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Walter Perkins: 1932-2004
Walter Perkins

Born: February 10, 1932 in Chicago, IL
Died: February 14, 2004 in Jamaica, NY

Drummer, leader of MJT+3

by Todd S. Jenkins
Copyright © 2004 Todd S. Jenkins

Drummer Walter Perkins, whose long career included work with Ahmad Jamal, Art Farmer, Carmen McRae and Charles Mingus, died of lung cancer on February 14, 2004 at age 72.

A Chicago native, Perkins was one of beloved Captain Walter Dyett's music students at DuSable High School in the late 1940s. In the mid-50s he gigged with Ahmal Jamal, and in 1957 Perkins formed his MJT+3 (Modern Jazz Two Plus 3), which included trumpeter Willie Thomas, altoist Frank Strozier, bassist Bob Cranshaw, and young pianist Muhal Richard Abrams (later replaced by Harold Mabern). Perkins appeared at the 1959 Playboy Jazz Festival in support of Coleman Hawkins, and recorded with Sonny Criss that same year. The MJT+3 moved en masse to New York around 1960 and recorded a self-titled album for Vee-Jay (reissued on CD in 1994), but broke up in '62.

In the 1960s Perkins' profile increased dramatically. He performed and/or recorded with the Art Farmer Quartet (Live at the Half Note, 1963, Atlantic), Dave Pike (Pike's Peak, 1961, Epic/Portrait), Gigi Gryce, Carmen McRae (Sings Lover Man..., 1961, Columbia), Gene Ammons (Twistin' the Jug, 1961, Prestige), Sonny Rollins, Jaki Byard (Out Front!, 1961, Prestige), Booker Ervin (Exultation!, 1963, Prestige), Teddy Wilson, Roland Kirk (I Talk With the Spirits, 1964, Verve), Billy Taylor, Clark Terry, George Shearing, Ray Bryant, and Charles Mingus.

In the 1970s Perkins slowed down a bit, drumming for Erroll Garner, then became an educator in the 1980s. In 1985 he helped found the Music for Young Adolescents program in New York City. An enthusiast of drum corps, he instructed programs at Girls and Boys High School in Brooklyn and started a drum corps program at his church in Jamaica, N.Y. He gigged occasionally at clubs around New York, and made a welcome return to recording on Bob's Pink Cadillac (Eremite), a 2002 free-jazz trio date with bassist/leader William Parker and clarinetist Perry Robinson.

Walter Perkins is survived by his wife, Barbara; daughters Rochelle Mask of Baldwin, N.Y., Denise Perkins of Brooklyn, and Marilyn Turns of Queens; 13 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Todd S. Jenkins
Todd S. Jenkins is a member of the JJA, author of Free Jazz and Free Improvisation: An Encyclopedia (Greenwood Press, 2004) and I Know What I Know: The Music of Charles Mingus (Praeger, 2006), and a contributor to Down Beat, All About Jazz, American Songwriter and Route 66 Magazine.


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