Will Calhoun Talks Individuality, Elvin Jones, and Dizzy’s

Will Calhoun

News | May, 24th 2018

Will Calhoun was just 12 years old when he first saw Elvin Jones perform at The Village Vanguard. Calhoun left that concert forever changed with a sense of direction that would define his career. We had the chance to chat with him about what makes Jones such a stand-out drummer and why Dizzy’s is the perfect place to celebrate this legend (as well as many other interwoven yet totally linear things).

We can’t wait to host him at Dizzy’s for the very first time this Memorial Day!

Jazz: Is there something in particular about Dizzy’s that made you want to celebrate Elvin Jones’ music there?

Calhoun: It’s the jazz aficionado room in town. To me, Elvin was a very classic artist and I think his legacy and his music are very important and should be displayed in as many politically correct environments as possible.

Jazz: How you define a “politically correct environment?”

Calhoun: Well, it’s two things. Jazz is a very interesting concept of expression. I liked Elvin, as a youth that grew up in the Bronx, in a neighborhood where hip-hop began, where graffiti was really popular, and there was this thing happening in the 80’s with Spike Lee and hip-hop labels–it was a renaissance period. Elvin, to me, was playing at a time when Max, Blakey, and other fantastic jazz drummers [were popular], but he was speaking differently in the same language of jazz. His approach to playing still honored the art form but spoke, I think, more as an individual.

Elvin was a little bit more indigenous which is attractive to me. It’s a combination of Congolese and Burundi drumming. Those two aspects of Elvin’s drumming were very significant to hear on the radio. I grew up listening to a lot of world music. My father is a Navy sea captain and would bring back recordings from Pakistan, Egypt. We had all these interesting records in the house with interesting covers and language we didn’t understand but the music was tremendous. I felt Elvin connected me to that and that’s why Elvin is so important to me and I think Dizzy’s is a great environment to display that connection.

Jazz: Do you remember the first time you went to Dizzy’s?

Calhoun: My first time there was when it opened. I was curious what it was going to look and feel like because there were the typical venues like the Blue Note and the Vanguard but Dizzy’s had another kind of legacy attached to it. I think it had a newer concept with Wynton being involved and the Orchestra. I studied engineering in school so I wanted to see the seating, how it sounded, the vibe, how beautiful it was and I was really into the sound. I feel like when many venues are built, the artists are thought of last. The view, the seats, the bar comes first and you have this gorgeous room with a cheesy PA and a small piano with no room for the drumkit. It was nice to see that it was sonically thought out.

Jazz: As a native New Yorker, you must remember a time before Dizzy’s. Can you speak to what Dizzy’s brought to the New York jazz and music scene?

Calhoun: Well you guys are in Midtown, it’s a very touristy part of town, so I think it’s assimilating a bit. I don’t mean that you’re selling out, but that you’re responding intelligently to the environment. You have Central Park, all the trains are right here, the mall. It’s not a jazz club tucked away in an environment where you’re only being told to check out the jazz. You’re able to, I think cleverly, have people that may not be jazz fans, browse their way in.

Jazz: We’d love for you to elaborate on a quote of yours from another recent interview. You said, "The thing about art is you don’t own it. As artists, we have a responsibility to pass the baton. If you pass the baton in a way that pisses people off, that’s still movement.” This seems to suggest a comfort with discomfort, would you say that's true? How does that philosophy inform your performances?

Calhoun: I think when you’re performing you should piss some people off, everyone shouldn’t walk out of there clapping saying “Oh wow, that was amazing,” every time you play. Some people should put their fingers over their ears because that’s real life to me. When I have a meal, I don’t want everything to always taste amazing. Something should be a little hot or a little spicy or a little bit of a surprise to me. Art has to continue to move. It shouldn’t remain in the same place so as to stay comfortable. Jimi Hendrix pissed a lot of people off. Charlie Parker pissed a lot of people off. Miles Davis pissed a lot of people off. The fact is the art continued to move, they inspired people, and they opened doors for other things to happen. Elvin inspired me to be an individual. When I first heard him, I didn’t know how to play the drums at that time but I did say, “When I figure it out, I want to be an individual. I don’t want to sound like everyone else. I want to have another kind of approach to what I play.”

You can catch the Will Calhoun Jazz Quintet featuring Grammy Award-winner Will Calhoun at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola Monday, May 28th at 7:30pm & 9:30pm. 

Swing By Tonight! Click here to reserve your seats today.

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