Were you born with jazz in your soul or did you acquire the talent to play it?
I acquired the talent. I moved out to Portland in 2004. I was strictly a gospel player and I played at church. But, one thing about church is we kind of learn every kind of genre because it all gets included in the church. We were able to figure it out; I’m still figuring it out now. The gig with [saxophonist] Reggie Houston the other week, it was New Orleans-style jazz. It was the first time I’d played jazz of that caliber. So, yes, I acquired it and I’m still a work in progress [laughs]!
What is it about gospel that speaks to you?
You’re going to a place where nobody can judge you. For me, the drums really saved my life. I grew up in Oakland, California. We really didn’t have music in school. Music was the first thing that got chopped off the board when it came to the budget in the schools – and art, too. My pastor of my church allowed me to go into church with my friends and allowed us to express ourselves with music. Drumming is a big spiritual thing for me. So if you see me with a big grin on my face, I’m happy at the drums, doing something I love to do. It saved my life. I was able to speak my language on that. My momma didn’t mind me staying out late because she knew where I was going to be at. She knew I was going to be with my friends, doing this type of music. So it kept me out of other aspects of life.
Say you meet someone who doesn’t “get” jazz. What tune would you play to bring him/her into the jazz fold?
“Giant Steps.” It has a great melodic line to it and a great feel. With “Giant Steps,” you don’t have to play it jazzy, you can play it in hip-hop fashion or you can put odd meters in it and it will still stay in the context. It’ll smooth the nerves, smooth you out. You can’t help but like it when you hear it; you can’t be mad at it!
What music do you like that just might surprise someone?
Country western. Country western to me is one of the last very pure American music genres. What I like about country western is that the music is very simple, but it’s a very lyrical base. You can understand the lyrics completely. They talk about everything. They can talk about their pet dog, because people can relate to the pet dog for some reason, or maybe a story about someone who went to the bar, had a drink, had a fight with his lady, then he’s going back to the lady. So it’s pure to me. The industry hasn’t been tainted by the music industry; they have their own industry.
How important is it that a family encourages their child to play music?
I think anything that’s going to help challenge creativity-wise is important. You know what I mean? It doesn’t necessarily have to be music, it could be sculpture. You need that outlet to do something. We all need that outlet to do something with our thoughts. Even putting together Legos, it takes your brain to put something creatively together! Everybody needs an outlet…. And woodcraft, what ever happened to woodcraft in the schools anyway [big laugh]?
Deborah DeMoss Smith hosts The Second Line, Sundays 11 a.m. - 1 p.m.