Rashied Ali is a progenitor and leading exponent of multidirectional rhythms/polytonal percussion. A student of Philly Joe Jones and an admirer of Art Blakey, Ali developed the style known as free jazz drumming, which liberates the percussionist from the role of human metronome. The drummer interfaces both rhythmically and melodically with the music, utilizing meter and sound in a unique fashion. This allows the percussionist to participate in the music in a harmonic sense, coloring both the rhythm and tonality with his personal perception. By adding his voice to the ensemble, the percussionist becomes an equal in the melodics of collective musical creation rather than a pot banger who keeps the others all playing at the same speed. Considered radical in the 1960s and scorned by the mediocre, multidirectional rhythms, polytonal drumming is now the landmark of the jazz percussionist.
A Philadelphia native, Rashied Ali began his percussion career in the U.S. Army and started gigging with rhythm and blues and rock groups when he returned from the service. Cutting his musical teeth with local Philly R&B groups, such as Dick Hart & the Heartaches, Big Maybelle and Lin Holt, Rashied gradually moved on to play in the local jazz scene with such notables as Lee Morgan, Don Patterson and Jimmy Smith. Early in the 1960s the Big Apple beckoned, and soon Rashied Ali was a fixture of the avant-garde jazz scene, backing up the excursions of such musical free spirits as Don Cherry, Pharoah Sanders, Paul Bley, Archie Shepp, Bill Dixon and Albert Ayler. It was during this period that Rashied Ali made his first major recording “On This Night,” with Archie Shepp, on the Impulse label, and began to sit in with John Coltrane's group at the Half Note and other clubs around Manhattan.