Saturday, November 30, 2013

StLJN Saturday Video Showcase:
Drums along the Mississippi, or City of Raijins

When Dennis Owsley wrote a history of jazz in St. Louis a few years ago, he titled his book City of Gabriels in recognition of the trumpeters from the area, including Miles Davis, Clark Terry and Lester Bowie, who have had a significant impact on jazz music, both here and around the globe.

While that trumpet tradition continues through the work of nationally and internationally recognized musicians like Jeremy Davenport, Russell Gunn, Keyon Harrold, Jim Manley, and others, in recent years St. Louis area drummers from both sides of the Mississippi have made their mark as well - so much so that if Owsley were to write a history of the last decade, it might be tempting to name it after the drumming equivalent of the Biblical trumpeter who blew down the walls of Jericho.

For that, one might nominate Raijin, "a god of lightning, thunder and storms in the Shinto religion and in Japanese mythology." According to Wikipedia, his name is derived from the Japanese words for "thunder" and "god," and he typically is depicted as "a demon-looking spirit beating drums to create thunder, usually with the symbol tomoe drawn on the drums."

While we're certainly not suggesting that any of the St. Louis drummers featured in today's videos are demonic, they definitely can bring the thunder. So with that in mind, today let's take a quick look at some of the most noteworthy drummers from our "City of Rajins" who currently are making noise on the national and international scene. 

Dave Weckl, who grew up in St. Charles and is seen in the first clip above performing a solo at Montreal Drumfest 2012, likely is the best known of the bunch, thanks to his high-profile stint with the Chick Corea Elektrik Band and successful career as a bandleader in his own right. Weckl also has worked frequently with guitarist Mike Stern, and has appeared on record with Paul Simon, Madonna, George Benson, Robert Plant, the GRP Big Band, and many others.

Next is Marcus Baylor, seen in the first clip below playing a solo in a show last December here at Jazz at the Bistro. Baylor was a member of the popular fusion band Yellowjackets for nearly ten years, and also has worked with trumpeters Roy Hargrove and Nicholas Payton, saxophonists Greg Tardy and Kenny Garrett, and others. He and his wife, singer Jean Baylor, recently launched a new band called, appropriately enough, The Baylor Project.

In the third clip, there's an interview with Mark Colenburg, who currently drums with the talked-about pianist Robert Glasper and is featured on Glasper's new album Black Radio, Volume 2. Colenburg also has worked with hip-hop and R&B performers such as Common, Lauryn Hill, Mos Def, and Erykah Badu as well as jazz players including Chico Freeman, Stefon Harris, George Coleman, and more.

Then in video number four, Kimberly Thompson plays a solo as part of her appearance at the 2011 Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC). Thompson first came to wide attention as a member of pop singer Beyonce's all-female band, and subsequently has branched out into songwriting and production as well as working with Mike Stern, Jay-Z, Wallace Roney, Meshell N'Degeocello, Richard Bona, Jason Moran, and numerous others.

The fifth clip features Terreon Gully, who was part of the acclaimed music program at East St. Louis High School and has gone on to play with singer Dianne Reeves, bassist Christian McBride, saxophonist Ron Blake, vibraphonists Stefon Harris and Joe Locke, and many others. Gully is seen here in a gig a couple of years ago with Locke's band in Italy, trading fours with the leader and pianist Robert Rodriguez.

Montez Coleman, who's seen in the sixth clip, can still be heard performing  in St. Louis with some regularity, as the East St. Louis HS grad lives here when not on the road with the likes of trumpeter Roy Hargrove (with whom he spent nearly five years) or the legendary pianist McCoy Tyner. Coleman is seen here during a gig with Hargrove's quintet in October 2010 at Macc Jazz Maastricht in the Netherlands.You can catch him around town working with saxophonist Willie Akins and guitarist Eric Slaughter and sometimes leading Tuesday night jam sessions at Herbie's Vintage 72 in the Central West End.

Last but not least, we'd be remiss not to mention Charles "Bobo" Shaw, whose work was foundational to the funky yet free sounds of Black Artists Group, Human Arts Ensemble, Lester Bowie and others. After recording and touring prolifically during the 1970s and 1980s, Shaw has maintained a much lower public profile in recent years, but turned up in St. Louis a couple of years ago for a performance for the Nu-Art Series at the Metropolitan Gallery. That concert, with fellow drummers Jerome "Scrooge" Harris, Gary Sykes, and Johnny Johnson, is excerpted in the seventh and final clip.

One last thing: As the presence of Harris, Sykes and Johnson in the last clip suggests, the pool of drumming talent from St. Louis is by no means limited to the seven musicians featured today. For example, there's U. City native Ronnie Burrage, who certainly belongs on any list of notable St. Louis drummers thanks to his work with Tyner, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Archie Shepp, Bowie, Hamiet Bluiett, and many others. He was featured here previously in a video showcase post of his own back in 2011. Which St. Louis drummers will be the next to step into the national spotlight? Please use the comments to share your opinion.

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