24 Jan A Drummer’s Dream – The JammJam featuring Kaz Rodriguez, Aaron Spears, Luke Holland, Matt Garstka, Rico Nichols, Devon Taylor, Thaddeus Dixon and more.
“This might be one of the biggest drum events of the year.” – Luke Holland
Situated between Sunset and Hollywood Blvd., among bizarre Hollywood attractions and famous landmarks, is a newly minted performance art space called Live House Hollywood. At about 8 p.m. on Monday night, the growing queue suggested there was something about to happen within. From the street, one could look through large glass windows to see the spacious lobby. But what wasn’t visible from the street was the adjoining performance space – a darkened room, with the soundboard on one end and an elevated stage on the other where you’d expect to see the band’s gear set up. However, for Monday night’s event the elevated stage served as a platform for audience members, who would look down to the center of the room: keyboards, a horn section, guitar, bass, a full percussion rig and two gorgeous five-piece drum kits, one with walnut shells and a black wrap, and the other a pearly white, each complete with trigger pads and an array of cymbals, all in a circle, facing inward. This particular arrangement has become a fundamental characteristic of Jammcard’s increasingly infamous JammJam
Like all of the previous JammJams, an intimate invite only performance series coined by Elmo Lovano, this one had a unique theme that featured a cast of heavy hitting drummers and an all-star band, who would perform the originally drumless tracks created by British drummer, Kaz Rodriguez.
“I guess there’s a level of heavy drum-ness at every JammJam, because, I’m a drummer,” Elmo said with a laugh. “But this one was the most focused on drummers.”
Elmo and Kaz became friends a year ago when Elmo got turned on to the tracks that Kaz has become known for creating.
“I didn’t realize for the longest time that all those drum videos I was watching online were actually playing to Kaz’s songs,” Elmo said. “A lot of the time those drumless tracks come from faceless, nameless people, and Kaz has been the guy that’s branded it as a thing that he does, and he does it really well.”
As Kaz and Elmo got to know one another, Elmo’s wheels started turning about the concept of a JammJam that featured Kaz’s music, performed by a live band – something Kaz had never seen done with his music before.
“As soon as he told me that, then I really wanted to do it for him,” said Elmo. “I wanted to do it for him, and for the Jammcard community, and because I knew I would love it…Everything that we do with Jammcard, I’m the first gut check. I’m always asking myself, ‘does this idea really excite me?’ And if that idea stays in my mind, then I say “okay let’s make this happen.”
Kaz would be in town from the U.K. for NAMM, so the golden opportunity to have his JammJam before the trade show arose, and so began the mission to assemble a dream cast of musicians who’d be up for the challenge of learning Kaz’s music and performing it at the ‘Jamm.’
For the band, Domi DeGalle (Mono Neon) and Xavier Taplin (Toto) played keys, Bubby Lewis (Snoop Dogg) was on bass, “Freaky” Rob Gueringer (Kendrick Lamar) played guitar, and Roland Gajate-Garcia (Diana Ross) was featured on percussion. For the cast of drummers, it was Elmo’s plan to pair up two drummers for a total of four of Kaz’s songs. Elmo paired up with Thaddeus Dixon (Khalid, Meghan Trainor), a new face for the JammJam headliner cast. Devon “Stixx” Taylor (Justin Bieber) and Rico Nichols (Kendrick Lamar) made for an explosive pair of double drummers. YouTube sensation, Luke Holland, performed with one of his idols and monster drummer, Matt Garstka of the band Animals as Leaders. And to finish off the night, Kaz played his heart out with one of his best friends, Aaron Spears, a name any drummer should quickly recognize. He’s currently with Ariana Grande, prepping for their Coachella headline set.
“Kaz has no ego. He’s so humble,” says Elmo. “I wanted the people we chose for the band to match Kaz’s energy. All of the people we chose are humble, kind people, who love music for music’s sake … the JammJam is a labor of love. People play for the community.”
With such an impressive lineup of players, it’s easy to understand why other significant names in the music world would want to be in attendance.
