Karl DeJong is a young drummer who has been stepping out in his first solid run of gigs. Karl came to CapU from Langley Fine Arts' music program, he's just started working at a big Canadian music retailer we all know (and who doesn't sponsor Rhythm Changes), and he told me about what he's been up to.
His perspective on his frequency of gigs is mature:
"I've only started playing gigs in the past year, sort of since spring of 2022, and the frequency has definitely gotten higher as time goes on [...] I think it's something around twice a month. It's not an Alvin Brendan level of gigs! [laughs] But I'm very grateful to be getting called by different people. I'm having a lot of fun."
Karl's first gig as a leader to-date was at The Lido: the December 2022 edition of the Pass the Hat series. He led a quintet featuring two of my contemporaries, the horn duo of Ben Frost on trumpet and John Nicholson on saxophone; and Ben Millman on piano and Dan Howard on bass to round out the rhythm section. Here's his reflections on that night:
"I would say I'm most interested in more modern subgenres of jazz, so I was excited to compile my favourite wacky things that I don't hear at gigs in the city. It was a real pleasure to play almost half of the music as my originals, played by such a great band. A lot of my [Langley Fine Arts] high school friends came out, and they got rowdy, that was nice for the energy in the room."
What are those modern subgenres? I've been listening to Marquis Hill a lot lately, for reasons you'll see in an upcoming Update – so I dropped that name and a few others. Apparently, we're on the same wavelength:
"I'm a big Marquis Hill fan, and also a budding Braxton Cook fan. Big Christian Scott fan since high school as well. That's definitely in the right arena. Things that are happening now on the scene in New York is where I do a lot of my listening. I'm also a big fan of the bassist Avishai Cohen, Noam Wiesenberg, Gerald Clayton, Aaron Parks – I played some Aaron Parks at the Lido gig. 'Nemesis.'"
Good to know young jazz musicians still obsess over Parks' Invisible Cinema!
Given all that 2000s-2010s jazz love, how nice it is that Karl experienced heavy doses of the stuff via Jazz at the Bolt 2023. He played there with Connor Lum, who we covered in the leadup to that festival. "Connor's one of my favourite horn players especially out of the younger people, it's a real treat to get to play with him," Karl says of Connor.
Like others I've talked to, Karl emphasized Miki Yamanaka's band at Jazz at the Bolt as the highlight – but he zeroed in on the drummer, Jimmy Macbride:
"Hearing Jimmy Macbride do absolutely mind-bending things on the drums, and he was someone I'd never heard before, and now he's gonna be my next guy to really dive into and transcribe."
I asked Karl about a gig that just happened on Wednesday, at Presentation House: Mackenzie Tran sang, with Ben Millman again on piano, Emilio Suarez on bass, and him on drums:
"It was a lot of standards. We played a Ben Millman original, a good amount of standards, interesting arrangements. There was a 'Blackbird' and 'Bye Bye Blackbird' [mashup], 'Tea for Two' in seven. Nothing too crazy, though."
And, no big deal, one of the most popular Frankie's After Dark shows yet – the Ben Millman Trio with David Caballero on bass:
"It's a real honour to be in that trio. Ben is an incredible musician whom I look up to. And David is a super-heavy cat. If you don't believe me, ask Brad Turner, who always calls him for gigs. Ben brought in a lot of cool music, including a traditional Hebrew piece and some creative, inspiring originals. And there were a ton of people there, this is true. Ben worked the crowd, as he has the prowess to do."
That's what Karl told me. Here's a bit more thoughts and observations percolating in my mind this weekend: