The Next Chapter

Shakura S'Aida remembers her mentor, jazz drummer Archie Alleyne

Columnist and blues musician Shakura S'Aida on the autobiography of the late jazz drummer Archie Alleyne, who was a mentor to her.
Canadian jazz drummer Archie Alleyne was a mentor to many performers, including The Next Chapter columnist Shakura S'Aida.

Archie Alleyne was a well-known jazz drummer who died last summer at the age of 82. He played with jazz greats like Billie Holliday, Stan Getz and Canada's own Jackie Richardson. He was renowned for his ability and for his advocacy on behalf of young musicians. 

Blues and jazz performer and The Next Chapter columnist Shakura S'Aida has read Alleyne's autobiography Colour Me Jazz, and she joined Shelagh in Toronto to talk about the book.

ON HER FIRST MEETING WITH A LEGEND

I knew Archie for 31 years. Archie was my very first mentor in the industry — I met him at a jam session at Dimple's, which was at Broadview and Queen, and I got up to sing "God Bless the Child," and Archie was sitting on drums and Kingsley Ettienne was on the B3 organ. And after I finished, they both, along with Betty Richardson, Jackie's sister, took me aside and gave me tips. Archie was a singer's drummer. When you sang in front of Archie, if you messed up he would tell you. He was so, so musical. 

HOW ALLEYNE BECAME A DRUMMER TO THE GREATS

He discovered music in elementary school — it was one of the things that drew him away from the streets. They couldn't afford piano lessons for him, so he took his father's whisk broom and he would practice with this and use this to jam with the other guys who were playing piano and things like that. And eventually he became one of the top drummers in Canada — he was the drummer of choice for people like Billie Holiday and Nina Simone and all of the people who came in. They wanted Archie, he was their guy.

ON A UNIQUE AND POWERFUL CANADIAN STORY

There is a lot of history of Canada in this book. He talks about the Jewish and the black populations, and how united they were and how much they worked together. He talks about politics, racism, police breaking into his apartment, trying to find something to  arrest him for. He talks about the underground movement and a little bit about Montreal and the people who were prominent in the underground and the above-ground movements there. I think this is a book for anyone who wants to know more about the people who helped shape this country — and remember, this is a man who won the Order of Canada, this isn't just a jazz musician or a person who lived in Toronto, this was somebody who was worthy of the Order of Canada. This is a man who did not go to high school, and yet he has a scholarship fund to support young people who want to be musicians. This is a story of how no matter how you grow up, you can achieve greatness. 

Shakura S'Aida's comments have been edited and condensed.

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