Drummer Alvin Queen was born in the Bronx, New York, on August 16, 1950. He began playing drums at an early age, and took lessons from Andy Lalino. He played his first professional gig at the age of 11 when the Jimmy Hill Trio unexpectedly found themselves without a drummer for their appearance at a club called the Ambassador Lounge. At the age of 12 he made a recording with trumpeter Joe Newman, saxophonist Zoot Sims, pianists Hank Jones and Harold Mabern, and bassist Art Davis. Unfortunately, that recording never was released.

Over the years, Queen has played with many jazz greats, including George Benson, Stanley Turrentine, Kenny Drew, Plas Johnson, Junior Mance, Charles Tolliver, Terrence Blanchard, Robin Eubanks, and many others.

For all the time Queen has spent backing others, he has had precious little opportunity to put anything out under his own name.

The album I want to tell you about this time around is the first recording to appear thusly, the 1985 release, “Jammin’ Uptown”.

The personnel for this album are:

Alvin Queen, drums
Terrence Blanchard, trumpet
Manny Boyd, sax (alto, soprano, tenor)
Ray Drummond, upright bass
Robin Eubanks, trombone
John Hicks, Piano

“Jammin’ Uptown” hits the ground running with a energetic Terrence Blanchard composition, “Europia”. Blanchard takes the lead almost immediately and holds it for the first couple of minutes. Then he steps back and Boyd takes over, blowing that tenor for all it’s worth. Hicks on piano is the next one in the spotlight, along with Drummond on bass. Toward the end all the horns jump in for a big, dynamic ending.

It’s worth pointing out here that the seven songs on this album were all written by members of the band. Boyd and Eubanks each contributed two songs, leaving Drummond as the only one without representation. Perhaps he was too busy earning a masters degree in political science, another masters in business administration, and teaching jazz at various colleges to write a song for this album. Slacker. (Just kidding!)

Surprisingly, the title track was not Queen’s composition but instead came from sax player Boyd. Somewhat less frenetic than “Europia”, the song “Jammin’ Uptown” has an interesting sound to it. Blanchard once again takes the head, but this time his trumpet is complimented by Eubanks’ trombone and Hicks on the piano. After a bit Blanchard steps back and leaves Eubanks and his trombone to carry it. Seemingly seconds later, Blanchard once again takes control, and it is in this section where he really shines until Boyd takes his turn front and center. This is without a doubt an excellent song, and its easy to see why Queen chose to name the album after it.

Then next song is “After Liberation”, from Eubanks. Several songs on this album fly right out of the gate, and this is one, with the whole group jumping in from the very first note. Close to a minute in Blanchard steps up and gives us a masterful, staccato solo. He is followed in short order by Boyd on the sax. In the background, Hicks can be heard beating his piano while Queen likewise abuses his kit. Then Eubanks takes over and flies us to new heights, and we’re only halfway through the song!

“Mind Wine” from the pen of pianist Hicks is up next. It too starts fast and builds from there, with all the horn players taking the head. Then things quiet down a bit as Hicks takes over, but the intensity never wavers as the rhythm section keeps burning. The horns return and with them the volume increases.

It is I suppose inevitable that a group led by a drummer would have a number that turned out to be one long drum solo. That’s the case with Queen’s only song here, “Hear Me Drummin'”. If you are really into drums, or maybe secretly in love with Queen, you’ll love and cherish all seven and a half minutes of it. Otherwise you’ll probably want to skip on to the next song.

That next song is a delightful change of pace, Robin Eubanks’ lovely ballad “Resolution Of Love”. Eubanks has the lead most of the way through, with Queen, Hicks and Drummond backing. Hicks takes a solo a little over half way through and is followed by Blanchard and the other horns. I had never heard “Resolution Of Love” before, and I have to say it’s delightful.

Come to think of it, I had never heard any of these songs before, including the one the album closes with, Manny Boyd’s “Hassan”. As he has throughout the album, Blanchard has the lead most of the time, and agreeably so. The rhythm section does an outstanding job here. There isn’t much else I can say about this fast-paced romp, other than I really enjoyed it.

I wasn’t able to locate any videos from this album online, but I did manage to find one from another of Queen’s albums. I hope you enjoy it.

The bottom line is, I think you’ll find “Jammin’ Uptown” to be a fantastic addition to your personal playlist, for a Saturday or any other night!

To learn more about Alvin Queen and his music, visit his web site.

Keep up with Alvin Queen on Facebook.

Here’s an
article about Alvin Queenthat appeared in the November 2008 issue of JazzTimes magazine.

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