Desi drums up Nat'l Award

BY RICHARD JOHNSON
Observer senior reporter
johnsonr@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

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The Jamaica Observer presents another in its series on entertainment figures whose contributions have been acknowledged in this year's National Honours and Awards.

When the history of drumming in Jamaica is written, the name Desmond “Desi” Jones will feature prominently.

A popular fixture for live performances and recording sessions in Jamaica and overseas, Jones will be among the more than 100 people who are set to receive National Honours and Awards at King's House in St Andrew on National Heroes' Day, October 21.

He is to receive the Order of Distinction in the Rank of Officer (OD) for his contribution to the development of Jamaican music in the genres of jazz, show music, and reggae.

Jones was on tour in Germany when the news came that he was being recognised for his contribution. He said it was greeted with a sense of appreciation.

“It is such a great feeling to be recognised and appreciated by your own people. So I am pleased and humbled at the same time to be able to accept this award for doing something that I love,” he told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

Jones started his professional work on the drum set as a teenager when he joined an aggregation under the baton of renowned Jamaican musician and band leader, Sonny Bradshaw. Those formative years would lay the foundation for what has become a truly monumental career. His trademark black beret has become almost as famous as the music he creates. He was a founding member of the band Chalice and, after parting company, went on to form his own band, Skool in 1988.

He has played with the likes of Jimmy Cliff, Mutabaruka, Carlene Davis, Monty Alexander, Barrington Levy and Marcia Griffiths. He is also the acclaimed author of The Art Of Reggae Drumming, said to be the world's first instructional book on reggae drumming, which was released in 1983.

“I actually started music on the recorder and conga drums when I was about seven years old, but I started play professional at 17 when I joined the Sonny Bradshaw band. From I born, I just love drum. They used to call me 'Boom Boom' because I used to play on the pots and pans around the house...anything I could get my hands on. It then moved on to school desks — any surface that could make music, I was playing on it. I can't explain what it is about the drums that drew me on and keeps me going. All I can say is that it is a nice feeling to play and make people feel happy, dance and enjoy their music.”

Bandleader Bradshaw died in October 2009. He was 83.

The drums have over the years become an integral part of the sound of Jamaican music — from the traditional to the most contemporary genres. As for reggae, drum and bass remain the substrate upon which the music is built. Jones is comfortable with the positioning of the drums and by extension the drummer, in the grand scheme of local music.

“People are never really aware of this, but subconsciously the music is really affecting them. It is not an up front instrument, it stays in the background, but it moves the people and I like it that way. I love most genres of music. Of course, there is reggae, but I love jazz, Latin American music, most genres — I can't say all but I try to play as many as I can.”

He shies away from naming that one local drummer who is catching his ear at this time, but Jones gives full credit to the young musicians coming out of the School of Music at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts over the last few years.

“There are so many of them... there are some excellent players. I can't name any one right now because there are so many good ones coming out of 'Edna', and I'm sure I would forget some of the names. I go to most of their end-of-term recitals as I adjudicate sometimes, and they impress me a whole lot. I meet a lot of them on tour as they are playing with a lot of the big names in reggae right now and they are really good, very good. I am glad to see that young people still love the actual drums and not just drum machines and computers. Drumming is in safe hands,” he noted.


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