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February 08, 2012 News & Features


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Kimery: All That Jazz

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by Kyle Kelly-Yahner Posted Monday, October 24, 2011 5:46 PM


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Thirty years ago, you could find Kennith Kimery in German rock clubs, playing anything from the Beatles to Journey. Today you might find him in Egypt, in front of the Sphinx, with the Smithsonian !"##$%"&'()*+),&$-)./(&')"0$1)233456$"7+56$'+$32&4.$8)+3$92,($:77456'+5$'+$;(55<$=++13"5>$$-)$ he might be in his office at the National Museum of History scheduling interviews for the Smithsonian?s Jazz Oral History Program, or conducting interviews with legends such as Toots Thielemans or David Brubeck.

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$ Kimery never intended to become the Executive Director of the Smithsonian?s Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, or the Program Director of the Jazz Oral History Program,and he certainly never envisioned he would hold both positions at once. In retrospect, it seems as though Kimery is the only man who could hold this job. Kimery comes from a family of musicians who worked tirelessly in their pursuit of excellence. However, Kimery?&$8"347<$$5(@()$A)(&&2)(1$/43$'+$./++&($32&4.$"&$"$.")(()$ path. In fact, Kimery was debating whether to pursue a career in golf before coming to the realization '/"'$32&4.$*"&$/4&$')2($A"&&4+5>$B/($C+2)5(<$8)+3$$/4&$<+2'/$45$=()3"5<$'+$/4&$.")(()$"'$'/($ D34'/&+54"5$/"&$./"56(1$$E43()<?s philosophy on music and his appreciation for the work he does today. $ Kimery agreed to speak with Highbrow Magazine about his life and career. $ Q: You!re now playing with the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra and documenting the careers of jazz musicians with the Jazz Oral History Program.

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Where did your career start? Well, you know I can honestly say it started here in Washington D.C., and a lot of it goes back to the fact that I grew up around music. Both of my grandfathers are professional musicians. One actually met my grandmother in the Salvation Army Band, on my mother?s side. My grandfather on my mother?s side actually continued to play and teach. He was a French horn player and he also taught piano and the wonderful squeeze box, the accordion, which was typical for that time when he was teaching music. On my father?s side, his father or step-father but I know him as my grandfather, he also was a professional musician. He was a one-man band. He used to travel the Ripley show where he played piano, trumpet, and he had a little bass drum and sang; so he was quite a novelty act. At a young age I?d bring a snare drum and some brushes and he?d play and I?d play along with him. $ Q: Can you describe your mother!s career as an opera singer and her influence on your life?

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My mother, following suit, was a professional opera singer. Her career took us from California where she was studying at UCLA to Julliard. From 1968 till 1971 we were there as she was finishing up her studies at Julliard and then she launched her career in Europe that took the family over there. That was really a pivotal time. I was nine, and my grandfather gave me my first snare drum. I had been beating on pots and pans before and was also exposed to music through my parents. $ Q: How did your musical development continue after receiving your first snare drum? I think like anybody who gets involved in music and finds a fascination, you tend to explore and find *"<&$'+$1(@(7+A$$I<+2)J$.)"8'>$K$L24.,7<$8+251$.+77("62(&$"51$8)4(51&$8)+3$/46/$&./++7$*/+$/"1$&4347")$ interests. We would have jam sessions and play at talent shows that led into my senior year in high school playing in a band with three other British guys over in Europe, playing all cover tunes from the Beatles to Journey. We were traveling around Europe playing at enlisted men?s clubs and various other bars You?re at a young age graduating high school getting a taste of what its like out there performing and actually making money at it. That wasn?t the motivation, to make money, but I thought, HWow here is a way you can actually do something you really love and they pay you for itH $ Q: Was your primary concern to play music as opposed to following your family members$#career paths? I came to a crossing in the road there, a fork in the road. To be honest there were two things I had great passion for, which I still have passion for now, that I was looking at pursuing. One was the game of golf. In high school, I had made the varsity team as freshman, so I felt I was a fairly decent player. But the draw for music was far greater. And a lot of it had to do with not just playing but exposure. Hearing these various musicians and bands over in Europe at that time really opened my eyes. I mean I saw a lot of the classic rock bands. I saw The Who, I saw Queen, I saw The Scorpions, I saw AC/DC. And my father was ingenious in the way he went about guiding me towards jazz. He just said, HHey, let?s go to some jazz concertsG$and I said HWhy not?H$and that led me to see Jack DeJohnette, Dexter =+)1+50$M("'/()$N(A+)'$*4'/$O('()$:)&,45($45$'/($P"51$"51$!".+$O"&'+)42&0$'/($92,($:77456'+5$ OrchestraQ That, to me, was such an incredible impression on my childhood and my direction that I think it wasn?t a decision after I had that exposure. I started thinking about what was it really that gave me a sense of excitement and I took that sense of passion I had in the direction I wanted to go inQ. That?s how that decision was made, it wasn?t parental pressure, it was really support, full support on everyone?s part. $ $;(456$"$1)233()0$<+2$,5+*$&+3('43(&$<+2)$5(46/P+)&$")($5+'$'++$/"AA<$"P+2'$'/($8".'$'/"'$<+2$ play the instrument. And they might even voice their opinion in a variety of ways. I?ve had the police come knocking at my door stating that I was a bit excessive in volume and I had to stop. So my parents never took that as a sign, or said HOh, I need to get him off this instrument.H$They stayed supportive and encouraging of what I was doing even to this day.

