Keith Copeland

Musicians have been paying tribute to drummer Keith Copeland who has died.

Copeland’s appearances on record included albums by George Russell, Johnny Griffin, Syreeta, Sam Jones, and Renato D’Aiello and he was also known as an influential educator. Drummer Gene Jackson commented on Twitter: “I’m sorry to hear about the passing of drum master Keith Copeland,” while drummer Steve Davis speaking to Marlbank during a break in a Berts All-Stars gig with singer Edel Meade at Berts jazz bar in Belfast expressed his sadness. On Facebook he had commented: “Keith Copeland the master....the first time I met him I was so overwhelmed I ran home to my mum’s. The next day he phoned my house and pleaded with my mum to bring me back to the jazz school as he said he seen something in me and was pushing me hard so that I would lose my ego and learn! If I did not go back I would not be playing now. He cared.” 

Keith Copeland was born in New York city, the son of trumpet player Ray Copeland and as a teenager Keith was sitting in at Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem with such luminaries as Barry Harris and Charles McPherson. He enlisted in the air force and saw service working in telecommunications and cryptography in Greenland and in Germany and on leaving used his GI Bill funding to attend Berklee College in Boston. He toured with Stevie Wonder for seven months, and as part of the Maggi Scott Trio, and in the mid-1970s he was offered a teaching position at Berklee where he taught for three years and later played with Sam Jones and Johnny Griffin as well as the Heath Brothers and had a long association as the drummer in Billy Taylor’s trio. In 1986 he began to work with Hank Jones and made six records with him and from the mid-1980s to 1992 Copeland taught at Rutgers University, Queens College, Long Island University and the New School University in New York and in 1992 he became a professor of jazz percussion at the Hochschule Für Musik Köln in Germany later in the 1990s becoming a professor of jazz percussion at the Hochschule für Musik Mannheim-Heidelberg in Mannheim.

As a sideman, Copeland appeared on over 100 recordings including Johnny Griffin’s Return of the Griffin and the Grammy-nominated Once in Every Life with Johnny Hartman, The African Game with George Russell and All My Life with Charles Brown. His debut as a leader was On Target released in 1993 and other CDs are The Irish Connection, Round Trip, and Live in Limerick. Keith Copeland above