Vernel Fournier made his name as the deftly understated and highly musical drummer in one of the most famous of all modern jazz trios, led by pianist Ahmad Jamal. His subtle, quicksilver touches with his trademark wire brushes provided the flexible underpinning for a trio which thrived on its supple manipulation of dynamics and use of space.
He was born Vernel Anthony Fournier in New Orleans, and the distinctive rhythmic feel of the city never disappeared from his music. He began playing parade drum at the age of ten with a marching group, the Young Swingsters, and was taught by the New Orleans drummer Sidney Montague while still in school.
He attended Alabama State College in 1945-56, where he played with the student ensemble, and also worked in his home town with musicians from both the traditional and bebop strands of the city’s musical culture. He moved to Chicago in 1946, where he worked with the rhythm and blues band led by King Kolax.
He played with a number of Chicago based musicians, including Paul Bascomb and pianist Teddy Wilson. He was the house drummer at the Bee Hive club on Chicago’s South Side in 1953-55, where he accompanied many visiting soloists, including luminaries like Lester Young, Ben Webster, Sonny Stitt, J.J. Johnson and Stan Getz.
He joined Ahmad Jamal’s trio in 1957, along with bass player Israel Crosby, and remained with the group until 1962. The trio was resident at the Pershing Lounge in the city, and built a national reputation with a series of very successful recordings for the famous Chess label.