Jaco, for our audience who doesn't know you, can you give us a brief rundown about who you are and your background in the CT music/drumming scene?
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Check out the below interview with Jaco!
Hello, my name is Jaco and I was born in Miami, FL before my parents moved to Bridgeport, CT where I would spend most of my early life before finally moving to Monroe, CT during my formative years. It was in Monroe that I would sign up for percussion in the 5th Grade Band and continue playing in the public school ensembles all the way through high school. After that it was off to Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, CT to study and earn a Bachelor’s of Arts in Music and a Bachelor’s of Science in Music Education. Through those experiences and meeting people I ended up on the scene playing mostly Jazz brunches and an occasional Jazz Monday or Wednesday night somewhere all the while taking gigs at local high schools and community theaters as a pit musician. Soon after college I began teaching music; first in the Monroe public school system and then in Regional School District #15 where I’ve been a Band Director for the past 12 years.
When did you first fall in love with music? Was there a specific experience that was somewhat a catalyst as to what would become your career later on in life?
Not to sound too much like a fatalist but music, drumming in particular, was something I was always waiting and ready for. Way before 5th Grade I would find myself setting up different household objects and using them as drums (pencils and wooden dowels as drumsticks). I would explore different timbres and set things up to where they sounded like a kick drum, snare drum, toms, etc. Eventually I moved on to couch cushions and pillows before my parents realized there was something going on. They succumbed to the inevitable and purchased for me a second-hand set of drums for my 11th birthday. My parents are muggles (non-musician folk); so they didn’t really understand where my musical passion was coming from. Typically, my brother and the males of my extended family were notable jocks; my father was a military man. Thus, there was no single experience for deciding to be a career musician. Music was just always something I understood quickly and found myself more and more intrigued the deeper I explored and studied. You're known in the CT music scene as a very proficient multi instrumentalist. I assume that this may have always been the case. If so, what made you choose the drums as the instrument that you went on to study in college?
Well, drums was what I was devoted to all the way through high school. I played drums in all the ensembles, and I played drums at my church. I was adept at reading percussion music, etc. All the things required to get in to school for music was from my drumming experience. Learning other instruments was really an inadvertent result of not being allowed to play drums when my parents got home. I was what they called a latch-key kid (of sorts), so most of my afternoons after school from Grade 5 through high school was spent alone practicing drums. So, when quiet-time was imposed, I found myself playing instruments that could be played quietly; such as an amp-less guitar or bass, and keyboards with headphones. And of course tons of pad-work, but even that was annoying to whoever heard it.Did you feel that your tenure at college set you up for success in the 'real world' of music? Would there be any advice to our high school students who are taking the leap into a music degree to enhance their experience?
Hmmmm… So here’s the thing; music school sets you up for playing opportunities. You can have the chops of Dave Weckl but it will do you no good unless you know how to apply those chops to an appropriate musical setting. Music school, with all of its teachers and coaches, prepares you for ensemble playing. Everything else is TOTALLY up to you. Theory classes, music history, rep courses, improv classes; all of those organized activities are extremely helpful and can really round you out as a musician...but they’re only as effective as YOU allow them to be. The truth is most music majors will go on to do something completely different after they graduate. One thing I would tell young musicians who think they want to play music for a living is get to know yourself as soon as possible. Take personality tests, read inspirational books, pray/meditate. Because the work of a musician is probably only 50% being able to play. The other half is what I call “the hang.” Networking is the foundation for almost every career. As a musician though, our networking occurs mostly on the scene. And let’s face it, the scene starts at around 10pm and can sometimes go until dawn. And you’ll find out really quickly if you can indeed hang. What happened after college drumming wise? What gigs did you acquire that motivated you to sink yourself into so many projects like you're in now?
