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1. Though he's little known outside of New Orleans and never recorded an album under his own name, drummer James Black was a Crescent City legend capable of performing everything from complex modernist jazz to gritty funk. An accomplished composer as well, Black had a reputation for being an irascible bandleader, intimidating with his personality just as much as his skill. Born in New Orleans on February 1, 1940, Black soaked up the city's trademark "second line" rhythms from a young age, and by the early '60s was already doing session work for the likes of Fats Domino. His main interest was jazz, however, and he played in a group with the young Ellis Marsalis on piano and Nat Perrilliat on sax. Nat Adderley (along with brother Cannonball) used all three on his 1962 session In the Bag, to which Black contributed two compositions. The following year, Marsalis cut an underrated album of modern jazz called Monkey Puzzle; this time out Black handled four of the seven compositions, including the intricate 5/4 piece "Magnolia Triangle," which ranks as perhaps his greatest work. Black went on to play with Yusef Lateef and Lionel Hampton in the mid-'60s, although his career was interrupted by a stint in the Angola State Penitentiary (during which time he actually played in a prison band with blues pianist James Booker and saxophonist Charles Neville).

In the late '60s, Black paid the bills with R&B gigs around New Orleans, and in 1968 caught on at the Scram label as a house drummer. He played on Eddie Bo's "Hook and Sling," helping to make it one of the great New Orleans funk singles, and soon took his place alongside Smokey Johnson and the Meters' Ziggy Modeliste as one of the city's top funky drummers. Meanwhile, he continued to play jazz on the side as part of Ellis Marsalis' band ELM Music Company; they took up residency at Lu and Charlie's beginning in 1972 and became local favorites. During the '70s, Black also led his own group, the James Black Ensemble, which often featured his longtime girlfriend "Sister Mary" Bonette on vocals. He attempted several times to record a full-length album, including once for the Sound of New Orleans label and another time at Allen Toussaint's studio, but the sessions never progressed beyond a few tracks. Black continued performing in New Orleans into the '80s, still playing with Ellis Marsalis (as well as Marsalis' then-teenage pupil, Harry Connick Jr.); he also served as the drummer for the 1982 Marsalis Family album Fathers and Sons. Black died of a drug overdose on August 30, 1988.

In 2002, the Night Train label assembled a compilation of mostly unreleased tracks, many from Black's aborted LP sessions; I Need Altitude: Rare and Unreleased New Orleans Jazz and Funk, 1968-1978 ran the gamut from heavy funk and psychedelic soul to soul-jazz, and featured several of the drummer's own vocals. In the spring of 2003, Ellis and Wynton Marsalis presented a program of Black compositions as part of the Jazz at Lincoln Center series.

Biography by Steve Huey


1960s - (Fats Domino sessions - exact tracks unclear)
1960s - (Johnny Adams sessions - exact tracks unclear)
1960s - (Dixie Cup sessions - exact tracks unclear)
1960s - (Dave Bartholomew sessions - exact tracks unclear)
1967 - Eddie Bo & Inez Cheatham - Lover & A Friend
1967 - Hooper, Mary Jane & Richie Matta - Stolen Moments
1968 - Roy Ward - Horse With A Freeze
1968 - Mary Jane Hooper - I've Got Reasons / Teach Me
1968 - Mary Jane Hooper - I've Got What You Need
1969 - Inell Young - The Next Ball Game
1969 - Betty Harris - There's A Break In The Road
1969 - Roy Ward - Horse With A Freeze
1969 - Eddie Bo & The Soul Finders - We're Doin' It (Thang)
1969 - Eddie Bo - If It's Good To You (It's Good For You)
1969 - Eddie Bo - Hook And Sling / Hook And Sling pt2
1970 - Eddie Bo - Check Your Bucket / Check Your Bucket pt2
1970 - Lee Dorsey - Riverboat
1970 - Eddie Bo & The Soulfinders - Showdown
1971 - The Explosions - Hip Drop
1971 - Sonny Jones - Sissy Walk
1973 - Chuck Carbo - Can I Be Your Squeeze
1973 - David Robinson - I'm A Carpenter


1963 - Ellis Marsalis Quartet - Monkey Puzzle (AFO)
1964 - Yusef Lateef - Club Date
1964 - Yusef Lateef - Live at Pep's (Impulse)
1964 - Yusef Lateef - Live at Pep's, Vol. 2 (Impulse)
1964 - Yusef Lateef - Psychicemotus
1965 - Yusef Lateef - 1984
1980 - Eric Gale - Touch of Silk (Sony)
1981 - Jasmine - Tropical Breeze (Inner City)
(feat. Cassandra Wilson)
1982 - Marsalis Family - Fathers & Sons (Columbia/CBS)
1983 - Ellis Marsalis - Syndrome (ELM)

posthumous releases:
- Various Artists - New Orleans Heritage Jazz 1956-1966 (Opus 43)
(incl. Ellis Marsalis recordings)
1998 - Various Artists - The NEW New Orleans Music: Vocal Jazz (Rounder)
(James Black's last recording)


1962 - AFO Executives (aka All For One Executives) - AFO (AFO) ("Old Wyne")
1963 - Ellis Marsalis Quartet - Monkey Puzzle (AFO) ("Whistle Stop", "Dee Wee", "Magnolia Triangle", "Monkey Puzzle")
1964 - Yusef Lateef - Live at Pep's (Impulse) ("Magnolia Triangle")
1964 - Yusef Lateef - Live at Pep's, Vol. 2 (Impulse) ("Magnolia Triangle")
1989 - Dr. John - Brightest Smile In Town (Clean Cuts) ("Monkey Puzzle")
1990 - Ellis Marsalis Trio ("Whistle Stop")
1992 - David Torkanowsky - Steppin Out (Rounder) ("A Love Song")
1994 - Ellis Marsalis - Whistle Stop ("Whistle Stop", "Dee Wee", "Magnolia Triangle", "Lil Boy Man", "Monkey Puzzle")
1995 - Johnny Adams - The Verdict (Rounder) ("Down That Lonely Road")
1998 - Mark Turner - Mark Turner (Warner Brothers) ("Magnolia Triangle")
2002 - Stanton Moore - Flyin' The Koop (Blue Thumb) ("Magnolia Triangle")

2. A solo artist from the UK playing stripped down punk-rock songs since November 2004.

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