Playing music, whatever your level, sets your spirit free. Sometimes, I’ll be watching my hands playing and I’m somewhere beautifully distant – not in a detached, cold way; I’m still engaged in everything that’s going on, but I’m watching on from elsewhere.
I started playing the drums around age 10 or 11. My parents bought me two little bongos and I would try to get as many sounds out of them as I could with my fingers. My first kit was one snare drum and a tiny cymbal. I’d have my brothers or sister turn the snare off and on while I was playing so it made different sounds. I was into experimenting very early on.
There’s so much more to life than making ends meet and trying to make your mark in the world. It’s really about love and relationships and doing the best you can in every situation.
By 26, I’d reached a stage where I was drinking way too much. I felt very lost, because I’d achieved everything I wanted to achieve in Australia, and wasn’t sure I wanted to try America. A musician friend of mine, from the band Stylus, introduced me to Brahma Kumaris meditation, which is spiritual but not religious. It’s very simple, very practical – I can even be meditating as I talk to people.
I’m an Honorary Fellow at the Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music and teach at the James Morrison Academy of Music two days fortnightly. Every day’s different, and every week’s different, which I love. I mean, it has its challenges of course: I sometimes make a month’s income in one week, and then other weeks there’s nothing.
I’d describe the Peace Lounge series of concerts I’m currently staging as spaces of experience. They’re events, not just concerts, with different configurations and ensembles. People who attend will leave the events with something quite special in terms of peacefulness, upliftment, inspiration, and happiness.
Billy Hyde was a very famous drummer in Australia who would play in all the orchestras and TV bands. He had a shop in Flemington, underneath his house. One day I was there and just ripped away at something and Billy said, “Oh, okay, that’s really interesting. If we have any people ringing for fill-in gigs would you like to do some work?”. And I said, “Yeah, I’d love to!”
By 14 I was filling in for people three times my age. I got the nickname “Radar” because I’d be able to listen, without any rehearsal, and pick up what was going on. Within no time I was doing three nights a week at the Bridge Hotel in Richmond, at $25 a night. I even bought my mum a car.
Brian Brown started the contemporary jazz and improvisation course at the VCA and, when I was 18, he invited me and another young person on bass – Jeremy Alsop – to join his band. So for me, being at the VCA as an Honorary Fellow is an incredible full circle.
Every time I sit at the instruments I discover things. It’s not just sound vibration – it’s intention.
Originally, I was opposed to drum machines because they put a lot of drummers out of work. But as they’ve progressed, the marriage between the machines and real drummers is fantastic. They’ve probably brought up the level of drummers in general. We’re hearing rhythms that we’d have never heard, and wouldn’t have come up with ourselves.
I’ve heard enough about the film Whiplash (2014) to know that what’s being presented is quite violent and abusive, and also that it’s portraying a teaching method that not only doesn’t work but is detrimental to the whole concept of what drumming’s about.
I never go on to stage with any feeling of doubt. If there’s nervousness it’s usually due to other factors, that we don’t have enough people in the audience, or similar. Other practical concerns can suddenly jump into my mind but I just let them flow out again. Once the music’s on that’s all that’s happening.
I met yesterday with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s artistic manager, and I’m having a second drum-kit concerto written for me. I’m so happy because even just to have one written for a drum-kit player was a really big deal. I don’t know of any others globally. So I’m feeling very honoured and very fulfilled. For me, there’s still an urge to keep going and take this as far as it goes.
– As told to Paul Dalgarno
Banner image: Rick Butterfield
David Jones would like to express his gratitude to the Lionel Gell Foundation for supporting the Peace Lounge series.The Peace Lounge concerts run weekly on Thursdays throughout September on the University of Melbourne’s Southbank campus. Details here.