Conner Daehler
Category: 2023 College Winner

Conner Daehler

Jazz music has been a fascination of my mine ever since I was a kid. The intricate rhythms, the soulful melodies, the ingenious creativity of the jazz musicians: they all mesmerized me. But among the many artists I admire, one drummer shines brighter than the rest: Philly Joe Jones. He was a jazz great who played among the legends of jazz like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Bill Evans. He had a style that was powerful, speedy, precise, and creative. He could swing hard, play softly, or explode with energy.

I first heard Philly Joe Jones on a record called “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis. It was a masterpiece of modal jazz, where the musicians used scales instead of chords as the basis for their improvisations. Philly Joe Jones played on two tracks: “So What” and “Freddie Freeloader”. His drumming was subtle and supportive, but also full of nuances and surprises. He used his cymbals to create a shimmering sound that contrasted with the muted trumpet and saxophone. He used his snare and bass drum to accentuate certain notes or phrases, creating a dialogue with the soloists. He made every beat count.

I was hooked. I wanted to learn more about Philly Joe Jones and his music. And so, I started to collect his records, both as a leader and as a sideman. I discovered his work with Tadd Dameron, a composer-band leader who influenced many jazz musicians. I also discovered his work with Bill Evans, a pianist who had a lyrical and delicate touch. I learned that Philly Joe Jones had a versatile and adaptable style that suited different musical contexts and personalities.

But what really blew me away was his incredible soloing skill. Philly Joe Jones could drum a solo that was not only rhythmic but also melodic and harmonic. He could turn his drum kit into a full orchestra, with diverse and rich sounds and shades. He could also cleverly mix melodies from other tunes or genres, such as classical music or nursery rhymes, and blend them seamlessly into his solos. He had a witty and historical flair that made his drumming unique.

I was astounded. I wanted to play like him. I wanted to be like him. So, I chose to take up drumming as a passion. I got a cheap drum set and started to practice every single day, listening to his tracks, copying his licks and patterns, and learning how to play like a jazz drummer. Drumming became my passion and my outlet. It was a way of expressing myself, a catalyst for my confidence and discipline, a source of purpose and joy. Philly Joe Jones has been an inspirational African American figure for me, showing me not only what it means to be a musician but also to be human. He was a master of his craft, and I dream that one day I may be close to the skill and mastery that he possessed over the drum set.