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Idris Muhammad

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Idris Muhammad
Idris Muhammad playing with Reggie Workman and Pharoah Sanders, c. 1978
Idris Muhammad playing with Reggie Workman and Pharoah Sanders, c. 1978
Background information
Birth nameLeo Morris
Born(1939-11-13)November 13, 1939
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
DiedJuly 29, 2014(2014-07-29) (aged 74)
Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S.

Idris Muhammad (Arabic: إدريس محمد; born Leo Morris; November 13, 1939 – July 29, 2014) was an American jazz drummer and bandleader. He had an extensive career performing jazz, funk, R&B, and soul music and recorded with musicians such as Ahmad Jamal, Lou Donaldson, Pharoah Sanders, Bob James, and Tete Montoliu.[2][3]


Born Leo Morris in New Orleans, Idris Muhammad grew up in the city's 13th Ward in a home next door to a dry cleaner’s shop.[4] He later would claim the sound of the shop’s steam presser influenced his hi-hat technique.[5][6]

Growing up, he spent time with fellow New Orleanians The Neville Brothers.[7][8] Also interested in other instruments, he showed early talent as a percussionist, playing in a Mardi Gras parade at age 9.[5][9]

Muhammad asked Paul Barbarin to teach him to read music but Barbarin, who thought he was already so talented, declined.[10]

At the age of 14, Muhammad began his professional career by performing with The Hawketts on their iconic recording “Mardi Gras Mambo”. Two years later, in 1956, he played drums on Fats Domino's recording of "Blueberry Hill".[11]

After being introduced by Joe Jones, Muhammad began touring with Sam Cooke. Later he played with Jerry Butler and Curtis Mayfield in Chicago, working largely in R'n'B, before moving to New York City in the mid-1960s.[12][9] In New York, Muhammad became embedded in the jazz scene playing with Kenny Dorham, Horace Silver, Lou Donaldson and Betty Carter. He also played in the Apollo Theatre's house band. In 1967, he accepted a job in the orchestra for the initial off-Broadway production of Hair and stayed with the production when it moved to Broadway.[12][2]

During this time, Muhammad was also in the Prestige label’s house band and made over 150 recordings for the Prestige, Blue Note, and CTI labels among others.[13][11][12] He recorded with artists such as Lou Donaldson and Charles Earland who had begun merging jazz with sounds from funk, soul and rock. Muhammad also appeared as a sideman with artists such as Gene Ammons, Nat Adderley, and George Benson.[12][11] Rudy Van Gelder often worked with Muhammad and had a special relationship with him. The producer greatly assisted with fine tuning Muhammad's recorded drum sound.[12][9]

After four years with Hair, Muhammad left the production to tour with Roberta Flack whom he worked with for much of the next decade.[12][13]

Muhammad’s first recording as a leader, Black Rhythm Revolution!, was released by Prestige in 1970 and was followed by Peace and Rhythm in 1971. Both of these albums explored a range of styles and traditions found in jazz and New Orleans rhythms.[9] Subsequent albums released on the Kudu imprint, Power of Soul, House of the Rising Sun, and Turn This Mutha Out, took a turn towards funk.[12][2] These albums have subsequently become favourites of funk enthusiasts and have been heavily sampled by hip-hop artists.[12][2]

Towards the end of the 1970s, Muhammad joined Johnny Griffin's band and also spent time playing with Pharoah Sanders.[14]

By the 1980s, Muhammad had moved to Europe. He continued to regularly play and record, collaborating with the likes of Ahmad Jamal, Chico Freeman and Sonny Rollins.[12][14]

In 2011 he moved back to New Orleans. He died of kidney failure in 2014, aged 74, and was buried according to Islamic burial traditions in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.[2][9][12]

Personal life[edit]

He changed his name to Idris Muhammad in the 1960s upon his conversion to Islam. Speaking on his name change, he later noted in an interview with Modern Drummer magazine, "One guy told me that if I changed my name, I was going to have a problem because no one would know that Leo Morris and Idris Muhammad were the same guy...But I thought, well, if I stay the same person, then people will know it’s me. And it worked like that. Everybody knew right away that it was me, because of my style of playing.”[4]

In 1966, he married singer Dolores "LaLa" Brooks, a former member of the Crystals. She converted to Islam with him and went for a time by the name Sakinah Muhammad. They separated in 1999. Together, they had two sons and two daughters; he also had a daughter from his first marriage to Gracie Lee Edwards.[2] One son, also named Idris Muhammed, is a professional chef who has appeared on several cooking competition shows including Beat Bobby Flay and Chopped.[15]

Muhammad endorsed Istanbul Agop Cymbals.[16]


As leader[edit]

As sideman[edit]

With Nat Adderley

With Eric Alexander

With Gene Ammons

With George Benson

With Walter Bishop, Jr.

