Rhythm is a deceptively complex pursuit. It’s easy enough to clap along to the band, but when it comes to holding down a solid groove, even musicians proficient on stringed instruments, keyboards or horns can find that they are all thumbs.
And so, while guitarists and singers claim the spotlight—in music videos and on stage—with rip-roaring solos and powerhouse vocal performances, fans would do well to consider the drummer. Sitting aloof, hidden behind the kit, he is in many ways the true leader of the band.
Case in point: Will Calhoun, drummer for Living Colour. Just as John Bonham formed the bedrock upon which Jimmy Page erected his massive riffs in Led Zeppelin, Calhoun created an unshakable foundation with his ostensibly simple four-on-the-floor beats on tracks like “Cult of Personality,” the group’s biggest hit.
Still, it may surprise fans of Living Colour to learn that while Calhoun was walloping the skins in that funk metal powerhouse, he was also studying the work of one of jazz’s greatest percussionists, Elvin Jones.
Nearly 30 years on from the release of “Cult of Personality,” Calhoun is now leading his own band—in title and in rhythm—and paying tribute to the drummer who provided so much inspiration for him. On Celebrating Elvin Jones, released last summer, Calhoun collects covers of works by Jones, as well as compositions by Wilbur Little and John Coltrane (Jones was a member of the famed John Coltrane Quartet), and weaves them together with some of his own tunes.
Calhoun describes Jones as combination of a “boxer and a ballerina,” capable of whirlwind force and delicate precision, noting that seeing Jones opened up his eyes to what a drummer could be. Calhoun will perform songs from Celebrating Elvin Jones at the Hammer Theatre Center this Sunday at 5pm as part of San Jose Jazz’s commemoration of International Jazz Day.
The event will serve not only to showcase the talent of Calhoun and his predecessors, but it also marks the unveiling of the latest technological upgrade to the Hammer Theatre.
For a little more than a year, the Hammer Theatre Center has been undergoing a slow and steady modernization. Since San Jose State University’s College of Humanities and the Arts took over the former home of the San Jose Rep in the fall of 2015, the building has been brought up to code, the lighting system has been updated, and most recently, the second of two brand new sound systems—the Constellation Acoustic System.
Designed to enhance the experience of both performers and audiences alike, the Constellation system will function like a “virtual concert shell” for orchestras, operatic performances and concerts, according to Anthony Sutton, technical production manager for the Hammer Theatre.
Via a series of microphones hung meticulously above the stage, the system collects the sound of performers, funnels it through an algorithm and returns the sound through an array of finely tuned speakers.
Also performing on Sunday: local jazz group Howard Wiley and Extra Nappy, the SJSU Jazz Orchestra and Tiffany Austin, as well as young players in the SJZ High School All Stars and SJZ Progressions Ensemble.
In addition to live performances, the Hammer Theatre will also screen the 2009 documentary 1959: The Year That Changed Jazz, which examines four seminal jazz records released in 1959—Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, Charles Mingus’ Ah Um, and Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come.
International Jazz Day
Apr 30, 12pm, Free
Hammer Theatre Center, San Jose