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Dan Monaghan: The Man Behind The Swing

Victor L. Schermer By

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AAJ: Did you have any interest in jazz early on?

DM: When I was a kid, my father would sometimes bring home a couple of jazz recordings from the music library. I remember a Buddy Rich record and a couple of Wynton Marsalis albums like Live at Blues Alley (Columbia, 1967). My friend's father was a jazz fan, and he gave me my first copy of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959), and I loved it. I got a copy of the Weather Report's Heavy Weather (Columbia, 1977) out of the public library. And at some point in high school I bought Miles Davis' Four and More (Columbia, 1964) and My Funny Valentine (Columbia, 1964), the well-known Valentine's Day concert.

When I listened to My Funny Valentine, I was terrified! It was too advanced for me. And in fact, it might have put me off jazz a little bit, because I thought, if this is jazz, if this is the standard by which jazz is judged, I could never be able to play this music! Obviously, I appreciate it much more now. But when I went to Arizona State, it was easier for me to catch on to things from the 1970s, like electric jazz and fusion because I was coming from a rock'n roll place. So, with jazz, I really worked myself back chronologically from fusion to hard bop, bebop, and swing. But jazz didn't hit me as a passion until I was around twenty-one and studying with John Riley.

AAJ: What drummers came to your attention at that point when you got the jazz bug?

DM: At that time, I became totally fixated on Tony Williams. I especially got into the quintet he had with Wallace Roney, and Bill Peirce, Ira Coleman, and Mulgrew Miller. Tony was using giant drums, and he had a rock sound. I was coming from John Bonham and Alex Van Halen, and there was a point of relation there for me. And I also listened to a lot of Jeff "Tain" Watts. And I started checking out Roy Haynes and Vernell Fournier -I love the Ahmad Jamal album, At the Pershing: But Not for Me (Argo, 1958), one of my all time favorites that belongs on the desert island list. And of course, Jimmy Cobb. His work on Kind of Blue defined for me what jazz drumming is all about, and he still sets the standard for me.

Making It as a Drummer in Philadelphia

AAJ: When did you first start playing gigs?

DM: I played around with rock bands in high school, played some parties. At Arizona State, I played a few jazz gigs, and I joined a country rock band for a while. I had a jazz gig at a bar in Mansfield, but it wasn't until I got to Philly to go to Temple that I started seriously playing jazz gigs. That was in 1998. so I've been in Philadelphia for twenty years. In my last semester at Temple, I started playing out and around on a regular basis.

AAJ: So could we say that Philly was where you came of age as a jazz drummer?

DM: Absolutely! As I finished my degree at Temple around the summer of 2000, I did a session with saxophonist Victor North with Kyle Kohler on organ. At that time, guitarist Craig Ebner had a steady gig at Chris' Jazz Café, and he needed a sub one week. So I started working with Craig, and there I started meeting a ton of people. I hit the ground running, meeting people and playing wherever I could. It was a great experience.

AAJ: Who have been some of the musicians and groups in Philly you've most enjoyed working with?

DM: I've had the great fortune to work often with saxophonist Larry McKenna. I've been playing with baritone saxophonist Denis DiBlasio and guitarist Brian Betz for several years now. I work a lot with vibraphonist Tony Miceli. Early on, in addition to Craig Ebner and Victor North, I worked with bassist Madison Rast a lot. I was working with Elio Villafranca when he was still living in Philly. Guitarist Jimmy Bruno started calling me, and I worked with him for many years. Vocalist Joanna Pascal and I were in the Temple jazz program together, and I worked with her often. I've worked with saxophonist Chris Farr and trumpeter/valve trombone/EVI player John Swana. The great saxophonist Bootsie Barnes had me on a lot of his gigs at Ortlieb's Jazzhaus. Bootsie was very supportive when I was just starting out. I was in a sextet with Bootise, saxophonist Pete Souders, trumpeter John Swana, pianist Sid Simmons, and bassist Bim Strasberg. It was an incredible group. I still can't believe I had the opportunity to do those gigs. I was very green back then, and all these guys were so supportive. I think they could tell how much I loved the music.

Contributions of the Great Drummers

AAJ: Let's focus on your instrument, the drums. I think most readers know that drummers can make all the difference in the band, but not so much about what the drummer does other than maintain the swing. So let's talk about it. To start out, I'll mention some drummers, and you give us a snapshot of your thoughts about what each one contributed to drum approach and technique. The first one is "Papa" Jo Jones.

DM: I'm neither an authority on the subject nor a historian. But when I think about "Papa" Jo Jones, I think of the way he played brushes and the way he played press rolls on the snare drum

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