Well I played for a bunch of different groups and cover bands. Some were experimental, some were straight ahead. I took almost every gig that was offered. I loved and still love playing my instrument(s) whenever it is possible. I’ve played in church bands, funk bands, rock bands. I played in a trio that was comprised of myself, an upright bassist and a flautist. Wherever there was music to be made (and I was invited) I wanted to be there. And nothing has really changed that much; it’s still the same for me today.As I mentioned earlier in the interview, you're an extremely talented multi instrumentalist. What advantages (or disadvantages, if any) has that brought to your drumming? Do you suggest younger musicians to pursue multiple instruments? If so, at what point do you think is the right time to add them to their daily practice routine?
The advantage of being a multi instrumentalist is the ability to understand and appreciate function in an ensemble. So back in the day composers would weave their tapestries on paper and then musicians would bring to life their ideas by playing what they read; much like actors in a movie or play. In this day and age when creating new music, I have found that producers and band leaders don’t necessarily write down what they need from you. They sort of have an expectation that you’ve done the research and have had the training and that what you decide to play will reflect that. It’s that spontaneous composition that I think make the best musicians. Having knowledge of how other instruments work has really assisted in those moments. Knowing how to serve a song is extremely important as a professional musician. I guess you don’t really need to learn a second or third instrument to understand all of that, but it certainly has given me an extra boost being FULLY aware of what’s going on around me when jamming. As far as when to learn a second instrument...I would say whenever you’re ready. Like languages, if you learn them concurrently you’ll only strengthen your abilities.A lot of younger drummers spend so much time practice material that is "hard". But one thing I've always loved about your playing is how much it grooved and the way it improved the overall feel of the track. How do you suggest young drummers get motivated to practice that element of drumming? Do you feel being proficient at "groove" playing helps more when trying to find a paying gig?
Music is thought and feeling. Music is both mathematics and emotion. Each musician must decide for themselves where they want to lie on that spectrum. That’s not to say that certain kinds of music do not elicit emotion from a listener, but I don’t think I would be incorrect to say that more people are going to see Phantom of the Opera than say a performance of First Construction (in Metal) by John Cage. For me, as an educator and a musician, it’s always been about how I make people feel. I loved the emotional connections I made to my musical heroes and very little of it had to do with their chops (although I love that part as well). Guys like Steve Gadd and Benny Greb are fantastic examples of this. You’ll see a lot of guys on the nets call Benny and Steve overrated, and I think a large amount of that has to do with what I call chop-measuring, and while music can be competitive, I try to steer students and myself away from that line of thinking. Chops are great, but they’re kind of only great for other drummers. My advice is to work on your feel, work on your groove; work on the space between the notes. These are the things that make you valuable. What are your thoughts on reading music? I myself always have to reiterate to certain students that being able to read music extremely important in acquiring gigs in the scene. Do you agree or disagree and why?
First of all, reading music makes you smarter. Period. That should be reason enough to learn to read music. Second, it absolutely puts you ahead in line for gigs. I can remember at [Western Connecticut State University] auditions for ensembles; guys could play circles around me when I first got there. But by the second semester of my freshman year I was playing in the “A” bands simply because I could sight-read the charts and those other guys could not. One night when I was around 19 years old, I got a call from a guy who needed a sub immediately for a gig because his wife had gone into labor. There was no time to get recordings or music; I had to show up and sight read a 2.5 hour original musical and reading music was the only way I could successfully do that. That circumstance lead to me becoming the house percussionist for a couple of seasons.I'm always curious as to what everyone is practicing when I interview them. What are you working on right now, personally?
I’m always working on my feel. I spend a good portion of time working with metronomes clicking on different parts of the beat; that’s so incredibly difficult for me mainly because I didn’t think of trying it for many many years. I had become so used to metronomes playing quarters or eighths that trying to play grooves with the metronome sounding on the “e” of each beat is vexatious. I also love working on my feet. As a Jazz major, I spent most of college working my kick drum and hats with a completely different purpose. It actually took me a little while to use my kick drum more purposefully as opposed to just as an accent piece in the vain of toms and small cymbals.Is there anything else you'd like to add for our audience?
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.