Andrew Cyrille

By: Brian Berger
November 10, 2014

Photo by Ziga Koritnik
Photo by Ziga Koritnik

On December 10, 1947, drummer extraordinaire ANDREW CYRILLE (born 1939) made his first documented public appearance. The event was a non-sectarian charity children’s Christmas party in downtown Brooklyn, where Cyrille, representing the Little Flower Negro Home at Wading River, “occupied himself… playing with a toy xylophone, painfully picking out ‘Jingle Bells.’” Asked if he wanted to become a professional musician, the eight-year-old replied he “might consider” it but was unsure “at this early stage.” Indeed, though drum and bugle corps at St. Peter Claver (future alma mater of Notorious B.I.G.) and teenage jazz combos followed, Cyrille was a St. John’s University chemistry major before transferring to Julliard in 1958. Further studies at the Harnett Music Studios, and the mentorship of Miles Davis’ drummer Philly Joe Jones made Cyrille an exceptionally well-prepared young man, one impressing swing-era titans Illinois Jacquet and Mary Lou Williams, with whom he performed; the June Taylor School of Dance, whose classes he accompanied; vibraphonist Walt Dickerson, with whom he made his first recordings in 1961; and visionary pianist/composer Cecil Taylor, whose group he joined in 1964 and remained with the next eleven years. Together with stalwart altoist Jimmy Lyons, Cyrille’s work with Taylor remains an unsurpassed fusion of energy, density, speed and lyricism; listen to Conquistador (1966), including Bill Dixon, for starters. Cyrille’s subsequent career as leader — try Metamusicians’ Stomp (1978) — sideman and educator has been likewise fruitful and marked by virtuosity, inquisitiveness, generosity of spirit. Or, as Biggie said, “Spread love, it’s the Brooklyn way.”

With Walt Dickerson (1961)

With Cecil Taylor, Jimmy Lyons, Sam Rivers (1969)

Trio 3, with Reggie Workman & Oliver Lake (2012)


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Screaming Lord Sutch, James Broughton.

READ MORE about members of the Anti-Anti-Utopian Generation (1934-43).


HiLo Heroes, Music

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