“You used to go backstage at the Guitar Center Drum Off or something, and it’s a heavy hang,” said Elmo, “but this was just, heavier!”
Some notable attendees included Tony Royster Jr., Ronald Bruner Jr., Larnell Lewis, Robert “Sput” Searight, Thomas Pridgen, Gordon Campbell, Josh Dun of 21 Pilots, Spencer Smith of Panic at the Disco, Shariq Tucker and even Dweezil Zappa. Not to mention the group of reps from Remo, Pearl, Roland, Tama, Evans, Zildjian, D’angelico and Vic Firth, who gathered at Live House to enjoy the evening as a collective group of enthusiasts.
“It was just like drummer heaven,” Elmo laughs.
Before it came time for Matt Garstka and Luke Holland to take their place in the center stage, the two spoke about how the JamJamm is something unlike any other performance opportunity.
“It’s intimate for sure,” Garstka said. “I’ve never heard of a show where you all stand in a circle around the band. That’s unique.”
Matt is a versatile player and has to be ready for a range of musical scenarios; some that require a click, some that don’t. Sometimes it’s with a band with specific material, and sometimes he finds himself playing for something that requires more of a free approach. For Monday night’s music, Matt said it was a bit of a mix, with no click, but with a particular arrangement of Kaz’s pieces that had never been performed in that way before.
“It’s unique, with two drummers,” he said. “You see that with some artists, you know, James Brown was notorious for that, the Allman Brothers have done that, Miles Davis, even N.E.R.D. did that, had two drummers – that’s probably more like what this is, something more of a contemporary outfit with the keyboards and everything.”
“Matt came over and we had one little rehearsal and figured out what we wanted to do.” said Luke nonchalantly. “I prefer structure. I like to know what I’m going to play.”
“We have an effective arrangement because of that,” said Matt.
Matt had previously attended one JammJam, and Luke had been to three before Monday night.
“I’m stoked to be a part of it. It’s a pretty iconic night. There’s a lot of amazing musicians in the building. Me and Elmo were thinking about it earlier, and we were saying that this might be one of the biggest drum events of the year.” Luke says.
Something else about the JammJam that makes it special for those in attendance is the open jam that typically takes place before the headlining set. Members of the audience are welcomed to tap in on their chosen instrument to sit in and jam until someone else takes a turn. For musicians who’ve experienced this type of thing before, it can be a very nerve-wracking experience, with the pressure to play with people you may not know in front of a very talented audience … but somehow, the energy in the room at the JamJamm allows for a level of trust and comfort that’s rare in a jam setting. Giancarlo de Trizio, or “GC” as he’s known, flew in from New York to attend the NAMM show, and was lucky to secure a spot on the list for the JammJam. GC is a member on the Jammcard app, working as a professional drummer in NYC, primarily in show business, drumming for Hamilton and the Lion King. This was his first time attending a JammJam, and about half way through the open jam, he hopped on the white marine Pearl Reference Pure kit to play along with 15-year-old rising star, JD Beck. GC says he rarely has the opportunity to play in this kind of setting with another drummer.
“I did come in with the expectation that people would be getting together to jam, but I’ve been to jam sessions before, and they can get pretty competitive sometimes,” said GC. “This wasn’t the case. I really felt a sense of community, and that people were here just to play music together, chat and have a good time.”
GC commented on the energy Elmo brings to the room as the host, and how it trickles down to affect the audience and the whole company.
“That’s how he’s able to bring people together and create some magic that everybody can benefit from,” he said. “I really felt that tonight. I’ve been to many networking events which can be awkward at times, but I didn’t feel like that tonight. It was more organic. First, we got to make music together, which is what it all should be about. And then we talked afterwards. Other networking events don’t always involve music as much, and it’s weird, because we’re more musicians than we are talkers. Once there’s music, we have a lot more to talk about. It was a positive and relaxed environment.”
He added that with no cover charge, despite the amazing venue and an open bar, Jammcard doesn’t put a financial toll on musicians like other events may impose.
