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Cindy Blackman

Drummer, vocalist, and composer Cindy Blackman Santana is best known to pop music fans for her long tenure with Lenny Kravitz, and as a drummer/composer/collaborator with husband Carlos Santana. Her fluid, authoritative playing style showcases nuance, color, and soul over bombast. But Blackman Santana is also a long-established jazz musician: She has amassed more than 100 studio credits and possesses an equally long live resume. Her recording career began with Wallace Roney on 1987's Intuition for Muse. She signed a solo deal with the label and issued Arcane with Kenny Garret and Buster Williams in 1988. Blackman Santana has worked with artists ranging from Jacky Terrasson, Pharoah Sanders, and Angela Bofill to Hugh Masekela, Joss Stone, and Lucky Peterson. Her solo discography contains more than a dozen albums. In 1992, the year she joined Kravitz, she released Code Red. She was Kravitz's touring drummer and played on his video singles for "Are You Gonna Go My Way" and "American Woman." She remained with his road band for more than a decade (then returned for another year in the mid-aughts). She continued releasing jazz records as a leader, touring and doing session work while with Kravitz. She cut three acclaimed albums for HighNote, ending with 2001's Someday…. 2004's Music for the New Millennium offered an electric look at funky post-bop with saxist JD Allen and keyboardist Carlton Holmes. Her last leader date before joining the Santana band was 2010's fusion outing Another Lifetime, dedicated to her mentor and primary influence Tony Williams and his Lifetime band. Blackman Santana played with Carlos Santana for the first time in 2010; they had been dating for a few years. They married in December of that year and she formally joined his band in late 2014. Cindy Blackman was born in Yellow Springs, Ohio in 1959, but was raised in Connecticut. She grew up in a musical household. Her mother and grandmother were classical musicians, and her uncle was a vibes player. Infatuated by rhythm from the time she could walk, she asked for drums when she was just three years old. She finally got a toy kit at seven. She studied at the Hartt School of Music in Hartford and became interested in jazz through her dad's record collection. After listening to Ed Blackwell and Billy Higgins, and Louis Hayes, she decided to pursue jazz in earnest. She got her first professional drum set at 14. At 16 she saw Tony Williams play live and he became her role model and primary influence. Williams' use of all four limbs on the kit and his ability to work simultaneously as both time keeper and soloist, struck her as the way drummers should fit into a jazz band structure. After high school, Blackman studied at the Berklee College of Music with Alan Dawson, one of Williams' teachers. While attending Berklee a friend recommended her for a gig with the Drifters. She left school in 1982 after three semesters, and moved to New York City. For a time, Blackman supported herself as a street performer, but she also watched and learned from the many drummers she saw in clubs, including Al Foster, Billy Hart, and Jack DeJohnette. She also saw Art Blakey, who became a mentor and close friend. In 1984, Blackman was showcased on trumpeter Ted Curson's radio program "Jazz Stars of the Future" on New York's WKCR-FM. Three years later her first compositions appeared on trumpeter Wallace Roney's Verses album and she was asked to join his band. When a Muse A&R man heard Blackman's playing in the studio with Roney, he offered her a recording contract. In 1988 she released her leader debut, Arcane. Her sidemen included Roney saxophonist Kenny Garrett, bassists Buster Williams and Clarence Seay, and pianist Larry Willis. Blackman's reputation spread, and while continuing her role in Roney's band, she began working with variety of artists on the bandstand. In 1991, she released Trio + Two, a collaboration with guitarist David Fiuczynski and bassist Santi Debriano. The "two" included conguero Jerry Gonzalez and alto saxophonist Greg Osby. In 1992 she issued Code Red for Muse. The hard-won respect she'd engendered from musicians more than made up for ignorant comments from conservative critics and clubgoers about her as a female drummer with an Afro being a bandleader. She learned to ignore these comments early, noting, "... they don't pay my mortgage." Her sidemen included pianist Kenny Barron, saxophonist Steve Coleman, and bassist Lonnie Plaxico, with Roney holding the trumpet chair. During a bi-coastal phone conversation in 1993, Blackman got the opportunity to work with Kravitz in Los Angeles. During their chat she played drums over the phone. His response was to ask if she could fly to Los Angeles immediately. She left the next morning. Planning to stay only a few days, she ended up staying for weeks, appearing on the video for "Are You Gonna Go My Way" and joining his touring band. Given that Kravitz usually played drums on his recordings, she became his touring drummer until 2004. During her long tenure with him, she continued to record and perform as a leader. She issued the post-bop trio offering Telepathy in 1994 with saxophonist Antoine Roney, pianist Jacky Terrasson, and bassist Clarence Seay. She composed eight of the