When I was in 4th grade, I started my own band with some elementary school friends. We had our first performance a school assembly and it changed my life! I loved inviting my buddies over to play music. We mostly learned cover songs (Green Day, Nirvana, etc.) but eventually wrote our own material. I attribute these early experiences to fueling my passion in music. Fast forward 20 years and here I am teaching many elementary, middle and high school age kids. Though some of them have found an outlet for playing music with others, I started to notice that many of my students were only practicing drums at home, alone, without anyone else. That was the extent of their live musical experience. Don’t get me wrong, practicing by yourself is essential! However, at some point, as a drummer, you have to collaborate with other musicians. The drum set is and always has been an ensemble instrument. After bugging many of my students to invite their friends over to play music; learn covers, make up songs, do anything(!) I decided to take matters into my own hands and start a music ensemble class called “Jam Session.” At Jam Session, we meet once a month to learn 2 songs that I choose ahead of time. I send out recordings before we meet and transcribe the chords and melody to provide a rough sketch of the song. Most of the students in the group take private music lessons and are more comfortable reading notes on a page. Though the last 20 minutes are dedicated to an open jam where the students make up a song together. Anything goes (as long as we’re all in the same key:) This experience has been particularly fruitful to my drum students and has given students a chance to be in a band, even if it is only once a month. We have had several drummers, piano players, bass, guitar, and violin. I personally have learned a lot by starting this group and hope to grow even more as an instructor, conductor, and band leader in my own projects. I think it is important for kids to have a musical outlet, even if they are not going to be a professional rock star. If you or someone you know might be interested, shoot me an email
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Over the past couple of months, I have picked up my vibraphone mallets again and it has been really invigorating. In high school, I was always the kid in the percussion section that dove at the snare drum music, in fear of having to read “real music” in mallet percussion. Most of my college studies were spent behind a drum set, though I did take 2 semesters of percussion, one with Lynn Glassock and the other with Cameron Britt, both great instructors. I have always loved the sound of the vibraphone and really enjoy listening to Milt Jackson, Lionel Hampton and Steve Nelson, but it took me a few years after college to find a beat up set of vibes from a marching band to buy and begin messing around. I would have a couple weeks of motivated practice and inspiration every so often, but it never really stuck until now. Having played thousands of gigs behind a drum set, I have heard tons of Jazz solos, comping and random theory jargon on set breaks. It is exciting now, to take those bits and pieces of information and try to make sense of it all in a new vehicle. I am really enjoying my time with the vibraphone and recommend that all drummers, despite their fear or hesitation, spend some time on a mallet instrument or piano to better connect with your band!
(Photo Credit : Wes Tyler)
I am so excited that Cicely Mitchell and Al Strong of Art of Cool are bringing their real life vision of a Jazz festival to our home town in Durham, North Carolina!! They have really out done themselves with an outstanding line-up on this first run of the festival. I will be performing with 3 different groups: The Beast, Peter Lamb and the Wolves, and Shana Tucker. I am also really excited to see many of the other amazing musicians and performers come to town and rock on a local stage. Aside from music lovers, this festival will be a great opportunity for music students to catch a very high caliber of concentrated bands and players in a 2 day span. If you are reading this and don’t know about the festival or are on the fence about buying a ticket, you have my personal endorsement that this weekend is going to be incredible and your money will be very well spent on access to world class performers in our back yard. Here is a link to tickets. You can check out where I will be throughout the weekend on my performances page.
