Dave Black, Ellington drummer
WASHINGTON -- Dave Black, a jazz drummer who toured and recorded with Duke Ellington's big band in the mid-1950s and inspired composer Billy Strayhorn to write the drum showcase "Gonna Tan Your Hide," died Monday at his home in Alameda, Calif. He was 78 and had pancreatic cancer.
Mr. Black, an immensely versatile drummer, played swing, bebop, and early rock with equal skill in his native Philadelphia. After seeing him, Fred Astaire called Mr. Black "the only drummer I've seen with dancing fingers."
He joined Ellington in 1953, after beating out Ed Shaughnessy and Philly Joe Jones in a contest to replace Louis Bellson. He stayed with the band two years, until a diagnosis of polio forced his departure.
After recuperating, he became a staple of a Dixieland revival band led by trumpeter Bob Scobey and a much-admired freelance drummer in the San Francisco area, performing with singer Lena Horne, pianist Earl "Fatha" Hines, and others. He also co-led the Gene Krupa tribute band from 1966 to 1992.
Speaking of Ellington, Mr. Black told jazz writer Nat Hentoff: "Of all the band leaders I have worked for, he was very free -- letting you play your way, your style."