For Al Harewood, jazz drumming is much more than keeping time and being the backbone of a small ensemble or big band. It's a way of life that has kept him in a privileged position as a pioneering bebop percussionist.
Last winter, patrons at the Paint It Jazz Festival in Barbados would have caught him in action as he led a stellar quartet of musicians who were all more than half his age.
Born in New York City to Barbadian parents a little over seventy years ago, Harewood has been a major figure.
Anderson Lake, jazz critic and presenter/producer of Radio St. Lucia's Jazz From Furious to Sublime, has hailed Harewood as a "standard-bearer at the forefront of the jazz tradition, whose rhythmic patterns bespeak his distinctive Afro-West Indian roots."
Indeed, Harewood is numbered among drum maestros such as Cubans Chano Pozo and Mongo Santamaria; Puerto Rican Ray Baretto, Nigerian Babtunde Olatunji; and the explosive Roy Haynes, who is also of Barbadian descent.
Harewood cut his professional teeth in 1954 at the Putnam Central with an aggregation led by premier trombonist J.J. Johnson. This venue along with jazz clubs such as the Minton's Playhouse, the Village Vanguard, The Blue Note, and the Sweet Basil, proved to be crucial incubators in which Harewood's prodigious percussive talents would develop.
In 1961, Blue Note recording chiefs Alfred Lyons and Frank Wolff signed Al Harewood to record with saxist Lou Donaldson; the rest has become the stuff of jazz history.
"The animal brothers [Wolff and Lyons] heard me perform and were very impressed. This proved to be a very exciting period for me," recalls Harewood.
Harewood went on to become house drummer with the Blue Note label for the better part of the 1960s, recording countless sessions with a who's who listing of legends including Gigi Gryce, Dexter Gordon, Grant Green, Walter Bishop Jr, Benny Golson, Art Farmer, Stanley Turrentine, and Major Holley.
As if nothing has changed since those heady days of bebop, Harewood still performs and records. However, music education takes high priority. "Its essential," he sagely observes, "that we pass on the fundamentals of this artform to successive generations."
For this senior jazzman, this will ensure that the beat goes on.