Alvin Fielder (November 23, 1935 – January 5, 2019)
To make an impact on the world, a person isn't required to be famous or rich. This is exactly the case
with jazz drummer Alvin Fielder. "Al," as he is called by many of his friends, has put all his efforts and
skills into bringing jazz music to the 21st century. Yet many people of the world don't recognize him.
Fame and fortune is not what Fielder desires. His love goes to the community, friends, and the world;
not for money, not to be a star, but to be someone that they can look up to. So after thirty years of hard
work, respect for Mr. Fielder is well past due. Alvin Fielder was born in Meridian, Mississippi, on
November 23, 1935. He has a brother named Bill Fielder. Al became interested in music from the very
beginning, not surprisingly, since both of his parents were musicians. His mother played the piano and
violin, while his father studied the coronet. As a result, music was always heard around the house. When
Al was about six, he took piano lessons for about three years but disliked his teacher. Then, at about the
age of twelve , a friend of Al's played the drums. who had a natural talent playing percussion. His friend
gave him an album titled Koko by Charlie Walker. The drummer was Max Roach. Young Al loved the way
Max played the drums, and that's how Al became attracted to playing the drums (Fielder interview). Al
attended Xavier College in New Orleans from 1951 to 1953, then he attended Texas Southern from
1953 to 1956. The University of Illinois was the place where Al went for graduate school. He wanted to
become a pharmacist like his father before him. However, even during his graduate studies, all he
wanted to do was play music (Fielder interview). In 1963, Al, and other jazz musicians founded the
Association for the Advancement of Creative Music (AACM). "The purpose of this was for groups to
market the music, set up the concerts, and have a forum to play they own music without relying on the
music of others. We wanted it to be free," said Fielder (Fielder interview). "AACM was based out of
Chicago, and these musicians realized that free music wasn't being played outside of New York. So their
music is completely free, it was designed to elevate the music to a new level," said Al's friend and former
SHS graduate Chad Anderson (Anderson interview).
Roscoe Mitchell's Sextet was the first album that Al was a part of. It was also the first album released
from the AACM (Drimala website). Their first album, released in 1967, was entitled Sound.
"Improvisational" music is what describes the type of music Al enjoys to play. This "improvisational"
sound is basically making up the tunes, beats, and sounds as the song progresses. The sound may not be
delightful to the untrained ear, but it is really beautiful to listen to. Both the sounds and skills of all the
musicians, using their listening abilities to "improvise" with one another, is of critical importance in
making the music sound right. That's why the music is always new and always "in the moment" (Drimala
website). In 1977, Al started a pharmacy in Starkville, Mississippi. . At that time, he lived in Meridian.
Everyday, Al would drive back and forth from home to work and back again. In 1991, he decided the
driving was too much and decided to leave his Starkville pharmacy. He instead established a new
pharmacy in the Jackson area, where he had moved to around 1978. Tied down with his business, Al has
found it difficult to play as many shows as he used to. Nevertheless, he still makes every effort to keep
active in the music arena. Reflecting on his preparation activities, Al indicated that "when a show is
coming up, I train like a boxer. I undergo intense practices. I get to my drum set and I practice the
rudiments of getting around the drum. I don't practice the music, I am open minded, and improvise on
the spot." said Al (Fielder interview). "Music is like painting a portrait or creative writing. Drumming is
not beating on something. I think in terms of actual music and rhythm. Like writing, there is form to it.
There has to be a vocabulary to have good music. There has to be a starting point and an ending one"
(Fielder interview). In recent years Fielder joined with Joel Futterman and Kidd Jordan to make the
album Nickelsdorf Knofrontation, and in 1998 he recorded Southern Extreme with them live at
Mississippi State University.
Biography written by Brian Beaulieu (SHS)