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Billy Kilson: Nasty Pitch

Trish Richardson By

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Kilson started playing drums at the age of sixteen, an age where many musicians are already seasoned veterans. At sixteen, Billy attended the Maryland Gifted and Talented Institute for High School Students. He then went on to Berklee College of Music, which eventually led to gigs with Donald Byrd, Ahmad Jamal, Dianne Reeves, Dave Holland, and, since 2004, his current gig with Botti.


According to bassist Goods, "Billy has been here the longest, and that in and of itself is a testament to what kind of person he is to be able to stay and deal with personalities for nine plus years. Billy is the spark of the band. From beat one, he gives one-hundred percent for the whole show every night, without exception. Although he stands out, he is really a team player."

Goods continues, "Billy is definitely our big brother. Mark Whitfield (former guitarist with the band) used to call him 'Big Bruh.' I do as well sometimes and I also call him 'Sensei.' He taught me how to keep the gig. I would and still do call him for advice. At times he will pull me aside and tell me what or what not to do or how to act in a situation. We really are like a family. We look out for each other."

Kilson's laid-back attitude is something his fellow band mates appreciate. Keezer says, "Billy is a very quiet and calm individual offstage, and he mostly keeps to himself. Not anti-social by any means, but he doesn't get involved too deeply in the day-to-day B.S."

The pianist continues, "Billy is a consummate professional in every sense of the word—he brings to the table not only his talent, but the highest level of professionalism and musicality that only comes from experience. This includes a great work ethic and super cool, easy-going attitude—and a willingness to try anything."

Guitarist Whitfield agrees, "Kilson is a consummate performer. His calm and quiet offstage demeanor would surprise anyone who's ever seen him perform." Whitfield says the one thing he admires most about Kilson is his discipline.

Botti concurs, "Throughout being sick, or being in a bad mood, or being jetlagged, Billy stays professional. I've seen it in myself when I just can't get through the set and I am playing terribly. I never really have seen that in Billy. And I've seen him time after time after time when it comes his moment to shine and he never, I mean never, fades off. I can't really say that about any other artist. And I've worked with everyone in the business. Billy, night after night, no matter what's going on, is so professional. He has that "X factor." Billy has that super, rare gift of being able to wow you with his unbelievable talent and make you laugh or make you feel something from him visually. And then yet he is such a professional at the same time."

According to Kilson, "The ultimate goal is the simple proverbial thing that you hear everyone say: I want to play better today than I played yesterday. Music is life to me. Bird [Charlie Parker] said, 'What you live comes through your horn.' To me, what I live comes through that performance that day. However I function that day, whatever happened to me that day, or what has happened to me in life up until that point, is going to influence everything I have to say when I sit down behind the drums."

Like Charlie Sheen's character in Major League, Kilson gets noticed before he even takes his place atop the musical mound. Botti explains, "He has such unique thing. It's so Billy Kilson. When someone else tries to do it, well, they are just trying to rip off Billy Kilson. It's so instantly identifiable. And when other artists try to find their own thing on the drums, it just sort of misses for me. Even the way he sits at his drums between songs, Billy is just interesting to watch. The way he towels his face off, or he looks around, chewing his gum. Or the way he walks on stage, it is kind of slow. Whatever it is, he doesn't even have to be playing the damn drums!"

Botti continues, "It's very sensual the way he plays the drums. It's very macho, but it's not music school macho. It's hip. It's very cool the way he does it.

"I can't take my eyes off of him. So I thought to myself, well, if I was sitting in the audience, that's what I would want to see. I'd want to see this more buttoned-up white guy playing the trumpet with this kind of insanity going on beyond him. How interesting that would be for the audience. And over time, seeing Billy is probably the part that the audience likes most. They go crazy at the end of Billy's solo, and they stand up at the end of every show. The greatest phone call I've made in my career was probably that one—that call to Billy."

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