New Orleans Jazz Fest 2014 is right around the corner and with so much talent performing, we thought we should get to know some of the artists themselves. Kevin O’Day is a New Orleans-based drummer for the band Midnite Disturbers and we recently had the chance to learn more about him. We discussed everything from his favorite drummers to his strangest gig, and also what makes New Orleans such an important city for music. You can catch O’Day playing with the Midnite Disturbers during Jazz Fest on Saturday, May 3 at 3:10 p.m. on the Jazz & Heritage Stage. Read on to learn more about this New Orleans musician.
Kevin O’Day of Midnite Disturbers
What was your first musical memory?
My first musical memory … well, hearing Paul McCartney’s “Brother John” on the radio really stands out in my mind. I have very strong memories of riding around Lafayette with my mom in her car while she played the radio for me. She had a lot of tapes, too, of The Beatles, Jim Croce, Kenny Rogers, Cajun music, and blues. My dad got me my first instruments: a piano at three, an acoustic guitar at seven, and of course my drum set at 11. So, I had a lot of encouragement to play music as a kid.
What first got you interested in percussion?
I always loved the drums and rhythms in general. There is a whole cosmic connection there that is available to anyone if they look for it. I remember Alex Van Halen twirling his drumsticks in a video on MTV and I was just stunned and amazed at how cool that was!
How does your creative process work when crafting a song?
It is different for every song really. A germ may come to me and I feel that I have to flesh it out completely, or it could be that getting with my friends and collaborating is how a song comes together.
How did you first meet Johnny Vidacovich?
I was in high school in Baton Rouge and my band director at Catholic High, J. R. Miller III (who is an amazing jazz trombonist and arranger) told me about this crazy guy who was almost telepathic in his improvisations with people and who has the best time of any drummer around. He was talking about John Vidacovich. I got the chance to see Johnny V. in a concert later that year and I was was just absolutely blown away. I made it a point to find out where he was playing again and found out that he played a lot of Thursdays at Gino’s restaurant in Baton Rouge, so I went there to see him play, and that is how I met him and began to take lessons with him. I ended up coming to Loyola for college, largely to study with John. I am so grateful to him, he was an amazing teacher for me.
Who are some of your favorite drummers and why?
Well at the moment, my favorite drummers are Elvin Jones, Johnny V., Tony Williams, Russell Batiste, Zigaboo Modeliste, Stanton Moore, Herlin Riley, Brian Blade, Willie Green, Dennis Chambers, Vinny Colaiuta, Peter Erskine, Steve Gadd, Frank “Cash” Waddy, Clyde Stubblefield, Jabo Starks, and Cindy Blackman. The reason these are my favorite drummers — they all have incredibly great natural time feel, and they play from the heart.
What do you feel it is about NOLA that makes it such an important hotbed of innovative drumming?
The reason is really that we are very close to the source of the music here. If you go back in the history of American music, you find out that the rhythm aspect of the music was brought to us by the Africans who were brought here as slaves and were allowed Sundays to play their drums and dance in Congo Square. The drum set was invented here in New Orleans, also. Guys like Dee Dee Chandler, Zutty Singleton, and Baby Dodds were the originators of the drum set and passed that knowledge on. Then moving forward in history, guys like Vernel Fournier, James Black, Smokey Johnson, Earl Palmer, and John Boudreaux each had their way of incorporating elements of the New Orleans brass band rhythms and advanced be-bop concepts into their grooves. We have a rich tradition of innovation here. It is an honor just to be a part of this drumming scene.
How did the Midnite Disturbers come together?
Midnite Disturbers came together because after Katrina, I was living at Stanton’s house in Algiers Point. My place in Mid-City had been destroyed and Stanton [Moore] was looking for a tenant, so it worked out. We had been friends anyway since high school summer camps at Loyola. My first apartment in New Orleans was a small place that Stanton and I shared, so this was a comfortable arrangement. Well, after I had been living there in Algiers for a while, we decided to start a band together. The idea was, you know, let’s make the most bad ass brass band imaginable, and that is basically what we did. We called all the best horn players we knew, and it was on. This was the kind of thing that, as soon as we got together it was great. I mean from the first note, I knew it was going to be an incredible ride.
What do you enjoy most about playing Jazz Fest?
The best thing about Jazz Fest, from my perspective, is the audience. There is no other time of the year when we have this many devoted, listening, musically hip people here that are seeking out the great music this city has to offer. I just love playing music and during the festival I really get to do it in an ideal situation. This year during festival time I will play nightclub shows on Frenchmen Street at Bamboula’s with Benny D and Karl Denson, private parties with The Single Atom Theory, Jazz Festival Shows with Midnite Disturbers and Kirk Joseph, and parades with Mardi Gras Indians, among lots of other stuff, too. Yeah, this is going to be a good year for me in music.
Do you have a favorite memory from playing Jazz Fest?
Favorite memory from Jazz Fest: meeting Bonnie Raitt backstage right before I was about to play. She had seen me playing on television (WWL morning news show) that morning, and she recognized me and came right up to me and said “Your drums sounded great on TV!” That made my day.
What are your hobbies outside of music?
I am an avid reader of everything I can get my hands on — from junk spy novels to heavy philosophy. I follow foreign policy and international strategy very closely. I love to downhill ski and also sailing, and I love going on a good bike ride. Also, I love putting together Lego sets with my son.
What advice would you give to drummers just starting out?
Practice. As much as you possibly can. Learn how to groove with a click track. Be really sure this is what you want, because being a professional musician is not for the risk averse. There will be moments of heart stopping agony and pain, but there will also be moments of incredible highs and successes. Learn how to not be too emotional one way or the other, because no matter what, change is the only constant.