set's 11 tracks. She joined the loose-knit Ravi Coltrane-led collective Grand Central for three albums between 1993 and 1995, including Tenor Conclave featuring saxophonist Craig Handy, pianist Billy Childs, and bassist Dwayne Burno. In 1996 she released The Oracle as a leader with sidemen Gary Bartz, Ron Carter, and Barron. She furthered her rock chops by playing on the various-artists outing Black Night: Deep Purple Tribute; Blackman contributed drums to "Smoke on the Water," "Space Truckin'," and "Stormbringer." She also appeared on Patti Labelle's Flame (credited as Cindy Blackmond) and played with veteran vanguard saxophonist Sonny Simmons on his 1997 Warner debut American Jungle alongside bassist Reggie Workman. In 1998 Blackman signed with HighNote Records and issued In the Now with Carter, Coltrane, and Terrasson as her sidemen. The set received terrific reviews and assured her headline dates in New York and on the East Coast. She reunited with Roney in 1999 for his No Job Too Big or Small and played with Russell Gunn on Love Requiem. That same year, 32 Jazz issued a Blackman compilation entitled A Lil' Somethin', Somethin'. In 2000, she released her second HighNote date, Works on Canvas, in 2000 with pianist/keyboardist Carlton Holmes, bassist George Mitchell, and guest tenor player JD Allen. That same year she appeared on George Benson's Absolute Benson and Eddie Allen's Summer Days. Blackman released her final (and more electric) HighNote set Someday... in 2001, using the same band, this time with Allen present throughout. It attained universally positive reviews, and the drummer was already busy working the road with Kravitz, and in the studio with Joss Stone for the star-studded Soul Sessions. She also played with Stone live and appeared on 2004's Mind, Body & Soul. Blackman left Kravitz's employ in 2004 to pursue jazz, and released the widely celebrated (and very electric) double-length Music for the New Millennium, backed by her now-standing quartet. Between 2005 and 2010, Blackman worked in Lucky Peterson's studio and road bands, appearing on three recordings and touring the world. It was during her tenure with Peterson that she met Carlos Santana at a music festival. The pair hit it off and started dating. She also appeared on guitarist Mike Stern's Big Neighborhood in 2009. In 2010, Blackman issued her last leader outing for many years. The wildly eclectic Another Lifetime was her first tribute album to her mentor and inspiration Tony Williams. Another Lifetime featured Mike Stern and Vernon Reid on guitars and organist Doug Carn (following the exact lineup of the original Tony Williams Lifetime band). She also utilized Holmes, saxophonist Joe Lovano, and keyboardist Patrice Rushen. That summer, she sat in with Santana's band at a festival, subbing for drummer Dennis Chambers, who had a previous engagement. The guitarist proposed afterwards, and the pair married in December. In 2012, along with Reid, John Medeski, and former Lifetime/Cream bassist and vocalist Jack Bruce, Blackman Santana cut her second Williams tribute album, Spectrum Road. She lent her voice to "Where," composed by Lifetime guitarist John McLaughlin (the tune also appeared in instrumental form on Another Lifetime). Blackman Santana appeared at the 2011 Montreux Festival, drumming for the reunion of Carlos and McLaughlin, who recorded the seminal live offering Love Devotion Surrender in 1973; she assisted in mixing the sound for its accompanying feature-length video. In 2014, Blackman Santana joined the Santana band on two tracks of the charting Latin rock fusion outing Corazon. Its star-studded lineup included guests Wayne Shorter, Juanes, Ziggy Marley, Lila Downs, Gloria Estefan, Romeo Santos, and many more. That same year she played on Bruce's Silver Rails and on pianist Rodney Kendrick's The Colors of Rhythm. She also resumed touring with Kravitz through 2015, after which she joined the Santana band full-time. In 2017, the Santana band and the Isley Brothers issued the collaborative outing Power of Peace. It placed well inside the front half of the Top 200 and on the R&B charts. Over the following two years her playing with the Santana band altered its signature, adding a far more intricate jazz element to their sound on recordings such as the single "Lovers from Another Time," the EP In Search of Mona Lisa, and the long-player Africa Speaks, with Spanish guest vocalist Concha Buica. Blackman Santana also contributed the cover art. September of 2020 marked Blackman's returned as a bandleader with the wildly diverse studio outing Give the Drummer Some for Copperline, her 13th studio album. The 17-track set was recorded over three years. Narada Michael Walden produced the lion's share of tracks, while the drummer and her husband helmed the rest. The music ranged from fusion and jazz-funk to R&B, rock, and blues, to Latin and African sounds. Its all-star lineup included Carlos, McLaughlin, Metallica's Kirk Hammett, and Reid alternating on guitars. Much of the Santana band's horn section appeared among other top-flight contributors. In addition to her skills behind the kit, Blackman sang lead on ten cuts, including John Lennon's "Imagine" and the original "You Don't Want to Break My Heart."
© Thom Jurek /TiVo


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