Funky Drummer

Fifteen-year-old Patel Conservatory student Meghan Lock: “learning drums is my life.”

HIGH RES Drummer Meg Portrait by Rob-Harris 9878

Photo: Rob/Harris Productions, Inc.

Meghan Lock’s formal musical life began like most, with piano lessons at the bright, young age of five years old. But, when her parents realized she was spending more minutes in time out for not practicing than minutes she was playing, they took a different route.

“I was always rhythmic,” says Meghan, “and always beating on my stomach or anything else that I could get to make a beat. So, my parents offered up drum lessons. I had my first lesson when I was 10 years old, and I never looked back.”

Two years later, Meghan met the musical form that would blow her mind: jazz. “When I had my first interaction with jazz … it was like everything made sense. I love jazz,” she says.

In 2017, Meghan threw her drumsticks in the ring for the Hits Like a Girl (HLAG) all-female drumming competition. She walked away the Week Three champion in the under 18 category for her performance of “Manteca,” the Afro-Cuban Dizzy Gillespie standard.

“Before this competition, my drumfluences were all male and the typical drummers you would hear from any jazz drummer … Art Blakey, Ari Hoenig, Max Roach, Chris “Daddy” Dave and Tony Royster, Jr. However, through the HLAG competition, I was exposed to so many talented female drummers from all over the world—it was truly inspiring,” Meghan says. “Now, I look to drummers like Helen de la Rosa, Terry Lyne Carrington and Sheila E. for drumspiration. More locally, I am insanely influenced by Mark Feinman of La Lucha. I totally stalk this band at an almost unhealthy level.”

Meghan joined Patel Conservatory music in 2016 when she landed spots in the jazz improvisation and jazz intensive programs. Studying with jazz teaching artist Matt Weihmuller, Meghan found her home at The Straz. “My first show with the Patel Jazz Combo was the Holiday Market sponsored by the Gasparilla Music Festival and the Junior League of Tampa in November 2016,” she says. “I enjoyed my time with Mr. Matt and never stopped [taking lessons and performing].” Meghan is a regular in the Jazz Combo class on Tuesday evenings at the conservatory as well as an as-needed drummer for Matt Weihmuller’s Saturday jazz improv class.

“I’ve always loved music,” Meghan says. “When I was a baby, my grandma used to carry me around singing everything from opera to country. I have no idea what I’d be focusing on if it wasn’t for drums. Learning drums is my life. Having the opportunity to work with Mr. Matt has definitely made me a better drummer. The relationships and experiences I’ve made with the Patel Jazz Combo are immeasurable … I’ve met so many great and talented people, musicians and otherwise, through the conservatory. I’m so grateful to have found this place.”

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Megan in action. (Photo: Rob/Harris Productions, Inc.)

Meet Meghan

Education: Homeschooled. “I love it. It gives me the flexibility to do what I do with jazz drumming.”

Animal friend: Harvey, a Lhasapoo. “He’s like my brother … we fight like brother and sister, anyway.”

Interests outside jazz: Reading, gaming and longboarding. “I’ve read the Harry Potter and The Unwanted series five times each. I could spend an entire day playing Resident Evil or Minecraft if I ever had the time. My mom and dad have longboards, and we all go to Clearwater Beach and cruise around with a pit stop for ice cream.”

Favorite Patel Conservatory gig: Godspell. “I was asked to play drums for the production—hands down on of my favorite gigs! I had such a great time, the cast was amazing and I learned so much about myself.”

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Megan performing for the Patel Conservatory’s production of Godspell. (Photo: Soho Images)

If you have an interest, curiosity, proclivity or any such thing for the performing arts, chances are we have a class, camp or workshop just for you. Our arts education program ranges from pre-K to adult, so anyone wishing to explore or train in music, dance or theater has a home at the Patel Conservatory. Visit patelconservatory.org for a list of upcoming arts education programs.

 

Party Rocker in the House Tonight: Fun Facts about Motown Mogul Berry Gordy

Everybody just have a good time.

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Next week, the Berry Gordy bio MOTOWN THE MUSICAL returns by popular demand to Morsani Hall. The musical tracks through Gordy’s journey as the star-making superpower of the Detroit “Motown” sound. His stint as the emperor of Hitsville, U.S.A. launched the artists who shaped American pop music: The Temptations, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, The Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, The Jackson 5, Martha & The Vandellas, The Commodores, Lionel Richie and more.

But what about the more human side of the legend? Surely he has quirks and surprising factoids about his life, right?

Yep.

In 1938, Gordy—like 70 million other people—listened to “The Fight of the Century,” a two-minute slugfest between American hero Joe Louis and Nazi darling Max Schmeling*. Louis, who was born in Alabama but lived in Detroit, bargained for this rematch because Schmeling had knocked out Louis in an unprecedented upset in 1936. Schmeling’s defeat of Louis foreboded the rising Nazi power and plunged African-Americans, who were terrorized by rising violence of the KKK, into despair. The fight was way more than a boxing match: it was a national portent of the fate of our nation.

