Idris Muhammad

Born: November 13, 1939 in New Orleans, Louisiana

Idris Muhammad is living proof of the tremendous impact that New Orleans and its rhythms had on twentieth-century American popular music. His playing contradicts all attempts at traditional labeling. Many consider him to be a titan of straight-ahead jazz, but Idris refers to himself as funk drummer, and has done so since long before the style was identified by that name. In a long and diverse career that stretches back to the late 1950s, the only common denominator running through his many musical accomplishments is a keen awareness of melody with a fatback groove that starts from the bass drum up—both unmistakable traits of a drummer from the Crescent City.

Idris Muhammad came of age in the 1940s and ’50s, a rich period in New Orleans’s music history that offered the opportunity to be mentored by Ed Blackwell and Earl Palmer, and to collaborate with future Meters leader Art Neville. After cutting his teeth on the R&B circuit, Idris soon began making hits with pioneering soul men like Jerry Butler and Curtis Mayfield. By the late ’60s he landed in New York, where he began to cement a jazz legacy built on hundreds of sessions for iconic labels like Blue Note and Prestige, covering everyone from soulful organist Lou Donaldson to the Coltrane-inspired Pharaoh Sanders. Never one to be pigeonholed, Muhammad also created the original drum chair for the rock musical Hair, and played on countless radio hits for artists such as Roberta Flack, Bob James, and Grover Washington, Jr.