support for aspiring young musicians. The fund consists of a mentorship program as well as an award that is provided to applicants in recognition of their achievements and to assist them in their musical education.

“The great thing about this program is it gives kids the opportunity to use their talents in a constructive way,” says Alleyne, “instead of it being wasted on the streets. Hopefully, we can continue to grow and help even more people. It is my hope that people will jump on board and support what we’re doing.”

The AASBF is open to students up to the age of 25, who are enrolled in a jazz program, graduates of a secondary school or in full-time attendance at a post-secondary institution, maintaining academic excellence and contributing to their community.

In 1998, he co-created the band Kollage, a jazz sextet that plays in Toronto’s jazz venues and Canadian jazz festivals. They were awarded the National Jazz Award for the Best Acoustic Jazz Group in 2003 and have produced three CDs and a fourth to be released in March 2009.