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Billy Kilson: Nasty Pitch

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If he were a ball player, Kilson would definitely have a theme song. As it is, Billy Kilson is the theme song. According to Botti, "He is an incredibly charismatic individual and when you infuse that with his immense talent, it makes it hard for other people to sit in that chair and have the same sort of impact."

According to Whitfield, "Billy Kilson is the engine that drives the Botti Band. Without him, there is no energy, no power, no groove and therefore no show!"


In addition to the long-standing gig with Botti, Kilson has also had the opportunity to record his own albums and, most recently, put out a live DVD/CD combination package titled Rhythm Dancer. The title of the collection came from Motor Booty Affair (Casablanca, 1978) by Parliament. Explains Kilson, "When I was in high school, besides Earth, Wind & Fire
Earth, Wind & Fire
Earth, Wind & Fire

band/orchestra
, Parliament Funkadelic was my favorite, favorite band. George Clinton has a little soliloquy just before the song called "Mr. Wiggles" where he says, 'the rhythm is a dancer/realize, realize that the rhythm is a dancer.'"

The phrase stuck in Kilson's head. "When I first played drums, everyone in high school teased me. 'Billy doesn't just play drums, why does he have to move his shoulders, why does he have to do this?' Because you normally see a drummer and he is sitting there, not stoically, but he is sitting there with great posture and he plays the hell out of the drums. I can't do that. So Paula (Crafton, Kilson's manager) and I were going back and forth about a title. She said, 'But you dance on the drums, you dance on the drums.' So I told her that I remember this thing that George Clinton said in this poem. We asked George if it was okay to use it, and he granted us that permission. That was really cool!"

While Kilson is at ease behind his drums, being front and center is not a role he relishes. The drummer says being the front man on Rhythm Dancer was a challenge for him. "I've done a lot of video recording as a sideman drummer, but not the bandleader. And that was challenging. I don't envy what Chris does at all because it is a whole other head-trip when you are in the front. Though you have great musicians, it is still on you. And you have to conduct, and so on. I still try to play the normal role, because that's the most comfortable for me, and that's just playing my regular drum role. But doing that DVD was quite challenging. I'm proud of how it came out and I've gotten great reviews and people say they enjoy it and that's the most important thing—that everyone enjoys it. It was just a new experience. I am looking forward to the next one."

While Kilson is now able to enjoy a rewarding and well- respected career, it didn't come easily and it didn't come quickly. "I had some little speed bumps in the road. I started playing the drums at sixteen, and I went to Berklee College of Music right out of high school at eighteen-and-a-week years old. So at around nineteen, I thought, this is definitely no doubt what I want to do."

While at Berklee, Kilson was surrounded by the success of his peers. Recalls Kilson, "They were successful at an early age, before they were even twenty, or at twenty. That was the internal drive for me—I was surrounded by success there. It was not happening to me, but I was surrounded by it."

"I started gigging a bit late, later than most of my peers. I am two years younger than Branford Marsalis
Branford Marsalis
Branford Marsalis
b.1960
saxophone
and I went to school with him and a whole slew of jazz musicians who are in Who's Who right now," Kilson continues. "They were performing while they were students at Berklee. They were traveling around the world, and there I was, going to harmony class."

"But I had six years there [at Berklee], so what the heck did I do? I wasn't one of the lucky ones. I guess my mother would say I was fortunate because I'm at least one of the few who graduated from Berklee."

Paying rent became a higher priority than pursuing music, which led Kilson to a job at the local phone company. "I stayed in Boston, where Berklee is located, until I was twenty-six, twenty- seven—it was maybe eight or nine years that I stayed in Boston. So it was a bit late, at twenty-five, having my first professional gig. I had aspirations way before that, absolutely, five or six years before that."

How did he handle the wait, while his peers were succeeding all around him? "Besides being so despondent and melancholy? That was always in my tin cup. Not 'Muddy' and not 'Water.' It was, 'This is the Melancholy Cup and this is the Despondent Cup.' I thought, 'Yeah, what am I going to do?'"

Kilson's ego may have been the only thing that saved him when he had doubts about his career choice. "I did go to school with kids who, after one semester, decided that they just couldn't take it and said, 'Oh, heck, no!' I wanted to do that, too, but I had too much pride. I couldn't go back home. And have my friends tease me? No way!"

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