So, you can imagine what kind of effect a Joe Louis K.O. win in the first round would have on a boy listening to the match. On the radio. In Detroit.

Berry Gordy became a boxer. (The song “Hey Joe” from the musical came from this moment in Gordy’s life.)

He fought 15 Golden Glove matches. He won 12.

In 1948, Berry Gordy appeared on the same fight bill with Joe Louis.

Boxing-Program-1948

His boxing career was cut short when was drafted to the Army to serve in the Korean War. He served from 1951-1953.

Gordy loved jazz, especially Stan Kenton and Thelonious Monk. After the war, he opened a record store. It failed. He worked for a time at the Ford Motor Company factory upholstering cars on the assembly line, where he used the monotony to compose songs.

It’s worth noting that Gordy had no real formal music training. Despite that, he won a talent contest with his song “Berry’s Boogie” in grade school and sold some of his assembly-line compositions to Decca Records.

He has eight children. The youngest son, Stefan (a.k.a. Redfoo), makes up half of the electronic duo LMFAO. The other half, Skylar (a.k.a. Sky Blu), is Gordy’s grandson.

Though he dropped out of high school and later earned his GED in the Army, Gordy holds honorary degrees from Michigan State University and Occidental College.

Gordy is a vegan.

He is also President Jimmy Carter’s cousin. They’re related on Carter’s mother’s side (Jimmy Carter’s mom was Bessie Lillian Gordy, the niece of Berry’s grandfather).

Mind blown? We thought so.

Want to find out which Motown artist you are? Take this fun quiz from the MOTOWN THE MUSICAL website.

*We’d like to note that Max Schmeling, according to historical notes, did not support the Nazi cause but was more or less swept up as a propaganda tool and later distanced himself from their ideology. On Kristallnacht, he provided sanctuary for two Jewish boys as they ran from the Gestapo.

Helping Y’all People Notice

How Music Wrote the Lives of the Men of Hypnotic Brass Ensemble

HYPNOTIC BRASS ENSEMBLE

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble (aka The Bad Boys of Jazz) are seven brothers from the south side of Chicago.

Ask a member of the seven-piece band Hypnotic Brass Ensemble how they got their name, and you may get a surprise answer.

It started as an acronym for the band’s mission: Helping Young People Notice . . . hypnotic. Notice what, though?

Music. Jazz. Funk. Themselves. The power of young black men channeling the cosmos the way their father taught them.

The band, all sons of famed Chicago jazz musician Phil Cohran (Sun Ra Arkestra, Chaka Khan, The Pharaohs, among others), began their apprenticeships with their dad early in life. Some started as young as four years old, but all had instruments in hand by their sixth birthdays. Cohran, who grounded himself in elevating the arts scene in Chicago and working with community youth, had a sweeping and macro view of humanity’s relationship to music. Cohran wanted to know his place in the cosmos, and he knew music held the answer. He studied all over the world to integrate a sound and teaching technique that connected musicians (and, by extension, their audiences) to the harmonies of the universe.

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Jazz musician Kelan Phil Cohran. The honorific “Kelan,” which means “holy scripture,” was given to him by Chinese Muslims while he was visiting China.

He implemented this view in his teaching, and his sons, masters as they are of Afrobeat, R&B, funk, soul, traditional jazz and hip hop, always weave their music back to the over-picture: that their sometimes strange improv instrumental tangents construct a tone link to the nonstop harmonies emerging from planetary electromagnetic fields. They have, as they say, some harmonies that can only be heard in space.

… Now imagine Jupiter speeded up with a funky James Brown drum and horn section:

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble took to the streets of Chicago early in their career where they grew a grassroots fan base and earned a dope reputation purely by word-of-mouth. In time, “helping young people notice” outgrew their neighborhood radius, and HBE realized they were destined for bigger things. Thus, “helping young people notice” became “helping y’all people notice” as HBE began its interplanetary mission as “superheroes of jazz sent to rescue those in distress—and that is the entire musical community of planet Earth,” as they say in the British documentary about HBE and their work with Fela Kuti’s drummer Tony Allen.

These men, these brothers, these direct descendants of musical spiritual master Phil Cohran and veterans of the mean streets of southside Chicago, do not merely play music. They are made of it. They are acutely aware of the role jazz, hip hop, soul, funk, R&B, rock ‘n’ roll and the intricate musicality of Asia and Africa contribute to their organic make up. This acute awareness transmits through their musical compositions and has the ability to reach into the soul of the listener.

Such is the way of HBE.

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble performs at The Straz this February, and we are thrilled that they will be holding two school outreach workshops, one at Dunbar Elementary and the other to be determined. It is our privilege and mission to give local young people access to artists like HBE and do our part to “help young people notice” the world is large, diverse and full of incredibly cool people and opportunities to connect themselves to the bigger picture.

 

This program is funded in part by a grant from South Arts in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the State of Florida Division of Cultural Affairs.

