Alan Dawson's performance credits are staggering, like reading a who's who in jazz: Oscar Peterson, George Shearing, Charles Mingus, Woody Shaw, Phil Woods, Sonny Stitt, Dave Brubeck, Lionel Hampton, Reggie Workman, Quincy Jones, Dexter Gordon, Tal Farlow, Earl Hines, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Frank Morgan, Hank Jones, Frank Foster, Phineas Newborn, Charles McPhereson, Jaki Byard, Teddy Wilson, Booker Ervin, James Williams, Phil Wilson, Terry Gibbs, and many others.
Equally impressive are his former students who have gone on to become their own innovators: Tony Williams, Terri Lyne Carrington, Steve Smith, Joe LaBarbera, Joe Corsello, Kenwood Dennard, John "J.R." Robinson, Casey Scheuerell, Harvey Mason, Vinnie Colaiuta, Keith Copeland, Jake Hanna, Bobby Ward, Akira Tana, and many, many, others.
George "Alan" Dawson was born in 1929 in Marietta, Pennsylvania and raised in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood. He studied drumset for four years with percussionist Charles Alden before serving in the Army for Korean War duty. Dawson played with the Army Dance Band while stationed at Fort Dix from 1951-1953. During his Army experience, Dawson was able to dive into the post-bop era by performing with pianist Sabby Lewis' eight-piece band, and after his release from the Army he embarked on a three-month tour of Europe with Lionel Hampton.
During the mid-1950s. Dawson returned to Boston where he maintained an active recording career and did clinics and some brief tours. In 1957 he became the house drummer at Wally's Paradise in Boston and also began an 18-year association at Berklee College of Music. In the late 1950s, Dawson performed with John and Paul Neves, and he worked with Herb Pomeroy at the Stables from 1959-1960.
From 1963-1970, Dawson was the house drummer at Lennie's On The Turnpike, in Peabody, where he had the opportunity to perform with many leading artists. Dawson subsequently became Boston's drummer of choice for local players as well as touring jazz giants. In the 1960s, Dawson's New York recording experiences reached full gear with saxophonist Booker Ervin's recording project, The Freedom Book. Richard Davis on bass for Prestige records was substantial between 1963-1968. From 1968-1975, Dawson worked with the Dave Brubeck Quartet and toured with Brubeck's family band, Two Generations of Brubeck.
In 1975, Dawson suffered a ruptured disc and needed surgery. He stopped all touring, ended his tenure at Berklee and returned to limited teaching at his home in Lexington, a suburb of Boston. Dawson formed a quartet with James Williams, Bill Pierce, and Richard Reid, and established a more staid and relaxed lifestyle. Dawson's decision to limit his teaching to 30 hours per week resulted in an impressive waiting list of students who wanted to learn his "ritual" for practice, his secret to independence, his obsession in obtaining musical variation, and his quest for control of sound, color, and swing.