Alphonso Young, Jr., Drums & Percussion

Drummer/percussionist Alphonso M. Young, Jr.’s versatile and imaginative style of performance has not only charmed audiences around the world, but has led such noted artists as Vanessa Rubin, Randy Brecker, Bob Berg, George Colligan, Buck Hill, Ira Sullivan, Othello Molineaux, Rebecca Parris, and Jon Secada to acquire his talent. He was also the percussionist for the European tour of the Broadway show Sophisticated Ladies.

A music instructor with Loudoun County Public Schools in Virginia and on the faculty of Shenandoah University, Alphonso and his brother Tim lead the Young Brothers Trio and released their own CD, Tales of Time. His energetic swing style can only be described as breathtaking. If Bruce Lee played percussion, he would want to play like Alphonso Young, Jr.

15 Questions with Alphonso Young, Jr.

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1. Why drums?

My parents have a picture of me as a toddler with a Sears drum set. They say it was my favorite “toy.” Who was to know that my entire life would be centered around my love for that instrument.

2. Why jazz?

I grew up in a soul and rhythm & blues household. That was the music of the day. That is what was being played on the radio, on television, and at the dances, and that is certainly what was being played in our house.

That being the case, my exposure to jazz was somewhat limited. My dad actually had a pretty good collection of jazz recordings— albums AND reel-to-reels. On the sly, I would check out some of that stuff when he and my uncle Jimmy would hang out. It wasn’t until high school that I really began to develop an appreciation for the music. My time spent in high school jazz band not only exposed me to different styles within the genre of jazz, but it gave me an opportunity to become an active participant in the music.

3. Why the heavy gospel and blues influences in your style of jazz?

As my love for this music began to grow, so did my interest in the roots of jazz. Older musicians would always refer to jazz as being “just the blues.” As I began to play more, especially with the older cats, I started to understand the connection.

4. What jazz artist do you revere most?

That’s a tough question to answer. There are so many! Miles Davis has a special place in my heart as does Herbie Hancock. Chameleon was one of the first funk grooves I learned on the drum set. Back in the day, that was the groove that every drummer had to know how to play. Art Blakey is another. Blakey went toe-to-toe with Buddy Rich. Max Roach did too!

5. What is your favorite jazz recording?

Whoa…another tough one! Well, I LOVE Kind of Blue. I know everyone says that but I say it because this is the one album that I can play everything I know to. Just about every technique exercise I know began with a track off of that album.

6. What is the best live jazz performance you've ever witnessed?

Man…I have seen a lot of great performances over the years, but two of the best and probably most influential, were my first two “real” jazz concerts.

The first was a group called VSOP at the Hampton Jazz Festival. My parents buy tickets every year, whether they go or not. This particular evening they did not and gave the tickets to my friend, Donald, and me. The group was comprised of Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, Branford AND Wynton Marsalis (who were both kids at the time) and Ron Carter. I had only seen these names in Downbeat Magazine (a subscription I bought from a band fundraiser). I also remembered seeing the same yellow drum set that Tony was playing in a Modern Drummer Magazine. The seats were terrible, but the concert was amazing. I knew very little about jazz at that point, but I knew enough to know that I was listening to something great!

The second concert was at Chrysler Hall in Norfolk, Virginia. Weather Report was the band. Omar Hakim and Victor Bailey had just joined the band. I remember them playing Birdland, which we were playing in jazz band. It was awesome! They did it totally different though. There was this section where they broke into this heavy shuffle. I had no idea what a shuffle was then, but knew it sounded different AND very hip!

VSOP:

7. Who is the living jazz artist with whom you'd most like to play?

Herbie Hancock. His understanding of rhythm is so acute that it allows the drummer to do virtually anything and WORK.

8. What is the jazz venue you'd most like to play?

I have always dreamed of playing Wolftrap (the BIG stage). I have been fortunate in having played the Barns, but the main stage is something that I have always looked to do.

9. What is your best piece of advice for young jazz artists?

Listen and practice. Without listening, you have no content nor point of reference. Without practice, you have no words.

