Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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COPELAND, Keith

(b 18 April 1946, NYC; d 14 February 2015, Frankfurt) Drums. His father was trumpeter/arranger Ray Copeland, who worked with Thelonious Monk. Keith went to high school in Brooklyn, then served in the USAF '63-7; he wanted to play in an air force band but was sent to communications school. Time in Germany allowed gigging in Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Cologne, Munich with Albert Mangelsdorff, Benny Bailey, many others; in Paris with Johnny Griffin, Dexter Gordon, Kenny Clarke, Ted Curson. A stint with Stevie Wonder's Wonderlove band '71-2 included a UK tour; he went to Boston's Berklee College of Music, gigged in R&B and with Jaki Byard, and was invited to join the Berklee faculty without a degree '75-8, proving to be an excellent teacher.

He went back to NYC where he joined Milt Jackson at Village Vanguard, and was then a rising star with excellent taste and technique, powerful and exultant swing, in demand for gigs and records: Return of the Griffin '78 on Galaxy with Johnny was his first. He worked 15 months with the Heath brothers (Columbia LP In Motion January '79; The Bassist! on Discovery with Sam Jones trio same month). Then with a Billy Taylor quartet '80-84, including Where Have You Been? '80, adding violinist Joe Kennedy (b 17 November 1923; d 17 April 2003, Richmond VA) on Concord Jazz, and Once In Every Life '83 on Chicago's Beehive label with Frank Wess and vocalist Johnny Hartman. There were albums with George Russell '80-83; a quintet Upper Manhattan Jazz Society '81 on Enja '85 co-led by Charlie Rouse and Benny Bailey with Albert Dailey, piano, Buster Williams (b Charles Anthony Williams Jr, 17 April 1942, Camden NJ; accompanied Nancy Wilson '64-8). Also recorded with the Joe Locke/Phil Markowitz Quartet (with Eddie Gomez), Rory Stuart albums on Sunnyside and Cadence, Billy Pierce's William The Conqueror '85 on Sunnyside (Pierce had jammed with Copeland in Boston, played five years with Art Blakey), guitarist Joshua Breakstone's Echoes '86 on Contemporary, Sittin' On The Thing With Ming '93 on Capri, and two or three more; Hank Jones CDs included Lazy Afternoon '89 on Concord Jazz (with Ken Peplowski and Dave Holland). Keith is also valued by vocalists, and has accompanied Chris Connor, Johnny Hartman (including four tracks from the film Bridges Of Madison County), Ann Malcolm and others.

Meanwhile he played in Basle with Curson '83, toured Europe with Benny Golson '85, worked with Arnie Lawrence (reedman, b 10 July 1938, Brooklyn), Dakota Staton '85, and there were UK tours with Russell '86-7. He taught at Long Island U (Brooklyn), Eastman, Rutgers, Drummer's Collective NYC; in the early '90s divided his time between Germany, New York and private students, and finally came out with his first album as leader: On Target '93 with Kenny Barron, Mike Richmond, Mark Kirk on JazzMania got warm reviews. Further albums included sets with vocalist Ann Malcolm on Sound Hills (Milan), Mike Herriott Quintet on Boathouse (Canada), and trios with Stanley Cowell on Steeplechase, Howard Alden on Concord, bassist Martin Wind (and pianist Bill Mays) on European labels September and A Records, with Armenian pianist David Gazarov on Episode. Trio tracks recorded in Canada '95 with pianist Miles Black and bassist Rick Kilburn include an eponymous CD by the trio, Convergence, plus tracks for Keith's own A Postcard From Vancouver on the Jazz Focus label: Black works transcribing jazz solos from records for educational CD-ROMs, Kilburn once worked with Dave Brubeck and runs a studio, and together they sound like one guy with six arms. Meanwhile an electric trio recorded in Dublin is different, further out and just as together: albums The Irish Connection, Round Trip and Live In Limerick on Steeplechase, with guitarist Tommy Halferty and bassist Ronan Guilfoyle, who runs the Newpark Music Centre. On Storyville '96 with tenor/soprano saxophonists: Bob Rockwell's quartet Shades Of Blue '96 has Andy LaVerne on piano and Jesper Lundgaard on bass; Larry Schneider's trio Freedom Jazz Dance is more exposed, with Steve LaSpina on bass and no keyboards: everybody has to work harder and listen closer, and the result is an astonishing tour de force, made in just three hours. Most of these superb musicians were in their forties, little known while the media go mad over a different teenager each year; Keith Copeland was intensely aware of the politics of music and academia but would have none of it, spreading good cheer and good music wherever he went.

By 2005 Copeland had played on about 100 CDs, including a CD/DVD on Rounder with blues legend Charles Brown, and for some time had had two music professorships in Germany, and was probably working too hard and traveling too much. In February he suffered a seizure caused by a thrombosis (blood clot) and his condition was very serious, but by the end of May he was making a good recovery. Meanwhile in March Bill Zildjian of Sabian Cymbals presented a gift to the Berklee College of Music for a scholarship in Keith's honor. He had another decade with his beloved wife Ute before he left us too soon.