With Bobby Broom

  • Modern Man (Delmark, 2001)

With Rusty Bryant

With Donald Byrd

With George Coleman

With Hank Crawford

With Art Davis

  • Life (Soul Note, 1986)

With Paul Desmond

With Fats Domino

With Lou Donaldson

With Charles Earland

With Grant Green

With Johnny Griffin

With Roy Hargrove

With Benjamin Herman

  • Get In (1999)

With John Hicks

With Andrew Hill

With Richard "Groove" Holmes

With Freddie Hubbard

With Bobbi Humphrey

With Willis Jackson

With Ahmad Jamal

With Bob James

With J. J. Johnson and Kai Winding

With Etta Jones

With Rodney Jones

  • Soul Manifesto (1991)

With Keystone Trio

With Charles Kynard

With Joe Lovano

With Johnny Lytle

With Harold Mabern

With Roberto Magris

With Jimmy McGriff

With Tete Montoliu

With Tisziji Munoz

  • Visiting This Planet (Anami Music
  • Hearing Voices (Anami Music)

With David "Fathead" Newman

With Don Patterson

With Houston Person

With Ernest Ranglin

  • Below the Bassline (Island, 1998)

With Roots

  • Stablemates (In+Out, 1993)

With Pharoah Sanders

With Horace Silver

With John Scofield

With Shirley Scott

With Lonnie Smith

With Melvin Sparks

With Leon Spencer

With Bob Stewart

With Sonny Stitt

With Gábor Szabó

With Stanley Turrentine

With Randy Weston

  • Portraits of Duke Ellington (Verve, 1989)
  • Portraits of Thelonious Monk (Verve, 1989)
  • Self Portraits (Verve, 1989)
  • Spirits of Our Ancestors (Verve, 1991)

With Reuben Wilson



  1. ^ "Idris Muhammad, legendary New Orleans drummer, is dead at 74". 31 July 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Chinen, Nate (August 8, 2014). "Idris Muhammad, Drummer Whose Beat Still Echoes, Dies at 74". The New York Times. Retrieved April 27, 2016.
  3. ^ Idris Muhammad at AllMusic
  4. ^ a b "Idris Muhammad Dies at Age 74". Modern Drummer Magazine. 2014-07-31. Retrieved 2019-05-27.
  5. ^ a b "Inside the Music: The Life of Idris Muhammad (Book Review)". OffBeat Magazine. August 2013. Retrieved 2021-07-07.
  6. ^ Modern Drummer Issue 423. 2015.
  7. ^ Times-Picayune, David Lee Simmons, NOLA com | The (31 July 2014). "Idris Muhammad, legendary New Orleans drummer, is dead at 74". NOLA.com. Retrieved 2021-07-13.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. ^ Lamb, Karas (2014-07-31). "Legendary Funk & Jazz Drummer Idris Muhammad, Dead At 74". Okayplayer. Retrieved 2021-07-13.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Morton, Brian (August 8, 2014). "Idris Muhammad: New Orleans jazz drummer who played as a teenager on Fats Domino's hit single 'Blueberry Hill'". The Independent.
  10. ^ Braman, C., & Kernfeld, B.  Muhammad, Idris. Grove Music Online. Retrieved 2 Aug. 2021, from https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-2000316600 .
  11. ^ a b c "Idris Muhammad". Uncut. 209: 119. October 2014. ProQuest 1555328645 – via Proquest.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Kunian, David (Winter 2016). "The Power of Soul: Remembering drummer Idris Muhammed's versatile, funkified and oft-sampled body of work". 64 Parishes.
  13. ^ a b "Idris Muhammad - DRUMMERWORLD". www.drummerworld.com. Retrieved 2021-07-24.
  14. ^ a b Larkin, Colin, ed. (2009). Encyclopedia of Popular Music (4 ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199726363.
  15. ^ "The Truth About Idris Muhammad from Chopped: Alton's Maniacal Baskets". 23 June 2021.
  16. ^ "Istanbul Agop 22" Signature Idris Muhammad Ride Cymbal", Memphis Drum Shop.
  17. ^ Fats Domino. "Blueberry Hill". Discogs page, revealing actual date to be 1965. Retrieved January 11, 2018., .
  18. ^ Allmusic Heart Beats review
  19. ^ Allmusic Newklear Music review
  20. ^ "Paul's Boutique Samples and References List".

External links[edit]