Alphonse Mouzon, Jazz and Fusion Drummer, Dies at 68
By NATE CHINEN DEC. 28, 2016
Alphonse Mouzon performing at the Blue Note in 2015. Alan Nahigian
Alphonse Mouzon, a powerful jazz drummer who made his greatest contributions with a funk backbeat, forging a standard for 1970s fusion, died on Sunday at his home in the Granada Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles. He was 68.
The cause was cardiac arrest, his son Jean-Pierre Mouzon said. Alphonse Mouzon learned this fall that he had neuroendocrine cancer and used a crowdfunding platform to help pay for treatment.
Few other drummers were as integral to the development of fusion as Mr. Mouzon, who combined volcanic intensity with a brisk attunement to dynamic flow. He played in the first edition of Weather Report, and was a charter member of another defining jazz-rock band, the Eleventh House, led by the guitarist Larry Coryell.
Mr. Mouzon had a productive association with the pianist McCoy Tyner, playing in a volatile acoustic setting on albums like “Sahara” (1972) and “Song for My Lady” (1973). He also served as the propulsive engine on notable fusion albums by the keyboardist Herbie Hancock, the flutist Bobbi Humphrey and the guitarist Al Di Meola, among others.
Outside of jazz, Mr. Mouzon worked with major touring acts including Carlos Santana, Eric Clapton and Stevie Wonder. The drummer John Bonham of Led Zeppelin acknowledged him as an influence.
A capable keyboardist and vocalist as well as a drummer, Mr. Mouzon released more than two dozen albums of his own, starting in the early 1970s. Some of them are considered jazz-funk touchstones — notably “Mind Transplant” (1975), which features a front line of dueling electric guitarists: Tommy Bolin and Lee Ritenour.
As the leader of a disco group called Poussez, Mr. Mouzon also had several club hits in the late ’70s and early ’80s, including “Come On and Do It” and “Boogie With Me.” And his music proved irresistible to crate-digging hip-hop producers: “Funky Snakefoot,” the title track of his second album, provides the indelible opening drum fill for the Beastie Boys’ “Shake Your Rump.”
Alphonse Lee Mouzon was born on Nov. 21, 1948, in Charleston, S.C. He had little contact with his father, Flagner Mouzon, and was raised by his mother, the former Emma Washington, who worked as a cook.
He began banging on the drums as a child, and though he learned to play a number of other instruments, including trumpet and flute, it was as a drummer that he started working professionally, at 12.
Mr. Mouzon had early experience in rhythm and blues and pop, including a stint with Chubby Checker. He moved to New York at the urging of the alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, whom he had met at a jazz camp in Florida. He quickly found work with a society big band, the Ross Carnegie Orchestra; he also played in the band for the Burt Bacharach-Hal David Broadway musical “Promises, Promises.”
Mr. Mouzon played on a 1970 recording session by the saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter, who then brought him into Weather Report; he appeared on the band’s debut album, “Weather Report,” released in 1971.
But he found a more muscular platform with Mr. Coryell, whose album “Introducing the Eleventh House With Larry Coryell,” released in 1974, opens with a thunderous barrage of triplets on Mr. Mouzon’s toms and snare.
In addition to his son Jean-Pierre, Mr. Mouzon, who was divorced, is survived by another son, Alphonse Philippe Mouzon; a daughter, Emma Alexandra Mouzon; two sisters, Cherry Pickney and Elvina Jarvis; and two granddaughters.
Mr. Mouzon played straight-ahead jazz as well as fusion throughout his career, making a point of fluency in both styles. His most recent release, “Angel Face,” released in 2011, is a swinging combo outing with, among others, the pianist Kenny Barron. More recently, he joined Mr. Coryell in a reunion of the Eleventh House. The band’s album “Seven Secrets” was released in August.
“Because my mind is open, I don’t want to always be identified as just a jazz drummer,” Mr. Mouzon told Modern Drummer magazine in 1979. “I got my start through jazz, and I’m not putting it down. But there are other things I do.”