One last chat with Archie

By Bill King

Archie Alleyne at his drum kit.
Archie Alleyne at his drum kit.

Recently, my good friend and bandstand partner drummer Archie Alleyne passed away at 82.

Arch had been battling prostate cancer the past decade – a decade we rarely saw each other. Our time was 1992-2002 when it seemed we played everywhere with every singer, beginning with Liberty Silver.

Archie didn’t particularly care for pushing singers along – he was a ‘schooled’ hard bop drummer intent on one day owning his own band and music. This would happen when he was nearing 70 and formed Kollage.

Bill King took this photo in the ‘90s which shows three legends of the piano, Ray Bryant, Junior Mance and Jay McShann, with Archie Alleyne who played drums on this show for TD Jazz Festival.
Bill King took this photo in the ‘90s which shows three legends of the piano, Ray Bryant, Junior Mance and Jay McShann, with Archie Alleyne who played drums on this show for TD Jazz Festival.

Archie wanted his band to be Black. He wanted it to speak to the country and tell the story of Black Canadian jazz musicians and get our attention.

I was never troubled by that. I understood his frustration and purpose. He wanted role models in his band for other young aspiring Black musicians. He didn’t want them totally focused south of the border where jazz originated on popular jazz faces – the ordained or familiar.

There was a Canadian story that was near invisible and Black Canadian heroes to be reconciled. Montreal got all the acclaim. There was Oscar Peterson, Sonny Greenwich, Ranee Lee, and Oliver Jones.

Archie made it his mission to restore and archive the photographs and names of those who came up with him and to finally record and play the music of his choosing. With the support of JazzFM91.1 and friends, that dream was fully realized. I was fortunate to produce one album, Fine Print, as well as contribute a song, Archie Meets Art to his album At This Time – originally titled “Archie Speaks.”

I first recorded the song with the Rhythm Express on Beat Street.

Anyone who knew Arch knew he spoke frequently and with great humour and emphasis. I took Arch aside for a chat in 2001. Here is part of that interview which shows that Archie taught us all that living the dream is not something solely in possession of youth – it’s there for all.

Bill King: You waited a long time to put Kollage together.

Archie Alleyne: I have waited years. I guess it’s been 51 years to be exact. All the time I’ve been playing and all the gigs that I’ve done, I’ve had to accompany someone else. That’s not a problem because that’s how you learn but finally I’ve got a band where I choose the music and the concepts. I’m playing what I want and I’m having a hell of a time. I can really get into my drums more. There’s no prima donna vocalist insisting I played just brushes.

B.K: Stylistically, is there a period this band represents?

A.A: The music stems from the ‘40s, part of the swing era when Benny Carter and Art Farmer collaborated and had those wonderful little arrangements. But we also touch the hard bop era that came just after bebop.

B.K: Over the years, you’ve played with many of the ‘Giants of Jazz’ – Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Benny Carter and Lester Young. When they came to town did they specifically asked for musicians from the Black community be part of the backing band?

A.A: They basically knew there were few African-Canadian musicians here directly involved with the jazz situation. There were a lot of blues players, especially at 355 College Street, which was the UNIA. The United Negro Improvement Association – “The land of jive. The place for happy feet.” It was the first jam session club in the city before Clem Hamburg’s place.

B.K: Looking back, any highlights come to mind?

A.A: All of the weeks. It was such an honour to work with all those musicians. Many are now dead. It was an incredible period of development coming out of the ‘40s when bebop really hit. Montréal had the clubs, but Toronto really got happening with the Town Tavern and the Colonial Tavern. I was lucky enough to be the house drummer for both. It got to the point where touring artists would specifically ask for me.