Desert Island Jazz
Babatunde Lea (2010)

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(Photo by Bill Evans)

Incredible, but true: Babatunde Lea has been a percussionist for over four decades.

After his family had relocated from Danville, Virginia, to Englewood, New Jersey, young ’Tunde was inspired by stories of a drum-playing aunt Gloria, the first woman in Virginia to play drums in a marching band.

He later received independent verification that drumming was in the blood: at his school, you had to join a waiting list in order to get a drum—unless, that is, your name was "Lea", in which case you immediately got a drum. There was never a time when there wasn't a Lea in the drum line.

’Tunde's own drumming epiphany came at the age of 11 when a cousin took him to see Babatunde Olatunji's Drums of Passion at Cooper Union in New York City. As he himself put it, "That was such a tremendous occasion for me. When I came out, I had the worst headache I had ever had, because it seemed that I had concentrated with every pore of my body. … I was elated. 'I know who I am: I'm a drummer.'"

After playing around NYC in the early ’70s, ’Tunde migrated to the Bay Area in 1977, where he found African drumming culture very much alive. Over the years since then, he's played with the likes of McCoy Tyner, Stan Getz, Joe Henderson, Randy Weston, Van Morrison, Oscar Brown jr, and Van Morrison.

His latest project is a dedication to the late singer Leon Thomas, whom ’Tunde had met back in Englewood in the late 1950s; almost two decades later, ’Tunde would take up the drum chair in Thomas's band.

He's a musical and spiritual activist, drawing on the African and Eastern premise that in everyday life there really is no separation between spirit, mind, body and music.
Pick Artist Album Song Label
# 1 Babatunde Olatunji Drums of Passion Akiwowo Columbia Legacy
# 2 Cal Tjader Talking Verve: Roots of Acid Jazz Soul Sauce (Guachi Guaro) Verve
# 3 John Coltrane A Love Supreme Acknowledgement Impulse
# 4 Horace Silver Song for My Father Song for My Father Verve
# 5 Eddie Palmieri Sueño Azucar Capitol/Intuition
# 6 Kenny Garrett African Exchange Student African Exchange Student Warner Bros
# 7 Wynton Marsalis Black Codes (From the Underground) Phryzzinian Man Columbia
# 8 John Coltrane My Favorite Things My Favorite Things Atlantic
Book Paramahansa Yogananda, "Autobiography of a Yogi"
Luxury Item An ice-cream maker
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