Specs Powell

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Gordon "Specs" Powell (June 5, 1922 – September 15, 2007) was a jazz drummer who began performing in the swing era.


Specs was the first black staff musician hired by CBS in 1943. Born in New York City, he started on piano but became exclusively a drummer in the late 1930s. He worked with Edgar Hayes (1939), Benny Carter (1941–42), and Ben Webster. He played percussion on the Ed Sullivan Show in the early 1960s and remained active professionally until the 1970s. At some point in the early 1960s he approached the Latin percussion maker Martin Cohen and had Cohen make for him an early (perhaps the first) bongo stand.[1] In 2004 he was inducted into the Big Band Jazz Hall of Fame.

Powell was also a photographer, and his photographic archives of 2500 images are preserved in the Tom and Ethel Bradley Center at California State University, Northridge.[2][3]

He died in San Diego of kidney disease at the age of 85.[4]


As leader[edit]

  • Movin' in (Roulette, 1957)
  • Specs Powell Presents Big Band Jazz (Strand, 1961)

As sideman[edit]


  1. ^ Mattingly, Rick. "Hall of Fame - Martin Cohen". Percussion Arts Society. As word spread about the quality of Cohen's bongos, he was approached by Specs Powell, a CBS staff drummer. Powell wanted a pair of bongos, but he wanted them mounted on a stand. "I said, 'You can't play bongos on a stand,' because nobody in the Latin scene played them on a stand," Cohen says. "But he was insistent, so I devised a bongo mounting bracket that didn't require drilling a hole through the bongo."
  2. ^ Peattie, Elizabeth (2020). "Guide to the Gordon Specs Powell Photograph Collection". Online Archive of California. California Digital Library. Retrieved September 8, 2022.
  3. ^ "African American Collections". Tom & Ethel Bradley Center. California State University, Northridge. Retrieved September 8, 2022.
  4. ^ "Jazz news: Jazz Drummer Specs Powell Dead of Kidney Disease at 85". 20 September 2007.

External links[edit]