The Afro-Peruvian cajon (box or drawer in Spanish) is akin to a drum set in a box. There is much uncertainty regarding the origins of the cajon. Some sources report that cajons were in use as early as the 16th century in Peru by African slaves who fashioned these instruments from old shipping/packing crates. There are also sources who claim that concurrent with their African counterparts in the 16th century, Cubans transformed old drawers and other box-shaped items into cajons. Conversely, there are those who believe that the cajon didn't actually arrive on the scene until the early 1800s when Afro-Peruvian slaves who worked at shipping ports converted wooden crates into cajons. However, most sources agree that these transplanted African slaves in Peru made cajons as a percussive replacement for their indigenous African drums, which were banned by their "masters." 

In the last 50 years or so, the cajon has emerged as a drum that can fit into a wide range of musical styles – from Afro-Peruvian to Afro-Cuban to flamenco to jazz and pop.

Today, cajons are widely available from numerous manufacturers and are offered in countless permutations, both with and without internal snares. Ian plays a Cajon La Peru (with internal snares) from the German manufacturer, Schlagwerk, with a "heck stick" add-on jingle attachment to augment the core instrument. Ian has recorded numerous jazz pieces on the cajon in lieu of a conventional drum set. Many of these pieces can be sampled on any of the CDs available on this site.


The udu drum's origins can be traced to the Igbo people of Nigeria. In their language, "udu" translates to pot. Unlike other percussion instruments that are traditionally male-dominated, the udu drum was invented and developed by Igbo women and was used for their ceremonies and rites.

Udus are essentially clay pots, which were used to transport and store water, grain and also serve as a nesting place for bee colonies, to produce honey.

The udu drum usually has one or two sound holes that enable players to produce bass notes depending on the position of their fingers relative to the sound holes. Players can also tap their fingers against the side of the drum to generate higher-frequency sounds that contrast with the lower-frequency sounds noted above.

Ian plays a 2-holed udu called an an "mbwata," originally created by Frank Giorgini, who licensed the production rights of this and other udus to the L.P. Music Group. Ian plays the udu in virtually any kind of acoustic music, on the premise that the volume of the band is at a level in which the distinctive nuances of the instrument can be heard. Ian has recorded numerous pieces on the udu, many of which can be sampled on any of the CDs available on this site.


The pan-Arabic goblet drum known as the doumbek is a very popular instrument in the Middle East, North Africa and, more recently, in the West. Its origins are a bit hazy and there is much divergence of opinion on the matter. Some sources trace the doumbek all the way back to 1,100 BCE in the ancient civilizations of Babylonia and Sumer. Others claim a much shorter history.

The goblet drum has many names (depending on the applicable region), including tarabuka, tarabaki, darabuka, debuka, dumbec, dumbeg, dumbelek, tablah, toumperleki or zerbaghali, just to name a few.

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Doumbek is a sonic approximation of the two primary sounds that the instrument produces - "dum" is the lower-pitched tone that comes from the middle of the drum head and "bek" is the higher-pitched, sharp attack that comes from the edge of the drum. A host of other sounds emerge from the drum in the hands of a master.  

The body of the doumbek can be made of a wide variety of materials, including nickel, ceramic, compressed aluminum or, more recently, synthetics. The head is usually made of fish skin, goat skin or plastic. Some models are wrench-tunable, while others are not.

While the doumbek is traditionally played under the arm, or resting on the player’s leg, Ian has adapted his approach to the instrument to be more akin to that of the West African djembe, albeit played with a lighter touch.


The origins of the djembe can be traced back to a date in the 12th or 13th century AD. Most historians credit the Mandinka tribe in Mali, West Africa, for its invention. The djembe eventually radiated out to neighboring countries such as Mali, Guinea and Senegal. In recent years, the popularity of the djembe has skyrocketed across the globe and one can hear it accompanying a diverse range of musical genres.

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The traditional djembe is a hollow, goblet-shaped drum that is traditionally carved out of a single piece of wood with an animal skin attached at the top. The drum is typically played only with bare hands. However, many drum manufacturers have recently manufactured djembes out of synthetic materials, including the heads.

