Rashied Ali, whose expressionistic, free-jazz drumming helped define the experimental style of John Coltrane’s final years, died Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 76.
The cause was a heart attack, said his wife, Patricia Ali.
Mr. Ali, who first encountered Coltrane in their Philadelphia neighborhood in the late 1950s, made the leap from admiration to collaboration in the mid-1960s, when he joined Elvin Jones as a second drummer with Coltrane’s ensemble at the Village Gate in November 1965.
Mr. Ali recorded with Coltrane and Jones on the 1965 album “Meditations” and, after replacing Jones as Coltrane’s drummer, on the duet album “Interstellar Space” (1967), one of the purest expressions of the free-jazz movement.
“I didn’t know what it was, but he called it multidirectional rhythms,” Mr. Ali said of his drumming in an interview for the documentary “The World According to John Coltrane” (1990). On Mr. Ali’s Web site, rashiedali.org, Rashid Ali's Web site his playing is described as “a multirhythmic, polytonal propellant, helping fuel Coltrane’s flights of free-jazz fancy.”
Mr. Ali was born Robert Patterson into a musical family in Philadelphia. He started out on piano and dabbled with trombone and trumpet before finding his way to the drums, which he began to play seriously while serving with Army bands during the Korean War. Perhaps thanks to his military experience, he always executed drumrolls with crisp precision.
On returning to Philadelphia, Mr. Ali played in local rhythm-and-blues and rock ’n’ roll groups before moving on to jazz. He studied with Philly Joe Jones and paid close attention to heroes like Max Roach and Art Blakey, but a turning point came when he listened to Coltrane’s recordings with Jones. “Instead of being a timekeeper drummer, I wanted to play more,” he recalled for the Coltrane documentary.