Jonathan W. Whitney is the kind of person you’re gonna hear before you see. You’ll be walking down Market and there it is, faint in the background, that boom badda badda badda boom badda badda boom boom. Maybe you’ll be one of the curious who’s drawn by the rhythm, pulled off Market and just down the street to the Rock Lot on 8th Street in the Creative District.
There, you find Jonathan inside his drumming circle on a Tuesday night – most every Tuesday night, at least until it got cold out there. Listen for it again next spring. However, when chill returns, Jonathan and the Drum circle return home to The Episcopal Church of Saints Andrew and Matthew. There will likely be a spare drum or two, if you’re so inclined to join.
Jonathan’s work follows the pulse of Market, whether that’s at the Rock Lot, inside The Queen, at Ladybug Music Festival, or anywhere else he’s been. Wherever you feel a deep percussive beat, look for Jonathan, and you’ll likely find him, and it’s been that way since he was a boy…
“My dad's a drummer, so we always had drum sets around the house. My earliest memory is skipping preschool to come home because I knew my dad's brother was dropping off a gold five-piece Ludwig set that I couldn't wait to play. I took my friend’s bus home instead of going to daycare, and seeing it set up in the family room – I can see it in my head like it happened yesterday.”
“My dad used to record his gigs real on reel-to-reel recorders. He was from Kentucky, but he grew up in most of his life at Dover Air Force Base. He had a couple bands that played around, at officers clubs and parties. I learned how to play by playing to his gigs on the reel-to-reel.”
“There's two things. I thrive on: One, the process of practicing. That feeling of working on something slow and gradually working it up as it just becomes a part of your body. And the other part –I just kind of realized this weekend— is that meditative quality. I was in a studio playing with singer Lily Anel, and we were recording these long tracks. And just clearing your mind to be in the moment to play these rhythms and play them with other musicians and be there with them and not be distracted – I love those moments when that happens.”
“I like to give that same quality to the drum circle. The drum circle is not about perfection or about creating these great musical moments, but it's about giving people a way to experience that meditation and that connection to other people through music. Normally, I'll start playing a rhythm and everybody just joins in on that rhythm. That’s the chance for people who are novices to have something to grab on to, that initial seed of a rhythm. And then people will begin to break off and have their own rhythms. I'll break off and add my rhythm on top of it. And then we'll stop and we'll introduce ourselves, and I always have a couple pointers on how to protect your hands and this and that. Then we play some more.”
“It's been going on for a while. Seven or eight years? There's people from all over the place – everyone, from one or two or three homeless people, to members of the Episcopal Church of Saints Andrew and Matthew where we initially started the drum circle, to youth who walk by, people who see the sign and just walk in. It changes every week. There’s been times when drummers from Philly just stop by, you know, so we get some high quality professionals. We've had drummers from India come. Sometimes it's all people who have never played before. But that’s the thing right? The way it works. We can have the new people holding down a groove and the high-quality professionals doing their thing on top and it all works out. “
“I also have a long-term relationship with the Light Up the Queen Foundation. I run their Boysie Lowery Living Jazz Residency. Every year, we bring 15 jazz performers and composers ages 18 to 25 to Wilmington for two weeks, fully paid. The goal is to give musicians who are just at the beginning of their careers some time to focus on themselves – because what happens is you graduate from school, or you don't go to school and you just go straight into the scene, and you focus on other people's music for your first 10 years, making a living and, you know, just paying the rent. And so this gives them two weeks where they don't have to worry about that and they can work on their own sound and their own compositions. And they make connections with each other. Alumni from the program are touring Japan, playing and recording with some of the top players on the Jazz team right now. It's really cool to watch it grow.”
When he’s not on Market, at SsAM or at The Rock Lot, you can find Jonathan at the Delaware Art Museum where he manages performance programs and community engagement.