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GMG Drum Instructor plays live during pandemic thanks to ColaJazz Foundation

By: Mr. Jenkins

Hi! My name is Deven Jenkins, and I'm the drum instructor at GMG Academy of the Arts. Many of you know that in addition to teaching at GMG, I also perform during the week at live music venues. Due to the restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the live music scene in Columbia has been brought to a standstill... sort of. One of the blessings that I have been fortunate to witness during this time is the creation of new content and ideas all across the entertainment spectrum. Whether it be fashion, sports, e-sports, or music, we’ve seen a lot of new and exciting ideas and formats. One such format that I have personally been involved in is live stream concerts, and so far I have been a part of two events. 

The biggest hurdle for working musicians is sponsorship. Many of the live music events are sponsored by the venues that host the events. Meaning, because the venues are empty, so are the pockets of many musicians. Fortunately, Columbia has the ColaJazz Foundation whose mission is to “support and grow jazz in and around Columbia, SC through events, education, recordings, advocacy and providing a resource for all things jazz.” I can honestly say that the things they’ve done for the jazz community here have gone far beyond just the music. The foundation sponsors a live stream concert every Wednesday night at 8:00 pm featuring Columbia musicians. These musicians cover the entire jazz spectrum, so there's something that everyone can enjoy.

The first live stream event that I played was with the True Blue Trio. Former GMG piano student and my childhood friend Shannon Pinkney was on piano, Rodney Foster was on bass guitar, and of course, I played drums. The set was what I call an “easy listening” set, meaning we didn’t play music that was extremely complicated or dense.  All of the songs were danceable with a mixture of tunes by Steve Wonder, the Meters, Roy Hardgrove, and others. Remarkably, we played these tunes with little or no talking in between songs. We just sat down, started playing, and took our cues from Shannon which gave the performance a “vibe.”

The second event that I played was with the Jonathan Knott Trio. This was the most challenging of the two performances. Jonathan is a talented guitarist that I met through my church. When he asked me about playing, he told me that he wanted to do a show that featured compositions that aren’t usually played on a “regular” gig. I willingly embraced the challenge but did not expect it to be as difficult as it was. In preparation for the show, I noticed that many of the songs had these strange straight eighth-note grooves that were very random and sporadic, and still somehow, made sense. Through research and talks with other musicians, I found out that the style is called ECM. ECM is short for Editions of Contemporary Music, which is a European record company that became eponymous with this particular style of jazz. The style requires each performer to have a strong sense of time without reliance on the other musicians as each person is allowed to “color outside of the lines.” For the same reason, it's also necessary that each performer has a strong understanding of the chordal structure. Fortunately, with things being the way that they are, I had plenty of time to study and practice. It also helped that our bass player was none other than Woody Lingle, who is phenomenal in any style of music. He brought a sense of authenticity that made it really easy to play.

The tapings were done on a studio stage that's informally called “The Warehouse” by local musicians, and the venue is owned and operated by Matt Buckley. During the live stream, viewers are given the opportunity to make donations to the ColaJazz Foundation to support the performers. So, if you don’t have anything to do on a Wednesday night around 8:00 pm, come hang out and support your local musicians. You can view it on the ColaJazz YouTube channel or on their Facebook page.

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