Alan Dawson: drummer, vibraphonist, teacher

Alan Dawson: born July 14, 1929 in Marietta, PA; died Feb. 23, 1996 in Boston

  • Possessed unimpeachable credentials as a performer but was just as well known as a teacher and mentor of some of the finest drummers in jazz, including Tony Williams, Clifford Jarvis and Terri Lyne Carrington.
  • Dawson himself studied with Charles Alden in Boston in the early 1950s. During that decade, he worked with Sabby Lewis before and after his military service, and toured with Lionel Hampton in 1953.
  • Taught at Berklee from 1957 to 1975, spent two years with Herb Pomeroy, and was the drummer on acclaimed Prestige albums featuring Jaki Byard, Booker Ervin, Illinois Jacquet and Dexter Gordon.
  • Joined the Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1968, following Joe Morello, and mentored Dave’s son, drummer Dan Brubeck. He remained with Brubeck until 1975.
  • In 2002, a studio session recorded in 1992 was released under Dawson’s name. “Waltzin’ with Flo” was this first-call sideman’s only album as a leader.
Alan Dawson

Alan Dawson
(Photo by Nick Puopolo)

Tony Cennamo on Alan Dawson

Alan Dawson would not have appreciated being flowered with superlatives, and I must be careful because he overlooks my shoulder from a photograph on my bedroom wall. He was the most humble man I’ve ever known, never talking about himself, only about his fellow players and his family. The most respected drummer of modern times was the least showy. I called him "Sticks" and he called me "Mikes." When I asked him what we should call bassist John Lockwood, he quickly replied "Rosins."

I could talk about his drumming prowess, but everyone knew. Every one of his prized students admired and respected him. Ask Terri Lyne Carrington. He was her drum teacher. One time he told me he had a surprise for me, he was teaching her vibes. James Williams recorded an album with him and wrote a composition entitled "AD." Alan Dawson, a mentor to Tony Williams as well, was addicted to only two things—his playing and his family.

He had humility and a great sense of humor, and I consider my friendship with him one of the blessings of my life.