Samuels, Dave

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Dave Samuels


Born: October 9, 1948

Died: April 22, 2019

Country: Waukegan, Illinois, United States

Studies: Boston University, Berklee College of Music

Teachers: Gary Burton



Born in Winnetka, Illinois on October 9, 1948, Dave Samuels grew up in a family interested in music. Mostly self-taught on his signature vibraphone, he began playing drumset and took lessons from Jake Jerger. “I always wanted to improvise,” explains Samuels. “One of the great things about growing up in Winnetka was that it was close to Chicago, and a lot of American jazz greats came to town.

“We had a jazz club at New Trier High School and invited musicians to visit us. I remember when [saxophonist Julian Edwin] ‘Cannonball’ Adderly came. He didn’t play much but talked to us about important things: what jazz was, what improvisation was, what being an artist was, what the language was about. Here was a guy whose LP I must have listened to a thousand times, and I’m sitting right in front of him! I learned a lot from Cannonball even though I only saw him once. There he was, creating his sound, and I was a part of it because I was trying to understand what he was doing. He was helping me, and everybody else, find their way. It was real for me, being inspired by all these great musicians. I knew that I wanted to be able to learn their language.”

After graduating from high school in 1966, Samuels took some time away from music. But after attending a Ludwig Symposium in 1968—his first exposure to playing a mallet keyboard—he began to practice his new instrument. Having been attracted to the sound of the vibraphone that he heard on recordings by Milt Jackson (and the Modern Jazz Quartet), Lionel Hampton, and Gary Burton, Samuels found his voice. A friend of his, Renick Ross, asked Dave to play vibes, not drums, with his group. Even though they did not play many performances, they rehearsed several times a week. “Renick was a great musician,” recalls Samuels. “He taught me so much about everything yet at the same time was accessible. He helped me learn how to improvise by translating the sounds in my head into notes. And he also introduced me to the music of Gerry Mulligan.” Dave’s first public performance on vibraphone was on November 4, 1968 with the Renick Ross Trio at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.

Samuels moved to Massachusetts and obtained a Liberal Arts degree from Boston University in 1971 and also took some vibe lessons from Gary Burton. “There was so much music going on in Boston,” he says. “Whenever you went into a club, it was nonstop music. Coming from Chicago, I just couldn’t believe how many great players there were.”

After graduation, Samuels taught general music in a junior high school in nearby Dorchester. In the fall of 1972, he was invited by Burton to join the faculty at Berklee, where he taught for most of the next four decades. It was around this time that he met David Friedman and together they altered the course of mallet percussion history.

But Samuels also continued to make music with others. Soon after he moved to New York in 1974, Samuels was invited to play a Jazz Workshop with Gerry Mulligan in Boston. This was the beginning of a high-profile relationship with the saxophonist that lasted for a couple of years and included a live recording with Mulligan and Chet Baker in Carnegie Hall.

Following a Double Image concert in Buffalo in 1977, Jay Beckenstein and Jeremy Wall asked Samuels to play vibes on their band’s first record, Spro Gyra. Over the next few years, Dave would travel upstate every few months to record with the Buffalo-based band and even began to tour with them on a semi-regular basis. By 1984, Samuels was a full-time member of Spyro Gyra, an association that would last until 1994. During that time, the five-time Grammy-nominated group was named “top Contemporary Jazz Artist” (1988) and “Top Contemporary Jazz Group of the 1980s” (1989) by Billboard magazine. Their 1986 recording, Breakout, is one of Samuels’ favorites.

In 1995, Samuels created a new sound with a new ensemble: Caribbean Jazz Project. Along with co-leaders Paquito D’Rivera (alto saxophone and clarinet) and Andy Narell (steel pan), Samuels also included Mark Walker (drums), Pernell Saturnino (percussion), Oscar Stagnaro (bass), and Dario Eskenazi (piano). [These same musicians originally teamed up to perform a concert in New York’s Central Park in 1993.] After five years, CJP was “reinvented” with a different front line: Dave Valentin (flute) and Steve Khan (guitar), along with Samuels. The new “back line” consisted of Ruben Rodriguez (bass), Richie Flores (congas), and Dafnis Prieto (drumset/timbales).

The ensemble made eight recordings over the years: The Caribbean Jazz Project (Heads Up, 1995); Island Stories (Heads Up, 1997); New Horizons (Concord Picante, 2000); Paraiso (Concord Picante, 2001); the 2003 Grammy-award-winning (Best Latin Jazz recording) The Gathering (Concord Picante, 2002); two more Grammy-nominated ones—Birds of a Feather (Concord Picante, 2003) and the 2-CD set Here and Now – Live in Concert (Concord Picante, 2005)—plus Mosaic (Concord Picante, 2006) and Caribbean Jazz Project – Afro Bop Alliance featuring Dave Samuels (Heads Up, 2008), winner of the 2008 Latin Grammy for Latin Jazz Album of the Year and also nominated in the same category for the 51st Grammy Awards. CJP also performed at PASIC ’95 in Phoenix and at PASIC 2001 in Nashville.

What was it like to win that first Grammy award? “It’s nice that there was an opportunity for someone like me to create something that was new and impacted people in a positive way,” says Samuels.

Other projects over the years have showcased Samuels’ vibraphone, marimba, and composing skills on his five solo recordings: Living Colors (MCA Records, 1988), which spent six weeks at #1 on the Radio and Records Contemporary Jazz chart; Ten Degrees North (MCA, 1989); Natural Selection (GRP Records, 1991); Del Sol (GRP Records, 1993), and Tjaderized – A Tribute to Cal Tjader (Verve, 1998). He was named “Best Vibes Player” by Jazziz magazine (1987, 1989, and 1992) and “Best Percussionist” by Modern Drummer magazine (1987 and 1989).

Samuels is also a respected music educator, teaching at the Berklee College of Music in Boston (1972–74 and 1995–2014) as well as being an adjunct faculty member at New England Conservatory, New York University, and Manhattan School of Music. He has also taught master classes and given clinics all over the world.

“Dave’s quick wit and relentless sense of humor never failed to uplift all of us who had the honor and pleasure of working with him,” states John Ramsey, Chair of the Percussion Department at Berklee. “His musicianship and mastery at improvisation are also undeniable.”

Samuels also has several publications to his credit, including books (Contemporary Vibraphone Technique Vols. I and II) and videos (Contemporary Vibraphone Technique Vols. I and II); the ensembles Rendezvous, Square Corners, and Dusk; and a marimba solo, Footpath.

Dave Samuels served PAS as a member of the Board of Directors for four two-year terms on two separate occasions (1986–93 and 2005–11).

This past February, Samuels traveled to Bloomington, Indiana for a special recording project. Over the course of three days, he performed with Anders Åstrand (vibraphone), Steve Houghton (drumset), Jeremy Allen (bass), and John Wittmann (percussion) in a variety of free improvisation duos, trios, and quartets. “It was a very spiritual three days of music making,” Houghton says. “It was very inspiring and rewarding to make music with Dave, as he is one of my vibe heroes. I took a lesson with him while I was in high school.” The CD will be released in 2016 and used as a fundraising promotion for the Alzheimer’s Association organization (

Samuels is also an actor/speaker for the “To Whom I May Concern” program ( This program serves as an educational tool for individuals and families of those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. Dave was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s in 2013...and the music goes on.[1]

Books for Percussion

Samuels, Dave. Contemporary Vibraphone Technique, Bk. 1-2. CPP / Belwin, Inc., 1992.

Works for Percussion

Template:Samuels, Dave Works