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Q: Did you experience a musical/culture shock when transitioning from life abroad to life in the United States? What I found within the European musicians, their development in the area of jazz was behind where we were. They were still gaining ground, so at the time you saw a lot of Dixieland being played by German musicians. They dabbled in the avant-garde but it really was not something that one would say was done with a great sense of authorityQ. $ B/($R3()4."5$")'4&'&$)("77<$."3($8)+3$)++'&$+8$32&4.$'/"'$*()($&+7417<$(SA)(&&(1$45$'/(4)$A7"<456>$$ You can tell they went through the blues, they understood it and they chose to go this path. With the European artists, they didn?t have that there, so it was more of coloration and at times also playing at the instruments without really digging into what it?&$"77$"P+2'>$$T+)$'/"'$A")'4.27")$'43(0$'/()($*"&$"$ difference, it has obviously evolved quite significantly since then. $ For me, coming back, I experienced a culture shock not necessarily musically but more so culturally because I lived in Germany for 10 years and had not come back to the United States but once in a 10year period of time. $ Q: How did your career develop once you moved from California to Washington D.C.? Transporting myself from Washington D.C., having the benefit of Keter Betts - - he?s living history. He goes back to playing with Earl Bostick, Diana Washington, Charlie Byrd and the Jazz Samba, recording with Stan Getz to Ella Fitzgerald for 23 years of her career to the end and on. $ Q: What was your relationship with Keter Betts like, and did it affect your career amongst D.C. musicians? Keter was really one of those guys that embraced you and brought you into the family. I won?t say there are qualifiers, but when you?re brought in (to the fraternity) there are little tests here and there to see your integrity, and see what your bring to the fraternity there. The brotherhood and that also determines to what degree that your going to be afforded that depth of the relationship. I think as I see over the years no matter what area you go into, if you?re committed and you do it with a great sense of commitment and passion, being embraced in that community tends to be a lot more common, versus someone who dabbles in it. You?ll find a connection, but you wont get further into the nitty-gritty of it. $ Q: Who was your mentor as a developing drummer? The real foundation for not just drumming, but my musical appetite, came from a gentleman by the name of Anthony Brown. Beside the stick control and the technical side, you want to make sure that your path in music and in hearing is on par with your technical ability. Anthony said, GBring a blank cassette.H$That?s for you young cats who don?t know what cassettes are! Anthony said, GWell, what do you want on there?H$I said GI don?t know you put on whatever you wantH$and so I handed it back to him so he was able to make that decision. It really was the best thing because he put on anything from Alphonse Mouzon, to Weather Report, to Ornette Coleman - - you name it! He presented to me this broad base of music, that wasn?t just jazz. He continued to pry open that door that has allowed me to have such an expansive appreciation for music and the arts because of that early exposure, and that wisdom on his part. $ Q: What do you think of purely technical playing versus musically oriented playing?

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We are all in awe, and dazzled by the technicians, but the ones who have lasting impacts are the ones who can transcend the technical side and get into the artistic side, that musical side. Those are the people who far along are lasting, and for me the ones who I will always go back and listen to because there is always some food for thought that comes out of their playing, there?s always some inspiration there that I?ll find. Pure technique, it leads to a certain level of satisfaction but it doesn?t feed the soul. $ Q: Can you describe your work with the Jazz Oral History Program? It?s like being a kid in a candy store. I love to play, but the beauty of this program is going out and capturing the life histories of these informants. It's not just the performers themselves, we really draw from the broad range of the industry. *** Find more information about Kennith Kimery, the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, and the Jazz Oral History Program at $ !"#$%$&$'&%#(&)*+%#,$-+.-&/.00&1.,%(23$24,&526#(,%2.&78&%#(&)*+%#,$-+.-9 %&'()#Kennith KimerySmithsonian Jazz Masterworks OrchestraJazz Oral History Program

Comments (1) Molly (not verified) | Thu, 10/27/2011 - 20:38 Very well done--reels you in right away and a very interesting bio on Kimmery Reply

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