My band, The Beast, has been active in the North Carolina school system as guest performers/lecturers for over 3 years. We are all active educators and spreading our unique brand of Hip-Hop/Jazz curriculum has really become part of the band’s mission. Recently we performed at a school-wide assembly in Raleigh, NC for Bugg Elementary (K-5.) The Wake County Public School System sent a videographer, who did a great job of collecting content from teachers, students and our performance. This is how it turned out…
I am really excited to present new music to the world from my hip-hop/jazz quartet, The Beast. For this particular project we invited some of our closest friends, on the NC music scene, to join us for what we call The Beast + Big Band. We have worked very hard this year to produce a 4 song EP entitled “Gardens.” You can listen/stream/buy the album here:
Read the press release below for a more detailed explanation of the project:
Durham, NC On October 22, 2013, The Beast will release its self-produced EP, “Gardens,” with four tracks focused around a special ensemble called The Beast + Big Band. This project surrounds the core quartet with nine Triangle all-star musicians – four brass players, three string players, guitar, and percussion. The EP consists of recent songs written by the band, reinterpreted for large ensemble, and orchestrated by the group’s pianist, Eric Hirsh. To celebrate the release of this EP, The Beast + Big Band will headline a show on October 24th at Motorco Music Hall, with an opening set by another local genre-bending large ensemble, Hindugrass.
The title of the album is a reference to how The Beast + Big Band got its start. In 2012, Duke Performances invited The Beast to open its summer Music In The Gardens series. The band, wanting to do something special for this show, decided to take advantage of the rich community of artists in the Triangle area and assembled a large ensemble to interpret its songs. What was originally planned to be a one-time-only concert received such overwhelmingly positive feedback that the band has chosen to curate more arrangements and shows for the Big Band in parallel with its original quartet configuration. To date, The Beast + Big Band has played three shows since that first one at Duke: Shakori Hills Grassroots Music Festival, downtown Durham Independence Day, and an opening set for Nnenna Freelon at the Duke Energy Performing Arts Center.
“Gardens” was recorded live at Durham’s Sound Pure Studios in early January 2013. All thirteen musicians played at the same time, eschewing the conveniences of modern overdubbing technology to capture the energy of timeless, collaborative performance. Beyond this initial tracking session, “Gardens” features one guest appearance, a verse from original Justus League member, Median, on the big band’s version of “My People,” a song originally recorded for WKNC’s 2009 Hear Here compilation.
Immediately after the CD release party at Motorco, The Beast will return to the studio to finish a second four-track EP, with songs produced in a much more electronic style. This EP, yet to be titled, is due to be released towards the end of 2013.
About The Beast
The Beast is a Durham-based quartet that fearlessly navigates worlds of hip hop and jazz with compelling lyrics, progressive compositions, and a gripping live show. Hailed as a “natural, engaging blend of jazz and hip hop” by Jazz Times magazine, The Beast has been voted “Best of the Triangle: Best Hip Hop Act” by the Independent Weekly for three consecutive years. The quartet developed its sound at UNC-Chapel Hill, where pianist Eric Hirsh, drummer Stephen Coffman, and bassist Peter Kimosh studied jazz in the music department, while emcee Pierce Freelon (now a professor in UNC’s departments of music and African and Afro-American Studies) developed his intelligent lyricism in classrooms and music venues across campus.
The Beast BIG BAND is
Al Strong, trumpet; Aaron Hill, alto sax/tenor sax/clarinet; Tim Smith, tenor sax/flute; Andy Kleindienst, trombone; Karen Galvin, violin; Jenavieve Varga, violin; Leah Gibson, cello; Keith Ganz, guitar; Brevan Hampden, percussion
For more information, review copies, or interviews, please contact
Pierce Freelon, (919) 697-7728
I have been working on some Lewis Nash transcriptions this week. Here are couple of home-made video clips of me playing the solos. Additionally, I have included a copy of the written out notation for each excerpt. The music comes from Clark Terry’s 1989 release “Portraits”.
This week, Durhamprofiles.com, featured a piece on my history and career as a musician in Durham. Ruth Eckles wrote the article and did a great job of getting all of the facts and time line on point. Durham Profiles is a great resource for our community, so please continue to check them out. Below is my profile:
Hello internets! Until now, it has been no less than 4 years since I have last updated my old web site. I figured it’s probably time for a new look and some updated information, so here it is in wordpress fashion. I am a professional musician and really like to play the drum set, teach drum lessons, record drums, and think and talk about music. Maybe I can do one of these things with you. Thanks for stopping by!