Cindy Blackman’s Homage To Tony Williams

“Hey! You!”

Uh-oh, she’s busted. It’s 1979 and a wide-eyed 20-year-old Cindy Blackman is about to get booted from the Kennedy Center. Having slipped in the back door, blending in among the other musicians making their way inside, she’s been sneaking up and down the Center’s vast hallways searching for her musical idol, the great Tony Williams. He’s playing tonight, along with a grab bag of other legends, and despite not having a ticket to the show, the young Ms. Blackman couldn’t bear to miss it.

“Hey! Hold on there a minute!” The man approaches quickly, intently, while Blackman fumbles through her mind for an excuse. With all these icons on the billing she couldn’t possibly say she was playing tonight. That would never fly. Looks like the adventure is over.

“That a stick bag?”

Blackman rushed straight here from a gig and yes, it is a stick bag slung over her shoulder.

The man, now standing face-to-face with her, is surprised, inquisitive.

“Got any brushes in there?”

Of course she does. Relief washes over the man’s face. His body relaxes.

“I’m the drum tech for Tony Williams and I forgot to pack brushes in his stick bag. Dizzie Gillespie wanted brushes on the ballad in the first set but I forgot to pack them. If we could use your brushes that’d be great.”

“Are you kidding?” exclaims Blackman. “Tony can have my brushes! He’s who I’m here to see, he’s my idol. Can I come too?”

And in that instant the talented up-and-comer leaps from stealthy stowaway to beaming stage guest. After another sizzling set from Williams the two drummers shake hands and exchange numbers and birth what will become a lifelong friendship, forever rooted in the complex beauty of jazz drumming.

This experience, among many other ensuing personal brushes with Williams, led Blackman to record Another Lifetime, her new solo album dedicated to the memory of her late mentor, Tony Williams. To read the rest of this riveting article, you can purchase a copy of the May issue of DRUM! Magazine at your local newsstand, drum shop, or online by going here.

To subscribe, click here.