The Age: Drummer taps into rhythm of tranquillity

This acclaimed percussionist has found harmony on and off stage.

the-age-logoA DRUMMER who craves peace and tranquillity? Seems as likely as a formula one driver who yearns to ride a bike. But when Melbourne percussionist David Jones discovered meditation, it completed his personal circle.

”It was just like coming home,” says Jones, who had been taken by a friend to a meditation centre in Fitzroy. ”I was 26 and had been playing with the rock band Dragon, doing a lot of touring, way too much drinking, not into drugs so much, but getting quite disillusioned.”

David Jones plays 35 percussion instruments. Photo: Rebecca Hallas
David Jones plays 35 percussion instruments. Photo: Rebecca Hallas

”My friend, also in a band, had changed, he was so peaceful. I thought: I want a piece of that! When I started meditation, I didn’t want to hear a lot of loud sounds. It was a period when I was finding a lot of subtlety and sonority that I had never discovered before.”

At 52, David Jones meditates every morning, and tomorrow stages his first solo drum concert at a major venue, the Melbourne Recital Centre. Seventy minutes, no interval, nothing but Jones and percussion instruments. It seems an intimidating mountain to climb, but this is a special sort of performer. Last year, he won the Melbourne Music Prize which, at $60,000, is $10,000 more than the most-vaunted Archibald Prize for art.

Jones has been performing since he was 10, when he used to put the speakers of his parents’ stereogram outside the window of their Broadmeadows house, set up his drum kit and charge the local kids five cents to hear a concert. At 11, he played drums at the Broadmeadows Town Hall for the local dancing school and at 14 he was thumping the skins three nights a week at the Bridge Hotel at Richmond.

So tomorrow’s one-off concert is the product of a long journey. Thirty-five instruments, including an amazing Tibetan singing bowl that he coaxes to a note that soars to the ceiling. There are two drum kits, one of which he assembles during performance, and a kalimba from South Africa, a wooden box with metal tines tuned to B minor. ”If you rest it on the drum skin, the volume increases by 50 per cent,” he says. ”So I have all these layers going, I can be doing some sort of feet thing and play parts of the kit at the same time so I can sound like two or three people.”

He also uses luminous drum sticks with LEDs on the ends. ”I call that segment ‘One Long Note’ and it starts very softly in the dark,” he says. ”It looks fabulous.”

This Melbourne policeman’s son has been building towards his first major solo show for six years. ”The drums have taken me to wonderful places around the world,” he says. ”Particularly Japan. I formed a good connection with the Kanazawa Orchestra. Had a special piece written for me.”

In the late 1970s and ’80s, Jones toured with John Farnham. He also played with the orchestra for John Denver and did a TV show with him.

Other famous names to have sung to his beat include Debra Byrne, Don McLean and Marcia Hines. But Jones tours less frequently now. ”I use more discretion about saying ‘yes’ and consequently I feel the quality of my work has gone to another level. I have just recently played with the Ensemble Liaison here at the recital hall and for a drum kit player to play with a classical trio is very unusual.”

His partner of 20 years, Carmen Warrington, also meditates. ”We choose to live a spiritual life, the male-female relationship is quite child-like, and the connection with people in general is more like brother-sister. I really do feel that we are all related on the soul level.”

Having moved back to Melbourne in 2000, they have produced several meditation CDs, with one tailored for bedtime. That’s right, a drummer who helps you sleep. No, David Jones is not your average man with the sticks.

David Jones performs his solo concert Energy Through Matter from 6pm tomorrow at the Melbourne Recital Centre.

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