I am beyond excited to write this week’s blog post! I have stumbled across a photo of the Monkey Tambourine Tree, also called the Dibby Dibby Tree, that once stood at the Alpha Boys School. I was looking through some old issues of the Jamaica Journal that I recently purchased off of ebay for the fun of it, and located in the May-July 1987 issue was an article titled “The Search for Africa’s Baobab Tree in Jamaica.” This photo appeared on page 6, and I thought, could this be the tree? The one that Don Drummond practiced under that I had been told about by various Alpharians? I posted my inquiry on Facebook and had my hopes confirmed–this is the tree!!!
My friend Ronald Knight who was an Alpharian and a member of the band says, “Yes it was. We used to do our musical theory lessons under it every morning, the buildings you can see was where instruments were kept. And to the right of the tree,out of sight was the printing & bindery buildings. It brings back some memories , that tree ….” Alpharian Charles Simpson confirms, “Its back of the printery and binding shop right of the old band room,” and Rico Rodriguez also agrees, this was the tree!
Why is this so exciting for ska fans like me? Well I would like to talk about it by including the following information which is an excerpt from my book in the chapter entitled, The Monkey Tambourine Tree. Had I discovered this photo before it was published, this certainly would have been included in the chapter. I get chills thinking of Don D practicing as a child under this tree. I can picture him there, I can almost see his ghost.
From Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist:
How did Don Drummond develop such musical skill at such an early age? Certainly Reuben Delgado had a big hand, Drummond’s classmates and mentors like Carl Masters had a hand, but truthfully, it was Drummond himself who took the opportunity he was given and made the most of it. Instead of playing games like other boys, instead of going to class to further develop his math or reading skills, Drummond spent time, on his own, under a tree, practicing. Winston “Sparrow” Martin recalls Drummond’s discipline for music when they were both students at Alpha. “I came here when I was nine years old and Don Drummond was on his way out. He was a man who liked to stay by himself. There used to be a tree by the band room when I used to be here called the Monkey Tambourine Tree and he used to sit there practicing, or if he not practicing he would be looking at a piano book. He practiced the trombone out of a piano book, because the piano has the melody and the harmony so you practice that and he would play the part of what the piano played. On the piano you have something called the treble section and the bass section so he would play the bass section,” says Martin. A monkey tambourine is a specific style of wood tambourine. The tree that Martin and others referred to as the Monkey Tambourine Tree was also called the Dibby Dibby Tree by Sister Ignatius and others after a slang term meaning bad quality.
Headley Bennett also remembers Drummond practicing and studying under the Monkey Tambourine Tree. “We meet him at Alpha. He never used to play games with us. He just sit under the tree and watch the games. And he used to read a lot. He used to read a lot about leaders, like the Russian leaders and German leaders. He used to read those kind of books. And I used to look at him and tell him that I don’t really understand those books. He need the knowledge, you know? But they were too high for him, for his age, you know. He was around 14 or 15 years old and we were the same age. We played cricket, football, baseball. He sat under the tree and watched us. And he always smilin’, you know? When we see him under the tree he smiled. He used to practice more than any one of us. When we finished class at three or four o’clock, he practiced every evening when he’s not watching games. He practiced very hard, more than us. We were in the band together with Reuben Delgado. He was a very strict band leader. Drummond was quiet. You could not get him to talk too much. He don’t want to discuss nothing. You don’t have to talk about nothing at all. He used to read a lot, that’s how he tried to gain more knowledge,” says Bennett. It was during this time that Drummond was fitted for glasses since he was found to be extremely nearsighted. His glasses were very thick, like magnifying glasses.
Martin says that Drummond even began skipping classes to practice on his own and the administrators allowed it since he was so skilled at music. Walking the path on Alpha’s campus from an area of overgrowth and debris that used to house the old band room, Martin recalls, “When he was going to school, we take our instruments from here and walk to the practicing area. But when we leave the practicing area and come back to put all the instruments away, Don don’t put his instrument away yet. He sit down under the tree and practice, so when the bandmaster come in, Mr. Delgado, he would still stay there, with his instrument but he would have the piano music in his hand.”
Drummond spent time studying classical music in the classroom, but on his own he listened to jazz on the radio and he started to compose songs of his own. “Don Drummond didn’t want to play classical music, he wanted to play jazz music and he practice jazz music, so a lot of guys do that when they’re older, they want to go into jazz, the Louis Armstrong, the J.J. Johnson, all these type of jazz musicians we used to hear about,” says Martin.