10. What is your favorite quote by a jazz artist?

“True artistry comes from understanding that music and life are one in the same” -Alphonso Young, Jr.

11. What is your favorite EBT recording/song?

Hmm…Honestly, I don’t listen to our recordings very often. I try to separate myself from the recording upon completion of a project. It allows me to continue hearing the tunes in different ways.

I do have a special appreciation for the Further Up The Road project. This was the first recording in which I was able to play a dual role— drummer AND producer (of sorts). The engineer for this project was a very talented former student of mine, my man, Rocket Jackson! We sat together for hours at his place working on tracks. He was able to put our ideas and sound into place creating a project that I think we all enjoy. In addition, we were blessed with the opportunity to work with the “Father of GoGo,” Chuck Brown. I believe the tracks he laid with us were some of his last recordings.

12. What is your favorite EBT live performance?

Oh my! There have been so many great gigs. Our performances at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland has to be at the top of the list. The Dubai International Jazz Festival was pretty happening too! Man, I can’t say. Each one has a unique story that is special to me and the Trio.

13. Why Eric?

Some things are hard to put into words. When Eric and I began playing together, there was an immediate connection. His passion, energy and joy for the music was evident. At that point, I had no idea that those were the beginnings of a life of creating music together. Regardless of the unpredictability of being a freelance musician, my senses knew that we would be hanging for a long time to come! I enjoy playing with Eric AND even more so, I enjoy being around him. Eric inspires me! The way he speaks, the way he plays, his vision and his commitment to music and humankind; it’s hard not to be inspired. He is like a brother to me.

14. Why Bhagwan?

My Man B! I have to say, I have worked with a TON of bass players. Many of them being great, but B is like “Home” for me! He is simply, the best! You know you are the best when everyone else is being “sized up” to the standard that he has set.

It’s funny, working with Bhagwan is pretty effortless. He is so solid, yet fluid. It allows me to do practically anything that I want. He is content AND still enjoys just holding it down. But LOOK OUT for when he steps out front! Boy is bad!! His lines, emotion and energy; it draws you in.

Funny thing: for the longest time, I was totally intimidated by Bhagwan. His quiet demeanor and intense musicality made me a bit insecure. Made me question my own stuff. As we grew closer, I realized that quiet demeanor and intense musical sense is what drew me to him. I love that guy.

15. Why The Eric Byrd Trio?

Things happen every day in our lives. Some things are per chance, but some things are just simply meant to be. That would be the Eric Byrd Trio. We are now looking back on the more than 15 years of playing together. That’s incredible! Not just playing, but REALLY working.

The way we came together (as I remember it…I am the oldest..), we were all doing the freelance thing. Working with as many groups and people as possible in order to survive, break into the scene, and make our mark. I met Eric on a gig with Howard Burns, a great tenor player in the Baltimore area. Eric had worked with Bhagwan in Howard’s band and in Ron Kearn’s band. I, in turn, had worked with Bhagwan once or twice with this alto player in the city.

Well, at some point, the three of us ended up in the same place. It was at the wedding of a friend of Bhagwan’s. I remember it being somewhere in Baltimore. Eric and I were playing in Howard’s band that day and Bhagwan was in the wedding party. And of course, he wanted to sit in. Whoa…I can’t stop laughing!

On the gig, the waitress had a tray of hors d’oeuvres. She came by the band and offered a couple of times. Very nice gesture. After the next couple of times, my man Eric says to her, “You can just leave the tray.” The funniest thing in the world! During the break, the three of us got to talking. At some point soon thereafter, there was the discussion of this Kennedy Center program. That was the beginning, as I remember it.

I feel like we kinda found each other at a time where we were musically, and in life, at the same place. We were all about the same age and I think we were all looking for a little more in the music and the overall music scene. Our relationship has now developed much further than music over the years. We have experienced joy and sadness in our lives and always endured as a unit. We have not only found a musical voice in each other, we have found “strength” in each other. I’m looking forward to another 15 years of music and laughs with my closest friends!