Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Richmond, Dannie (Charles Daniel)

Dannie Richmond was Charles Mingus's musical foil over twenty years. In Richmond, Mingus found a saxophonist-turned-drummer who executed all of the mercurial composer's twists and turns with sophistication and melodic grace. Often overlooked, Richmond's playing merits closer attention, and it is an essential link in the Mingus chain. The two men remained best friends and musical kindred spirits amidst chaotic lifestyles and addictions. Mingus didn’t trust many, but he always trusted Richmond.

Dannie Richmond Plays Mingus

Charles Daniel Richmond was born on December 15, 1931 in New York City, and grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina. His first instrument was the tenor saxophone, and by his late teens Richmond was performing and touring in the rhythm and blues circuit with artists such as Paul Williams and The Clovers, among others.

Richmond then returned to New York City to study at the Music Center Conservatory. During this period in his early 20s, Richmond began teaching himself the drums. He hadn’t played for too long before Lou Donaldson recommended the naturally gifted Richmond to Mingus, who was at the time frustrated by a lack of musical agility from his previous drummers. In Brian Priestley’s A Critical Biography, Mingus is quoted as saying, “When I met Dannie several young drummers had just about burned me out time-wise, and they were sound-deaf and tone-deaf. . . He [Richmond] gave me his complete open mind.”

And there begins the career-defining, long-standing relationship between the pair. In Richmond Mingus found a tasteful accompanist who could burn at the fastest tempos, quietly accompany a ballad soloist, rip into a gospel stomp, and seamlessly shift tempos and modulate between polyrhythmic feels. All the while, Richmond gradually began co-leading Mingus’s often varying groups through his faultless knowledge of Mingus’s complex arrangements. Although Mingus valued and retained star players like Jimmy Knepper, Booker Ervin, and Eric Dolphy for years on end, his groups were constantly met with instrumentation shifts and personnel changes. From late 1956 on, however, the drum chair was permanently reserved for Dannie Richmond.

One of Richmond’s first studio experiences with Mingus was on March 13, 1957 for The Clown sessions. The quintet setting allowed Richmond to fully display his Philly Joe Jones-inspired compositional approach on tracks such as “The Clown,” “Reincarnation of a Lovebird,” and “Haitian Fight Song,” which captures an early Richmond in top form.

Later in 1957, Richmond contributed some of the finest playing of his career on the album Tijuana Moods, which inlcudes “Ysabel’s Table Dance,” “Los Mariachis,” and “Dizzy Moods,” which contains a brief yet fiery Richmond solo.

Two of Richmond’s most celebrated performances with Mingus came in 1959 with Blues and Roots and Mingus Ah Um. Most tunes on both recordings feature multiple tempo shifts, metric modulations, and stylistic variations handled flawlessly by Richmond. Highlights from Blues and Roots include “Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting,” “E’s Flat, A’s Flat Too,” “Moanin,” and “Tensions.” Tracks to explore from Mingus Ah Um include “Better Git it in Your Soul,” a reprise of the song first recorded as “Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting”), “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” and “Fables of Faubus.”

While the majority of Richmond’s musical time was spent with Mingus, he managed to participate in additional sessions as a sideman throughout the late 1950s. A few of these recordings include Love, Gloom, Cash, Love with Herbie Nichols in 1957, Chet Baker Sings It Could Happen To You in 1958, and Down Home with Zoot Sims in 1959.

Many of Richmond's dates with Mingus in the early 1960s rival the artistic successes of their seminal early work. These recordings include Pre-Bird from 1960), which includes “Half-Mast Inhibition,” Mingus at Antibes, and Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus. Richmond takes a fine drum solo on “Folk Forms No. 1” as well as an extended unaccompanied performance, “Melody From the Drums.”

Highlights from the album Oh Yeah include “Ecclusiastics” and “Eat that Chicken.” Other memorable recordings from this period include The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Live in Paris, and Mingus in Europe.

