How did his education at Berklee help him along his musical journey? "Berklee to me was a blessing in disguise because it is for the musician. For me, at that time, it was great where you had a raw talent, because the environment, not just the school, the environment, created this place and this space for you to develop this raw talent and kind of smooth out the edges. So I needed those four and a half years."
Though certainly not a nine-to-fiver, Kilson has his "typical" workday down to a science. "Lobby call is at six or seven in the morning, the airport could be at an average half hour, forty-five minutes away, so by the time you get to the hotel in the next city, it is around two o'clock. Then sound check is at 5:30. We do the gig and repeat that cycle. I actually don't have too much free time."
A fair bit of that "free time" is spent waiting in airports. Though Kilson admits he prefers the tour bus to the airport. "I don't have to take my laptop out, I can take my shoes off, and I can get horizontal. Being fifty now, every little wink I can is great," says Kilson. Yet waiting around for flights is just par for the course in the life of a musician.
So how does Kilson wile away that time? Bassist Goods says, "No one knows. His nickname is 'The Phantom.' He kinda disappears. You never see him in the airport; he just appears on the plane."
Not listening to music, as one would think. Kilson's wife is Japanese and Japan is a favorite place of his to visit, a second home he says. "I love the Japanese culture, the language. I speak to my children exclusively in Japanese. Chris still teases me because ever since we met, when my son was seven months old, my goal was to speak to my mother-in-law, who doesn't speak any English. I wanted to speak to her and then it evolved to having my children maintain their mother's tongue. I've been feverishly trying to learn; I am probably in the third or fourth grade right now. So if I do have a day off, or if someone sees me at the airportand the band knows thisif they see me and I have my headphones and my Ipod or my laptop, I am watching some Japanese show or I am listening to Japanese."
Kilson continues, "It's between that and whatever the history of the day is. I am kind of a nerd and I spend time trying to find out what's up with that. I am not a historian, but I am a wanna- be historian. So I spend my spare time between history, Japanese, and no doubt, the New York Knicks and Washington Redskins."
With playing almost three-hundred nights a year with Botti, Kilson selflessly says that his favorite part of performing with the trumpeter is not the drum solo that Kilson performs to the crowd's delight, but rather when Botti chooses a young musician out of the audience and invites him or her onstage to perform a number with the band. "That's a great moment when those kids come up and play and I really look forward to that every night. Just seeing the joy in their faces! They are so elated and vibrant and sometimes shaking nervously. All over the world he does that. Any country that we are in, he will invite a kid up, and that's a great moment."
When performing onstage, Kilson becomes an extension of his instrument. It is difficult to differentiate where the drumstick ends and his fingers begin. Kilson agrees, "I am the drums. If no one is sitting there playing the drums, they are a very quiet, laid-back. You wouldn't have any idea what force that instrument has. Until someone sits behind it and grabs a stick and hits it."
Quiet and laid-back can also aptly describe Kilson's personality when not on stage. He has his electric persona when it is time to play, but is much more introspective when it's not. "I am more like the red light kind of guy, if you will. When I see that light come on, whether there is a camera, or whether it is the studio saying 'rolling' or if the announcer onstage introduces the band, then I am good to go. I don't know what it is. I become one with the drums."
He continues, "Chris teases me. He says Billy is in a cocoon during the day. Billy always stays in first gear to conserve that energy but when we get on stage, I don't know what the last gear is, but whatever that last gear is that's where Billy starts when he is onstage."
Band members agree with Kilson's duality. Bassist Goods says, "On stage he is Mr. Electric. Off stage he is Mr. Mellow. The coolest dude you want to meet. Never in a rush. Just chillin.'"
According to pianist Keezer, "Billy has a one-word code that he likes to use when tensions run high or things get whack on the roadsteady. It reminds everyone to calm down and take things lightly."
I've always loved jazz ...my mother was a classical pianist and my aunt was a blues singer, who was managed by Clarence Williams (Bessie Smith's producer). As a young boy, they introduced me to people like Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, and Jimmy Smith
I've always loved jazz ...my mother was a classical pianist and my aunt was a blues singer, who was managed by Clarence Williams (Bessie Smith's producer). As a young boy, they introduced me to people like Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, and Jimmy Smith. We hung out at my Aunt Kate's Soul Food restaurant in Harlem after the matinees at the Apollo where I listened to their stories. I knew I wanted to be a jazz musician from then on. My mother wanted me to play piano, but my Aunt bought me a guitar. I've been playing ever since.
At my mother's early prompting, I first sang Blue Velvet at my Catholic elementary school...and all the nuns came running in and asked me to sing again, so I knew I must have sounded pretty good. I've been singing ever since.
I met Tony Bennett in Miami and he inspired me to return to New York. He was a great mentor.
The best show I ever attended is mpossible to say, I've seen so many great shows. From Tony Bennett to Pat Martino, Return to Forever to Weather Report...I've seen some great performances.
My advice to new listeners is don't let jazz intimidate you, the music has something for every listener and it is our American gift to the world.