On Thursday, November 11, a room full of music lovers and jazz greats alike converged on Loyola University's Roussel Hall to celebrate and the life and work of legendary drummer Idris Muhammad, whose accomplishments and contributions to music throughout his life have helped to shape not only New Orleans jazz and blues but also music around the globe. On stage were familiar faces including Donald Harrison, Detroit Brooks, Gerald French, and Shaka Zulu, as well as young, up-and-comers Joe Dyson, Max Moran, and Zaccai Curtis.
The night began with an upbeat selection from Harrison's new album Quantum Leap. Later in the set, "Young M.J.: A tribute to Michael Jackson" made for a refreshing change, with rich harmonies reminiscent of Motown. Mardi Gras Indians also jammed with the band, ending in a rhythmic "Hey Pocky Way" that had the entire audience dancing.
New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation board member Dr. Henry C. Lacey presented the guest of honor with a proclamation from Mayor Landrieu thanking Idris Muhammad for his many contributions to drumming. Idris was quick to thank everyone in attendance, noting how pleased he was to receive this award while he was still alive to enjoy it. He spoke of traveling the world and playing with many different musicians, but declared how nice it was to be retired and in his home town of New Orleans, "where the red beans and rice are always warm."
Although Muhammad has officially retired, he played a short tune on a drum that was presented to him by the original cast of the Broadway musical "Hair." The traditional drum from New Guinea was made from a hollow cylinder of wood carved with intricate designs. The band then re-took the stage for the second set, with selections like "Blueberry Hill," "Alligator Boogaloo," and "Loran's Dance" from Idris's album "Power of Soul."
Following the concert, guitarist Detroit Brooks expressed what an honor it was to be a part of tonight's tribute. He said he felt one of Idris Muhammad's greatest contributions to New Orleans music was his groove. Mr. Books also noted that "the way [Muhammad] swings," from early on had a substantial affect on him. I asked Detroit if he had any advice for young musicians who are trying to develop their own styles, and he simply said, "be humble and just listen" to those who came before you.