Daniels presents cool jazz concert

Because of Rockdale County resident Derwin Daniels' early training as a drummer, rhythm plays a key role in his writing, performing and recording.

"A lot of times, the rhythm comes first, especially when I'm writing songs," said the jazz saxophonist, who will perform at 8 p.m. on Jan. 11 at Center Street Arts in Olde Town Conyers. "Percussion is a non-tonal instrument, so you have to put a priority on phrasing and technique because you're coming with the rhythm. I always like a hot drum sound when I'm recording."

Growing up in musical home in Beaumont, Texas, Daniels said that even though his father played saxophone and his grandfather played trumpet, his primary musical inspiration came from his mother.

"My mother loved Count Basie and singers like Sarah Vaughn and Dinah Washington," he said. "I have three brothers, and I can remember us gathering around and listening to the speakers when she played those records while ironing."

Interestingly enough, Daniels said one of his main influences when it comes to composing is legendary jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery.

"Even though I play the sax, I really like Wes Montgomery," he said. "I try to copy some of his guitar patterns on saxophone. I also play some guitar myself and will play at the concert in Conyers. And these days, most of my writing comes from the guitar."

When his father died in 1988, Daniels inherited his beloved tenor saxophone and learned the instrument so he could play it - along with the alto sax - in the Beaumont Fire Department Band, where he worked as a firefighter.

While Daniels spends his nights performing cool jazz, his days are spent in more heated pursuits as he teaches classes in fire investigations and management at Georgia Perimeter College's Panthersville campus. He's been teaching at the college for the last nine years.

During his days as a drummer, Daniels backed up Texas blues singer Barbara Lynn (who had a big hit in 1962 with "You'll Lose a Good Thing") and later accompanied Texas guitarist Zachary Breaux, who died in 1997 at the age of 36 while trying to save a woman from drowning in Miami Beach.

"My brother Vernon is a drummer and that's how I got interested in percussion," he said. "I played in a bunch of different bands. I toured with Barbara Lynn when I was 14 years old and I also played jazz and blues; I even played in a country-and-western band back in Texas."

A resident of Conyers since 1999, Daniels has recorded three albums - his debut, "Full Circle" (which included the Latin-influenced hit "Sambaya"), "Going Home" (featuring Christmas songs) and his latest release, "Journey," portions of which are in collaboration with Atlanta-based producer Zaytoven. Daniels also runs a small label, Paradygm Records, which distributes his recorded output.

For his Conyers performance, Daniels will be backed by a traditional trio (piano, drums and bass) and will be joined for several selections by vocalist Steven McLean. The concert will include a generous helping of songs from "Journey," but Daniels also plans to include some time-honored jazz favorites on the set list.

"We'll be doing a mix of standards and original pieces," he said. "My stuff is generally in the smooth jazz realm."

"Derwin last played for us in 2004, right around the time of his first CD release," said Sue Chappell, executive director of the Conyers Rockdale Council for the Arts, which is presenting the concert. "He's really a smooth player, but he's also capable of some pretty energetic improvisation. He presents a nice mix of styles - the audience will definitely be engaged."

Daniels and his wife Kysa (a former CNN anchor who now heads Clarion Communications) have three sons, the oldest of whom is following in his father's footsteps by playing trumpet at General Ray Davis Middle School.

When discussing his performance style, Daniels said "Jazz is an unbroken line and I'll be traveling across that line. I'll play great standards from the past and the present and there will be some new stuff that people haven't heard."

For more information on Derwin Daniels, visit www.derwindaniels.com or www.myspace.com/derwindaniels.

Chris Starrs is a freelance writer based in Athens, Ga. If you have a story idea, contact Karen Rohr, features editor, at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.

SideBar: If You Go

What: A concert by jazz musician Derwin Daniels presented by the Conyers Rockdale Council for the Arts

When: 8 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 11

Where: Center Street Arts, 910 Center St. in Olde Town Conyers

Cost: Tickets are $10 and can be purchased by calling 770-922-3143 or by visiting www.conyersarts.org.