“I think that deserves a lot of respect and I compliment [Elmo] for that!”
Audience member, Max Kane, has been attending the JammJam since its conception, and commented on how it’s grown into what Monday night reflected.
“I was hanging out with musicians who knew Elmo, and I remember when the JammJam was just an idea,” said Kane. “To see it manifest itself from being an idea to housing some of the most world-renowned musicians is incredibly impressive. It’s one of those things where I think Elmo and his team have put their heart and soul into it…As cliché as it is to say, it’s really a bit of a family. So, to see it go from nothing to where we are tonight is pretty crazy.”
For Kaz Rodriguez, Monday night was the culmination of years of hard work, and a dream scenario that became a reality. Kaz approached the evening with a sense to expect the unexpected.
“I always run by the fact that when you’re in a room full of phenomenal musicians, you know they’ll take care of you, and everyone will take care of each other,” said Kaz on the day after the show. “I knew that it was the right people that were in there. Elmo did a fantastic job bringing in some of the finest musicians in the world to share this moment. I didn’t really say much, they just wanted certain things in certain directions, and it really just spoke for itself. To hear it come to life was, almost emotional for me…It was the first time those songs were ever played with a live band. And it’s given me more inspiration to be able to play this live and maybe set up a band myself. It’s a real honor to have that and to have friends be around to support me. I’m really grateful for that.”
Kaz’s drumless tracks have become a sensation for drummers around the world. The creative musical ideas inspire the drummer to add their own flavor to the music. Kaz began creating the tracks when he was in university, when he had to make his own music to play along to.
“I think it was ten years ago I needed to see if this was a thing, and I wanted to share tracks across the world to see what platform I needed, so I used my remaining 60 dollars on CD Baby to see where it went, and it kind of just took off from there,” Kaz said. “People were covering it on YouTube and I noticed Tony Royster was playing one of the tracks, and Aaron as well, Aaron Spears, being one of my best friends. He really had faith in me and said “you have something going on here.” Chris Coleman, and Sput as well. Sput has been one of my main inspirations, making all of this happen. And to be here now, using these tracks and to be able to continuously grow with my friends who inspire me, and help to guide me.”
Kaz reflected on how the musicians in the band each brought their own voice to the music; an inspiring and humbling experience for the man who made it.
“Hearing everyone else throwing their characteristic on it, especially all the drummers, everyone was listening,” said Kaz. “All my songs were originally released drumless, so it gives the drummers the ability to show their voice on the tracks. So, to be able to play it live, it was almost a different language that was being spoken, and there were a lot of things that stuck out. There were some alternative melodies, and it just helps, because there’s flexibility. You can take it anywhere you want.”
As the creator of the series, Elmo says that every JammJam is inherently different from the last, and the culmination of personalities and professional experience gathered in one space is an extremely valuable quality.
“In classic JammJam fashion, you have all these genres and worlds of people that come together,” commented Lovano. “Normally the hip hop scene doesn’t see the rock scene, doesn’t see the jazz scene, doesn’t see the pop scene … so that’s what I love, is that everyone’s all together … I already have the next one lined up and it’s completely different than this one. But this one was really me being like ‘I’m going to live my drummer fantasy.’ [laughs] I want to keep it light-hearted, and I think that’s the key to having all those people in the room drop their ego. I mean it could be clash of the titans, in terms of all those people in the same room, but you look around and you see everyone smiling. So, I think if I’m hosting it, and I’m not taking myself too seriously and just having fun with it, and making it extreme but goofy at the same time, I think it sets that vibe.”
Kaz’s newest record is available across platforms, and is called “Synaesthesia, Vol. IV.” It’s 20 drumless songs that are meant to inspire creativity for drummers and beat makers all over the world to input their own special sauce to Kaz’s creations. And who knows, after what the Jammcard community witnessed with Kaz’s music on Monday night, the music world at large may be inspired to think outside the box in a similar kind of way.
By: Charlie Weinmann