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Eddie Gladden: 1937-2003
Eddie Gladden

Born: December 6, 1937 in Newark, NJ
Died: September 30, 2003 in Newark, NJ

Drummer, worked with jazz greats

by Zan Stewart
Copyright © 2003 Zan Stewart

Zan Stewart, Newark Star-Ledger

You didn't have to listen long to Eddie Gladden to realize that he was a master drummer. The Newark native, who performed and/or recorded with such jazz legends as saxophonists Dexter Gordon and James Moody, trumpeters Woody Shaw and Chet Baker, and organist Larry Young, played in such a forceful, creative way that you couldn't help but notice - and enjoy.

"Eddie was a fiery drummer that everybody wanted to play with," said Conrad "Connie" Lester, the Edison-based tenor saxophonist who played with Gladden from the '50s to the '80s at clubs in New Jersey and New York. "He made your level go up."

"He was so powerful," said bassist Rufus Reid of Teaneck, who played with Gladden with Gordon from 1977-79. (The drummer remained with the tenor saxophonist from 1977 to 1988, when he suffered a stroke.) "He had an incredible, wide beat and great time feeling. He was easy to play with, but you had to be able to play or he'd run over you. Eddie came to play every night. He was the cat."

Gladden died Monday morning (September 30, 2003) of a heart attack at Beth Israel Hospital in Newark. He was 65 and lived in Newark.

Born on December 6, 1937, Gladden's interest in drumming emerged before he was 10. "He beat on our mother's furniture until she bought him a drum set," said Newark resident Muriel Thomas, Gladden's older sister. "Then he went to Newark's Arts High School, majored in music, and eventually got into different groups. He had music in his blood and that's what he wanted to do."

As an up-and-comer, Gladden had few jobs outside music. "He always wanted to be a professional, and I encouraged him," said Beverly Gladden, his wife of 46 years.

By his early '20s, Gladden, who was influenced by such well-known drummers as Max Roach and Art Blakey as well as Newark stalwarts Bobby Thomas and Buddy Mack, was making his living at music. At first, he played around Newark, in jam sessions, on jobs and/or recordings, with organists Young and Freddie Roach, trumpeters Shaw and Johnny Coles, and saxophonists Lester and Buddy Terry.

In 1972, he toured with ex-Newarker James Moody. Later came work with trumpeter Kenny Dorham, organists Jimmy McGriff (Lester was often in that band) and Shirley Scott, saxophonist Richie Cole, and pianist Horace Silver, with whom he played but never recorded in the years just before joining Gordon.

Clearly, playing and recording with Gordon - among the albums he made with the saxophonist are "Live at Carnegie Hall" and "Nights at the Keystone" - was the crowning achievement of Gladden's career. "He enjoyed it because they traveled all over the world," said Beverly Gladden.

According to Reid, Gladden was a pleasure to travel with. "He was serious, on time, took care of business," said Reid. "Sometimes, when I'd ask him how he was doing, he'd tell me he was tired. But as soon as we'd play, it was like an explosion. He was great on and off the bandstand."

In 1988, Just after making a record with saxophonist Bob Ackerman, now of Irvington, Gladden suffered a stroke. For several years, he stayed at home, recuperating. The onset of diabetes also curtailed his playing, but his interest in music never waned. Thomas said he loved to watch the "Ken Burns' Jazz" TV series. "He'd say to his wife that was the best investment they'd ever made," said Thomas. He'd also listen to some of the more than 50 albums he'd appeared on.

In recent years, Gladden played occasionally with musicians such as saxophonists Lester and Jimmy Jones and pianist Tomoko Ohno. "He kept on trying and trying, until his last day," said Thomas. "He'd do anything he could to get that rhythm."

Gladden was thrilled to have partaken in the Star-Ledger's Great Day in Jersey jazz photograph on June 23, which will be published on Sept. 28. "He was just happy to be among all the other musicians," Thomas said. "It made him feel good that people remembered him."

In addition to his wife and sister, Gladden is survived by his sons Glenn of Strasbourg, Pa., and Eugene and Guy, daughter Velvet and sister Helen Lee, all of Newark, and two granddaughters.

Zan Stewart
Zan Stewart is a veteran jazz journalist and an ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award recipient for his liner notes to "Eric Dolphy: The Complete Prestige Recordings". He has written for the Los Angeles Times and Down Beat, is a staff writer at the Newark Star-Ledger, and contributes to Jazziz and Stereophile.


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