Q&A with drummer/producer Jon Otis -- African & Afro-Caribbean rhythms to his strong Rhythm & Blues roots

"Blues and Jazz 'ARE' the 'impact' and commentary on our American racial, cultural and socio-political experiences."

Jon Otis: The World of BluBeatz 

Darrell Jon Otis was born June 12th 1953 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He grew up in the San Francisco bay area and worked since the age of 15 as a musician. From the late 1960's Jon played with a large variety of artists, groups and musical projects with styles ranging from Pop, Rock, R&B, Blues and Funk to African, Brazilian, Latin, New Age, World and Jazz. His talents include: drums, percussion, vocals, composer, producer, and teacher.  In his early twenties Jon's work with his legendary father's group The Johnny Otis Show and other groups from the Bay Area laid a solid rhythmic foundation for his future work. Jon's love for African and Afro-Caribbean rhythms and his strong Rhythm & Blues roots create a unique musical style. Jon has been living in Europe since the early 1980's and has been engaged by various well-known artists worldwide on stage and in recording studios. Since 2000, Jon has been spending more time again in the U.S.    Photo by Rebecca Sims LeMesnager

He recorded his first solo album, 'DOUBLE AGENT' in Switzerland in 1985 and his first solo CD, 'THE SUN, THE MOON AND THE STARS' also in Europe in 1993. In 1995 he released a CD of rhythms for dance and movement called 'JODIWA'. Besides being an instrumentalist and singer Jon has composed music for film, dance, theatre, movie and TV commercials and other artists. In the last 15 years he has concentrated more on composing and has written numerous songs. Following is a list of some of the artists, groups and projects that Jon has worked with: Johnny Otis, Shuggie Otis, Nicky Otis, Lucky Otis, Solomon Burke, James Cotton, Eddie "Clean Head" Vinson, Jorge Santana, Sheila E, Cal Tjader, Pharaoh Saunders, Country Joe & The Fish, Elvin Bishop, Malo, Steel Pulse, Azteca, Michael Bloomfield, Carlos "Patato" Valdes, George Duke, Manu Dibango, Yello, Andreas Vollenweider, Phil Manzanera, Foreigner, Roy Hargrove, Les McCann, Monty Alexander, Steve Turre, Pete Escovedo, Armando Peraza, Gary Bartz, Sugar Blue, Billy Cobham, Tower Of Power, etc. Multi-talented artist has signed with SRI Jazz and soon will be releasing Jon’s debut album for the label, “A Friend”.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the Jazz & Rock n’ Blues culture? What does the blues mean to you?

I learn through the music that I as an American have a culture. The Blues means transforming a negative situation into a positive experience through music.

How do you describe Jon (Darrell) Otis sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

I call my music my "BluBeatz Sound". My songs are my musical treasures for the world from my many life experiences translated into music. My musical philosophy is to remain open minded and express myself through my music.

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

All positive encounters with people throughout my travels have been most important. The best advice was from myself to never give up and go for what I believe in.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

One very fond memory was playing in my brother Shuggie's band and having Shug's two sons and our brother all in the band. 5 Otis's.

"Johnny Otis was a creative pioneer. A relatively late bloomer into the music scene, he championed equal treatment for musicians of color. He loved black people and black music and black people loved him." (Jon, Nick & Shuggie Otis at Stern Grove, 2013 / Photo by Rebecca Sims Lemesnager)

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss the simplicity of recording and the great song writing of the past. I hope our human activities don't destroy our chance for survival. I fear our human activities will destroy our chances for survival.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I would change the "winner take all" attitude of the music biz and replace it with a "we are all creative winners" attitude. And I would celebrate our differences.

What are the lines that connect the Blues, Jazz, R&B and Funk with African, Brazilian, Latin, and World Music?

The Minor Pentatonic Scale is a line that connects these types of popular music.

Why did you think that the late GREAT Johnny Otis music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Johnny Otis was a creative pioneer. A relatively late bloomer into the music scene, he championed equal treatment for musicians of color. He loved black people and black music and black people loved him.

What has made you laugh from Johnny Otis (Veliotis) and what touched (emotionally) you from your Greek origin?

My dad's great sense of humor made me laugh countless times. He was an awesome cartoonist. Greek Folk Music touched me deeply although I had very little contact with it.

"I learn through the music that I as an American have a culture. The Blues means transforming a negative situation into a positive experience through music."

Photo by Rebecca Sims Lemesnager

What is the impact of Blues and Jazz music and culture to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

Blues and Jazz "ARE" the "impact" and commentary on our American racial, cultural and socio-political experiences.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I would love to visit Greece and experience the culture, not just for one day.

Jon Otis - Official website

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