Life is a constant balancing act for progressive jazz, funk, and gospel pianist Daymond Callahan.
Between running a musical production company, playing regular live jazz gigs, and teaching piano lessons, the Arlingtonian is networking non-stop. He’s also a husband and a father to four teenage children. “It’s hard wearing all these hats,” he said, his voice sounding more amazed than beleaguered. “If I want to practice, I have to get up early — I have so much to do.” “Practice” can mean a few different things for Callahan. He takes a few minutes every day to work on his speed, he uses a computer program to train for pitch, and he’s learning navigational details of several digital recording software packages. From the age of 12, the now-33-year-old has been a student of music, starting in his birthplace of Cleveland, Ohio. In 1992, Callahan moved with his family to Texas, where his stepfather fueled his growing infatuation with music by introducing Daymond to the music of Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Mulgrew Miller, and other progressive, poppy maestros. At Tarrant County College, Callahan was urged by one of his instructors, drummer Rick Stitzel (father of Bertha Coolidge’s Rich Stitzel), to move to Edwardsville, Ill., to study at Southern Illinois University under noted instructor Reggie Thomas. Callahan made the move and was glad he did. He credits both Stitzel (“a natural teacher”) and Thomas, who insisted that his student transcribe solos, for helping him break through to another level of musical understanding. “That’s how I discovered how a song was supposed to be,” he said.
The extra work at SIU earned Callahan a scholarship back home at Texas Wesleyan University, where he received offers to go on the road and get a more practical glimpse of the realities of life as a working musician. He played with a lot of different acts, first with Eddie Baccus Jr., who played saxophone in Pieces of a Dream, then with Lil’ G (from SILK) and the now-married couple, Kenny Lattimore and Chante Moore. Callahan has made Fort Worth his base ever since. Tarrant County, despite being home to more than a few international jazz legends, relies almost solely on nontraditional venues for jazz musicians. Getting a show in Fort Worth, Callahan said, is “all about who you know: managers, owners … lots of people are tied in. The scene here is happening.” Callahan cites the presence of jazz drummer Adonis Rose, who moved here from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and has taken a highly visible role as McDavid Studio’s house jazz bandleader. “I love that people like Adonis Rose are moving here,” Callahan said. “There are a lot of good players.”
Another person whom Callahan appreciates for his devotion to the local scene is Jhon Kahsen, who has been the pianist and bandleader in residence at Sardines Ristorante Italiano for nearly 25 years. “Not many people get to play six days a week,” Callahan said. “[Kahsen] is on a whole different level.” Callahan got to play Sardines in early July at a benefit concert for his wife’s cousin and Fort Worth jazz saxophonis Rachella Parks, who suffers from the rare immune-system disorder sarcoidosis. To “respect the dollar” and also “keep things moving,” Callahan plays a few steady restaurant gigs. His only complaint is that most of the people who book for restaurants, usually the restaurant managers, don’t know much about jazz. “I’ll be honest, a lot of the managers’ picks are garbage,” Callahan said. “You can have a name here and not be able to play.”
Sardines, Callahan said, is one of a few exceptions. “It’s got a different vibe,” he said. “When you walk in there, you know it will never sound bad.” High on his long list of projects is recording one of his performances in a quintet setting at the University Drive spot. He hopes to do it by the end of the year. Also in the very near future, Callahan plans to record an album of duets: some with a drummer, some with another piano player, some with wind instruments. He’ll do it at his home studio and that of artistic partner Jermond Hobson. Callahan also plays funk, in the band CBT, with Slovakian-born bass player Jozef Bobula and Mozambique-born drummer Danny Tchecho. The trio will release a record in late August that will include electronic instrumentation, courtesy of Callahan, who proved to be highly adept at it on his 2006 album Music Society. Since several contributors on that excellent disc live in North Carolina, Callahan was forced to blend licks electronically. The result is seamless. Callahan also plays in a band-for-hire, The Unit, and sits in at church every Sunday. “I’m making it happen any way it can happen,” he said. “I’ll never stop learning. It seems that you can never fully arrive.” The harder you work, though, he said, the closer you get.
Editor’s note: The writer is a part-time member of the service staff at Sardines.
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