Jazz drummer Don Carter dies at 72
Donald Carter said he first found his rhythm beating pencils on his desk at his elementary school in Harlem. That rhythm turned him into a renowned jazz drummer and a respected member of the Jersey City community. Carter, an accomplished musician and educator, died at the age of 72 on Dec. 26 at the Jersey City Medical Center-Barnabas Health.
The delay between Carter’s death and his memorial service was the result of the search for Carter’s next of kin. It appears that Carter had no remaining family, funeral home officials said. Daoud-David Williams, founder of Jersey City’s Community Awareness Series, said the local community lost a great presence with Carter’s death.
“He was a definite fixture here in the community,” said Williams, who knew Carter for 40 years. “A lot of people knew him and loved him. A lot of people have been rewarded by his presence and through his music. The people of Jersey City, Hudson County and the metropolitan area have lost a real champion of music and the arts.”
Born in Harlem on May 7, 1943, Carter moved to Jersey City as a teenager with his father, a paper mill worker. Around that time, Carter started playing drums, and he eventually formed his own band in 1971. In a career spanning five decades, Carter shared sound booths and stages with greats like Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, and Kool & the Gang.
Carter became a figure in Hudson County’s jazz community through Don Carter Trio performances at local venues and restaurants. The trio was still active until Carter’s death, and he had recently been performing for the the Jersey City Community Awareness Series.
Patrick Poladian, the piano player for the Don Carter Trio, said he regarded Carter as a professional who was also capable of playing with emotion. Poladian said Carter played with a “swing” rhythm, a grooving style intended to create a visceral reaction from the audience.
“To ‘swing’ is to play with a lot of feeling, and he liked that,” said Poladian. “He was so completely immersed in music.”
Carter was also accomplished in the world of academia, both as a student and teacher. Carter, who earned a master’s in education at St. Peter’s College and a doctorate in education from Seton Hall University, lectured and taught at various schools in the subjects of jazz, black history and literature.
Before his professional careers, Carter served as a combat medic for the Army during the Vietnam War. Carter earned a Purple Heart for his service and went on to join the Jersey City VFW around 2014.
Despite his short time as a VFW post member, Carter made an impression on his fellow veterans.
“He talked about (his music career) very often,” said Tony Goodson, a friend of Carter’s and the VFW member who’s organizing his service. “I was surprised, pleasantly, to see somebody so dedicated like that.”
Goodson, also a Vietnam veteran, knew Carter for decades but became closer with him last year when he joined the organization.
“We signed him up and discovered he was a Vietnam vet and that meant everything to me,” said Goodson. “I kind of gravitated to him because he had expressed to me that this was one of the best things to happen (to him).”