Damon Short is an excellent Chicago-based drummer, bandleader and composer who has been active in the Chicago area for more than 20 years. Here is an interview with Damon.
Note: This is being revised, check back soon for an updated version...
How did you first get interested in the arts?
Damon Short: I've wanted to play drums for as long as I can remember. When I was around 4 I'd take some Tinkertoy sticks and bang on the empty can in a tile-lined bathroom. Aside from being banished there by my parents because of the noise, it had a great echo effect. There were a few classical records around the house and my older brother was into early jazz when he was pretty young himself, so it was always around.
What is an early memory you have of doing something in the arts?
Damon Short: I played a drum set solo in 6th grade at a school event. It'd be funny to hear that now, but they didn't have YouTube back then.
Who are some of your influences?
Damon Short: I was fortunate to discover the progression of jazz in pretty much chronological order - most people encounter it at one period or another - bebop, the 60s, fusion, 'free' (dumb term), etc. - and work their way in either/both directions if they work their way at all. So I was aware of Gene Krupa & Jo Jones before I 'discovered' Max Roach, for example. So all of it informs what I do with my own music. Seeing Elvin Jones in person changed my entire approach to drumming; seeing Cecil Taylor changed my approach to music in general. As a composer... most of my pieces tend to reflect Mingus probably, but I'm certainly 'influenced' by Ellington, Braxton, Shorter, Gil Evans (who's truly a composer even if he's considered an 'arranger'), Harry Partch, Messiaen, Boulez, Bartok, Stravinsky, sometimes even Mahler.
photo credit: Katy Short
What other projects have you been working on?
Damon Short: I've been doing a trio with trombonist Michael Vlatkovich (LA) and Jonathan Golove (cello). Vlat is a prolific composer and monster player; Jonathan is a terrific 'classical' player and composer in his own right, and a very creative improviser, which is a rare combination. The 'Tryyo' is playing Michael's music but there's plenty of room for each of us to transform the written material. I've also been playing in different groups directed by Paul Hartsaw (when he's not playing in my Quintet). Paul has great ideas and is also a formidable player. I enjoy all of these situations where I can be 'just the drummer'.
The jazz artist Charles Mingus (born on April 22, 1922) left behind an amazing legacy that includes a stellar catalog of compositions such as "Goodbye Porkpie Hat," "Better Get Hit in Your Soul," and "Fables of Faubus"; a career that included working with many musical greats such as Duke Ellington, Eric Dolphy, Dannie Richmond, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Max Roach, and Joni Mitchell; and approaches to the jazz idiom such as directions for big bands that have been indelibly etched into jazz vocabulary. *
Mingus would have been 90 this year, but sadly he died of ALS in 1979. Sue Graham Mingus, who met Charles in the early '60s, was married to him and took care of him throughout his illness. Tonight at Noon: A Love Story, Sue Mingus' eloquent memoir, contains many memorable anecdotes of her life with Mingus. Sue has been directing The Mingus Bands for more than 30 years, and also directs Mingus jazz education outreach in New York City.
The Borderbend Arts Collective has presented ten Charles Mingus-inspired concerts, including nine Mingus Awareness Project concerts in Chicago and Richmond, Virginia. Borderbend is planning special programming this year, in honor of Mingus' 90th birthday -- including the next Mingus Awareness Project concert which happens at Fitzgerald's on May 17th. More announcements will be made soon...
* Many excellent books about Mingus have been published. Check out Gene Santoro's Myself When I Am Real, Mingus' autobiography Beneath the Underdog, and Sue Mingus' Tonight at Noon.
pictured above: Mingus Awareness Project poster image designed by Josh Josue
Here are several recordings from Mingus Awareness Project concerts. Enjoy!