Ian’s route to the djembe emerged out of necessity more than intention. On a recent visit to Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico, where Ian was scheduled to perform, the resort couldn’t find a cajon for him to play, but they had numerous djembes on-hand. Ian auditioned every one of them and, after settling on one, fell in love with the instrument during the week. That led to an immediate purchase of a Remo djembe upon his return to the Bay Area. Ian often plays the djembe alongside a Remo Mondo floor tom.

African Talking Drum

The African talking drum is one of the oldest instruments in Africa and is easily recognized by its hourglass shape and the inclusion of two "heads" or playing surfaces and the use of a curved stick.

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The instrument is called a “talking drum” because of its ability to imitate human speech, which made it particularly useful in West Africa, where drummers would use the talking drum to communicate over large distances both within and between neighboring villages.

The talking drum has many different names, including tama, dondo, lunna and dundun. The tama, for example, is a smaller and higher-pitched talking drum, used by the Wolof, Mandinka and Serer peoples, while the lunna and dundun are larger and lower-pitched drums played by the Yoruba and Dagomba peoples. 

Talking drums enable jellis or griots (storytellers) to orally preserve their community's histories and culture. Other common applications are for religious rites or to bring people together to settle disputes among members of a village.

Ian has been playing the same, very large talking drum for over 30 years and he has developed an innovative style that makes the instrument adaptable to many styles of music, especially Jazz. Ian can actually play melodies and bass lines and this approach is highlighted in his performance on Ornette Coleman's "Turnaround," from Ian's CD "Ionospheres" (1996 - Cymekob).                            


The kalimba or African thumb piano is widely believed to have been invented as far back as 3,000 years ago, and the later incarnation of the kalimba incorporating metal tines or keys is reported to be roughly 1,300 years old. There is documented evidence of African slaves in Brazil playing kalimbas in the late 1700s, but the instrument seems to have disappeared from South America around 1900.

Many tribes across the African continent have developed their own unique thumb piano traditions over the centuries and, similarly, the names of the thumb pianos are quite varied as well. A few examples are:

  • mbira of the Shona people in Zimbabwe (the most advanced tradition)

  • likembe and sanza in Congo

  • ikembe in Rwanda and Burundi

  • prempremsuah and gyilgo in Ghana

  • ilimba and chirimba in Tanzania

  • kadongo and akogo in Uganda

  • kalimba in Kenya

  • and many more

African thumb pianos come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and number of keys,  but the basic construction is consistent with metal tines of different lengths and shapes affixed to a wooden box, a hollow gourd or a hardwood board placed inside a large calabash.

Ian has been playing kalimbas for over 30 years and his collection consists of all the types described in the previous paragraph with different (and often updated) tunings for each instrument. Ian has composed many pieces for the kalimba that are either solo or ensemble-based. One such composition is "Silhouettes of Yesterday" from his recording "Outside the Box - Jazz Journeys & World Beyond" (2013 - Global Fusion Music), which also features English horn and double bass. A sample is available on this site at


The Hang is a contemporary musical instrument, often referred to as a “sound-sculpture,” created in 2000 by Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer, owners of a small company called PANArt in Bern, Switzerland.  The Hang is made from a steel-based alloy called Pang®, a patented material developed by the instrument makers themselves. This material is partly what gives their instruments such a captivating sound with the slightest of effort. The non-linear, somewhat cosmic playing field, the richness of tone, the unprecedented versatility of playing options and the dynamic response to the slightest touch has caught the attention of the masses and has generated a legion of devoted players and listeners worldwide.

In 2001, Ian discovered the hang on the Internet and raced down to the Cannery (now-defunct) in San Francisco to try it out. While enchanted with the two first-generation models he played, he was desirous of a specific tuning - E F G G# A B C D with a low A on the dome. Ian asked Felix and Sabina to create this one-of-a-kind model for him and he has been playing it ever since. Many new generations of hang and related family members have been created since those early days and you can visit to learn more about PANArt's incredible array of sound sculptures. 

Ian has composed, performed and recorded numerous original compositions for the hang, including a tribute to the legendary Jazz drummer Billy Higgins entitled "Smiles for Billy," which you can hear at  Other instruments on this piece include English horn, bass clarinet, bamboo and silver flutes, double bass and piano.






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