Alan Dawson, His performance credits are staggering, like reading a who's who in jazz: Oscar Peterson, George Shearing, Charles Mingus, Woody Shaw, Phil Woods, Sonny Stitt, Dave Brubeck, Lionel Hampton, Reggie Workman, Quincy Jones, Dexter Gordon, Tal Farlow, Earl Hines, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Frank Morgan, Hank Jones, Frank Foster, Phineas Newborn, Charles McPhereson, Jaki Byard, Teddy Wilson, Booker Ervin, James Williams, Phil Wilson, Terry Gibbs, and many others.
Equally impressive are his former students who have gone on to become their own innovators: Tony Williams, Terri Lyne Carrington, Steve Smith, Joe LaBarbera, Joe Corsello, Kenwood Dennard, John "J.R." Robinson, Casey Scheuerell, Harvey Mason, Vinnie Colaiuta, Keith Copeland, Jake Hanna, Bobby Ward, Akira Tana, and many, many, others.
George "Alan" Dawson was born in 1929 in Marietta, Pennsylvania and raised in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood. He studied drumset for four years with percussionist Charles Alden before serving in the Army for Korean War duty. Dawson played with the Army Dance Band while stationed at Fort Dix from 1951-1953. During his army experience, Dawson was able to dive into the post-bop era by performing with pianist Sabby Lewis' eight-piece band, and after his release from the Army he embarked on a three-month tour of Europe with Lionel Hampton.
During the mid-'50s. Dawson returned to Boston where he maintained an active recording career and did clinics and some brief tours. In 1957 he became the house drummer at Wally's Paradise in Boston and also began an eighteen-year association at the Berklee College of Music.
From 1963-1970, Dawson was the house drummer at Lennie's On The Turnpike, in Peabody, Massachusetts, where he had the opportunity to perform with many leading artists. Dawson subsequently became Boston's drummer of choice for local players as well as touring jazz giants. From 1968-1975 Alan worked with the Dave Brubeck Quartet and toured with Brubeck's family band, Two Generations of Brubeck.
In 1975, Dawson suffered a ruptured disc and needed surgery. He stopped all touring, ended his tenure at Berklee and returned to limited teaching at his home in Lexington, a suburb of Boston. Dawson formed a quartet with James Williams, Bill Pierce and Richard Reid, and established a more staid and relaxed lifestyle. Dawson's decision to limit his teaching to thirty hours per week resulted in an impressive waiting list of students who wanted to learn his "ritual" for practice, his secret to independence, his obsession in obtaining musical variation, and his quest for control of sound, color and swing.
Dawson's approach to teaching was simple. He primarily taught people to play music, and the instrument itself was secondary. Dawson felt very strongly about drummers knowing the melodies and forms of tunes in order to better fulfill their role in accompanying.
Dawson realized that some students were more talented than others, but he was equally proud of them all. Alan truly believed that, as a teacher, he had gotten back more than he gave.
Tony Williams once stated: "Alan Dawson was one of the best drummers in the world. That's a fact, not just my opinion. I met Mr. Dawson when I was nine years old. He went out of his way to encourage me, help me and to see that I had opportunities to develop my meager skills. For example, on Saturday nights he would drive one hundred miles out of his way to pick me up in Roxbury, drive to Cambridge to let me perform with his trio and gain valuable experience, and then return me safely home before returning home himself to Lexington. I was twelve years old. Every drummer, local and worldwide, knew of his legendary speed, precision and control. Mr. Dawson didn't only teach me to play the drums, he taught me how to conduct myself as a musician and as a man. Thank you, Alan Dawson."
On February 23, 1996, Dawson died of leukemia.