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Art as a Survival Tool Series: III

Good Vibrations
Polyrhythms, sound healing and the significance of vibration

This blog is the third in a series of five on Art as a Survival Tool, blogs that examine the crucial role art plays in the fulfillment of the human experience.

tie dye baby at drum circle

Famed scientist Nikola Tesla once revealed “if you want to know the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.”

Where we come from, this is called music and dance. And what would these art forms be without drums?

Mixing energy, frequency and vibration in different rhythms happening simultaneously results in polyrhythm, a phenomenon that occurs in natural vibrations and sounds which humans captured and mimicked with the invention of the drum.

women drum polyrhythm

African, Indian and shamanic cultures employed polyrhythms to sacred purpose, intuitively applying frequency and vibration to heal physical or psychological wounds and treat illnesses. The drum literally knitted communities together, entwined them with their environments and “talked” across distances, communicating messages from one tribe to another.

So profoundly integral and powerful a tool was the drum that, at the start of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, European colonizers realized the easiest way to break the culture of Africans was to strip them of their drums—which they did; however, stripping a culture of its rhythm, embedded in its cells for millennia, is impossible. In time, polyrhythms, drumming and the power of beat dominated popular music in every country that utilized African slave labor, especially in the United States, where we witnessed the birth of intricate jazz and hip hop polyrhythms that would define popular culture for several generations.

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Kathryn and Sally Robinson, the mother/daughter team of DrumConnection Tampa Bay, who use traditional African drumming for community building. (Photo: https://drumconnectiontampabay.wordpress.com/)

Today, neuroscientists identify the ability of rhythm and sound to affect neuroplasticity in the brain and their abilities to release chemicals such as the “stress hormone” cortisol, a natural anti-anxiety medication. Certain polyrhythms, as employed in African, Middle Eastern and Indian cultures, induce the brain into a trance state, which researchers now understand allows a person to re-tune her frequency, harmonizing the body’s vibration to well-being, much like tuning a violin or, as it were, tightening a drum head.

Grammy®-nominated recording artist Jonathan Goldman describes this re-tuning as “resonant frequency healing” and, when performed in a group, creates entrainment, a natural phenomenon of synchronizing that can happen without the listeners’ being aware of attuning to others in the group. Goldman’s sound healing, which may strike the more hard-science-minded as wishful thinking, gained scientific support in July when a study from the University of Bristol tracked ultrasound (high frequency sound waves) as having a vibration high enough to speed healing in physical wounds.

Polyrhythms got you intrigued? Then check out this online polyrhythm generator and let us know what you think.

FROM THE VAULT: Dizzy Gillespie with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra

Friday, April 6, 1990

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Dizzy Gillespie and the Lionel Hampton Orchestra performed in Festival Hall (now Morsani Hall) on Saturday, April 7, 1990.

Two of the great, Mufasa-esque lions of be-bop era jazz conspired together for a performance on the stage at Morsani Hall on Saturday, April 7, 1990, and, surprisingly, it didn’t blow up.

However, one can only speculate about what happened to the minds of the audience.

Vibes virtuoso Lionel Hampton, with his Orchestra, hosted trumpeter par excellence John Birks Gillespie, best known as “Dizzy,” in a jazz concert for the record books. At the time, Dizzy was 72 years old, a Kennedy Center Honors recipient that year, and, three short years after his Straz Center engagement, would die an American legend in Englewood, New Jersey.

When Dizzy blew, his neck and face puffed like a set of billows, his eyes bugged and his signature up-turned-trumpet bell gave him his distinctive, original look. The beret, sharp goatee and dark spectacles helped.

Dizzy, in the scope of jazz, held a special place as a musician and African-American man who pushed himself to the limits of his imagination and then some, becoming a cultural ambassador, a beloved American icon and a superior improvisational artist. Plus, he was so darn funny. Who else could have convinced President Jimmy Carter, in 1978, to record the lyrics for a rendition of Gillespie’s own famed tune, “Salt Peanuts”?

Dizzy, who credits Afro-Cuban Godfather Mario Bauza as his musical father, assumed the mantle of Bauza’s work and became one of pioneers of Afro-Cuban/Latin Jazz in American music. By the end of his career, Dizzy had 14 honorary degrees and a Grammy® Lifetime Achievement Award. He’d performed with Cab Calloway, Teddy Hill Band, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Ella Fitzgerald, John Coltrane, Yusef Lateef and personally discovered Arturo Sandoval.

In 1964, Gillespie put himself forth as an independent write-in candidate for the presidential race, citing his Cabinet, which would include Miles Davis as Director of the CIA and Charles Mingus as the Secretary of Peace. Phyllis Diller, he noted, would run on his ticket as VP.

If only we had a time machine.

Gillespie appeared on more than 1,000 records, and, in this one-night-only appearance, in the flesh on our stage with his good friend and equal legend, Lionel Hampton. Hampton also sported an impressive collection of honorary doctorates and would later earn the National Medal of Arts from President Clinton. Hampton died in New York City in 2002. He was 94 years old.

The show, billed as “Dizzy Gillespie with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra,” played at 8 p.m. with tickets at $19.50. Again: if only we had a time machine.