Rhythms Like a Drug
“I never chose to be a great musician. I was led there. And I am never too old to learn”
We met Alvin Queen, one of the world’s legendary Jazz-drummers, for a talk about music and his career. “I never chose to be a great musician. I was led there. And I am never too old to learn. Read more …
Alvin Leroy Queen was born in New York on August 16, 1950. He started playing drums when he was eight years old. “In a black family there is always music. There was always music around. One Christmas I went down Fourth Avenue and I saw a little kid up at the window playing a drum-set. And I said to my mum: One day I’m gonna find my way to get up there.”
Alvin’s family was poor and received welfare support at the time. It was only able to pay for some lessons, but as he showed talent, his drum-teacher decided to keep him anyhow – Alvin contributing with running errands, shining shoes, making coffee. Still on his early ‘teens, he would lie about his age to get into the Jazz clubs, and received on stage tuition by Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, Art Taylor or Elvin Jones. Alvin met John Coltrane when he was twelve, and Horace Silver when he was fourteen, and was already enough of a player to be allowed to sit in with them.
“The drum is part of the ensemble, it’s not a featured instrument”, Alvin tells. “The record does not become a hit, because of the drum, it makes a hit because of the rhythm. As a band we are a unit, we are one, not three – and there is a big problem with that today.”
In 1968 he started working with Horace Silver, and the next year he became a regular member of the George Benson Quartet, appearing on the Johnny Carson Show. In 1969 Alvin worked with Stanley Turrentine, and was featured on several TV shows. In November 1970, trumpet star Charles Tolliver hired Alvin for his first European tour. Alvin stayed with Tolliver on and off for about eight years: during this period he also worked with Milt Jackson, Leon Thomas, Pharoah Sanders and Wild Bill Davis. By 1979, Alvin decided to settle in Europe, and moved to Geneva, Switzerland, where he has been residing since.
During the 1980’s Alvin was a member of the Kenny Drew Trio, which also featured the Danish bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen. This trio became immensely popular both in Japan and Europe, recording several CD’s and VT’s for the Japanese label Alpha Records. In the last decades, Alvin has remained one of the most in demand freelance drummers in the world of Jazz. He can be found working in Tokyo, New York and Barcelona during the same week.
“50 percent of your concerts, 75 percent of your concerts don’t have to be the best. It can be 25 percent. What makes you come back is because you are trying to find this special moment again. It’s like a drug. You play with people and they are going to have this orgasm together, but it doesn’t come along with everybody. It’s that moment, it’s that very special moment – and they don’t come every day.”
Alvin Queen was interviewed by Marc-Christoph Wagner at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in November 2020.
Camera: Rasmus Quistgaard
Edited by Rasmus Quistgaard
Produced by Marc-Christoph Wagner
Copyright: Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2020
Supported by Nordea Fonden
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