When not with Mingus, Richmond recorded Book Cooks with trumpeter Booker Ervin in 1960 and Pepper Adams Plays Charles Mingus in 1963. In 1965, Richmond released the first of his rather infrequent recordings as a leader, In Jazz for the Culture Set. The date featured fellow Mingus band member Jaki Byard on piano, bassist Cecil McBee and guitarists Toots Thielemans or Jimmy Raney.

Richmond followed Mingus’s lead and took an extended break from recording in the second half of the 1960s. When Mingus returned to the scene in 1970 with the Let My Children Hear Music sessions, Richmond was by his side. In 1972, however, Richmond temporarily left Mingus’s group to join the Mark-Almond fusion group, and he can be heard on the albums Mark-Almond II and Rising. In 1973, Richmond rejoined Mingus for what would be his last five years of recording. Together, they recorded Mingus Moves (1973), Changes One (1973), Changes Two (1973), Cumbia and Jazz Fusion (1976), Me, Myself and Eye, and Something Like a Bird (1978). Evidence of Richmond's undimmed mastery can be heard on “Remember Rockefeller at Attica” from Changes One, where he provides the glue needed to hold the 51-bar form together.

Upon Mingus’s death in 1979, Richmond released more recordings as a leader, most of them either Mingus memorials or reunion dates with former Mingus sidemen. Some of these recordings include Ode to Mingus (1979), Dannie Richmond Plays Charles Mingus (1980), The Dannie Richmond Quintet (1981), Dionysius (1983), and The Gentleman’s Agreement (1983).

Richmond also participated in the first performances of the Mingus Dynasty, a memorial group which released two records in 1980, Chair in the Sky and Live at Montreux. He also performed as a sideman with Hannibal Marvin Peterson, Mal Waldron, Herbie Nichols, and Horace Parlan throughout the 1980s, as a well as being a primary member of the Don Pullen/George Adams Quartet, the pianist and tenor saxophonist featured on most of Mingus’s later material. The group, usually completed by the presence of bassist Cameron Brown, released a handful of top quality albums throughout the first half of the 1980s, including Earth Beams (1980), Live at the Village Vanguard, Volume Two (1983), and Decisions (1984). One of Richmond’s finest recorded solos opens “Big Alice,” a Don Pullen-penned track from Live at the Village Vanguard, Volume Two.

Dannie Richmond died rather suddenly of a heart attack on March 15, 1988 in Harlem, New York. He was 56 years old. He was survived by his wife, Juanita, and his daughter, Tamia. His untimely death was in part the result of the toll that a sustained narcotic addiction had taken on his body.

There are not many awards or honors to speak of when it comes to Richmond’s legacy. Perhaps because jazz drummers are often judged on the sheer quantity of their recordings with multiple artists, Dannie Richmond is often easy to overlook in discussions of the important post-bop drummers. However, if Mingus’s musical legacy is essential to the history of post-war jazz, then Dannie Richmond leaves an important imprint on jazz drumming history, as his signature style provided the backbone to nearly all of Mingus’s rhythmically influential recordings.

Select Discography:

As a leader:

In Jazz for the Culture Set (1965), Ode To Mingus (1979), Plays Charles Mingus (1980), Dannie Richmond Quintet (1981), Dionysius (1983), Gentleman’s Agreement (1983)

With Charles Mingus:

The Clown (1957), East Coasting (1957), Tijuana Moods (1957), Blues and Roots (1959), Mingus Ah Um (1959), Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus (1960), Mingus at Antibes (1960), Pre-Bird (1960), Complete Town Hall Concert (1962), Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (1963), Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus (1963), Mingus at Monterrey (1964), Mingus In Paris (1964), Mingus in Europe (1964), Let My Children Hear Music (1971), Mingus Moves (1973), Changes One (1973), Changes Two (1973), Cumbia and Jazz Fusion (1976), Me, Myself an Eye (1978), Something Like a Bird (1978)

Contributor: Eric Novod