I’ve been drumming since I was 17. My brother, Jon, was a street busker with a modified acoustic and a little portable amp he clipped to his belt. He asked me to keep a beat for him. All we had was a little kid guitar missing the strings. I banged on the high and low parts of the tone box like it was a bongo. We would go to Washington plaza in downtown Orlando and sell our handmade jewelry and jam on the street.
There was a little coffee shop next to the rundown theater called the Yab-a-Yum. On friday nights they ran an open mic. Like a couple beatnik hippies from bygone days, we ascended the stage and “did our thing”. There was a regular there, a nice guy, who would read his terrible poetry and tap dramatically on his bongos. We fit right in! Long story short, I guess the guy felt sorry for me having to bang on a guitar like that (I didn’t at all. I loved it!). So one night he asked if I’d like to borrow the bongos for our set. I jumped at the chance. After our set, he said I could take the bongos home for the next week and practice some more.
As the weeks went by, I practiced like crazy thinking the bongos were going home soon. I would bring the bongos and we would share them or it would just be me playing them. Each week, I tried to give them back and he would tell me to keep practicing. I thought, I must be terrible at the bongos and I seriously thought about quitting. It was about that time, after I’d tried to give them back 3 or 4 times, that he finally put his hand up and said, “Dude, you obviously love the shiz outta them things. You play beautifully and have improved tremendously. Please stop trying to give them back! Just keep ’em. I hardly ever play them anyway. Just promise to take care of them and keep practicing!”
I still have those bongos.
In 1999, I started studying with Martin Wolf Murphy of the Jammin Drum school. He opened my eyes to an entire world I never knew existed. Names of rhythms, different parts, writing beat music; building rhythms with different parts and different instruments; the importance of foundation. There was no one doing this! There were no teachers, especially ones that I had access to and could afford. He talked about drum circle facilitation and his conversations with Freedom on the subject. For me, I feel and many of us in Florida and beyond feel, we owe our modern drum circle culture to Greywolf, Freedom and Nighthawk. These guys did a lot of research and personal questing to discover and refine what a drum circle is and what it can be.
I have since studied with many African master drummers. I have attended Camp Africa several times, Paralounge Drum Gathering for years, as well as several large festival drum circles. I have been teaching workshops, group classes and one-on-one classes for more than 10 years. I’ve been doing local summer camp programs for 6 years. 40 kids for 2 hours! Now I’m doing three such events a year and looking for more!
Drumming has improved my life in more ways than I can count. It’s benefits are many and far reaching. It never gets boring because the wealth of knowledge on the subject of hand drumming is never ending. The more you know, the more you realize that you know nothing.