Best, Denzil (de Costa) (New York, 27 April 1917 - New York, 24 May 1965)


Drummer and composer


[A childhood friend of Thelonious Monk’s, Best,] began piano lessons at the age of six, then later took up trumpet, and by 1940 was performing professionally with Chris Columbus and Joe Gordon. After a lung disorder was discovered he was advised to cease playing, and he began working as a pianist; he also played double bass and drums, which by 1943 had become his main instrument. An engagement with Ben Webster in 1943-4 established his reputation as a drummer, and he was immediately employed by Coleman Hawkins, with whom he worked from 1944 to 1945. Best then played with Illinois Jacquet and toured Sweden with Chubby Jackson (1947-8). His membership of George Shearing's quintet (1949-52; ) ended when an automobile accident forced him into temporary retirement. In 1953, however, he resumed working, and toured with Artie Shaw's Gramercy Five and with Erroll Garner (1955-6). In the late 1950s he worked in New York with Tyree Glenn and the singer Nina Simone. Best's subtle, pulsing brushwork made his style readily identifiable, and is best heard on his recordings with Shearing. His melodic, effervescent compositions include Move, Bemsha Swing (which he wrote with Thelonious Monk), Dee Dee's Dance, Nothing but D. Best, and Wee (originally known as Allen's Alley).


                                                                                    Jeff Potter


The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, © Macmillan Reference Ltd 1988