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Keith Hall

What is your official title?

Husband, Father, Adjunct Professor of Jazz Drumset at Western Michigan University, Business Owner, Drummer, and Educator. I think that about covers it.


What’s an average day in the ‘Zoo look like for you?

I usually get up around 5:30AM, and I usually try to work out, I pray, and maybe read a little bit. After all of that, I make coffee and then I get my kids up and out the door – I have three daughters (ages 6, 10, and 13). From there, I either go to Western, I work from home, or I go to a school to do some type of clinic or workshop.

Then we get the kids after school and it’s dinner with the family that evening. After dinner, I’m either home or I go to a gig when I’m not traveling.


What is your background? How did you get into playing music?

I started playing the drums in band in 5th grade and was pretty focused about it all the way through middle and high school; I studied privately, and did anything I could do that was available for drums.

When I was in high school I just decided that it was what I wanted to do. I then went to Western Michigan University and was a jazz studies major. I was always drawn to drums. That was really it, but I also had a really great private teacher, Barb Neller, and she just retired from teaching. She was the one that really gave me a great foundation and made me want to continue pursuing it.

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Tell us about your music and all of the various groups you’re involved with.

We just did a Kickstarter campaign. It’s a band I co-lead that is based in New York, where I used to live, and it’s a trio, called Tri-Fi. This will be our 5th record, and it’s all original music. You want to talk about a fun project – that’s it, because it’s ours. No one’s telling us what to do; we make our own decisions, we book all the gigs, and sometimes we think it would be nice to have someone to do that for us, but it’s great being able to have that ownership. They will be in Kalamazoo next September doing our CD release at the Dalton Center.


Song For Butterfly – This will be released in February on the upcoming TRI-FI CD.
There’s this group I sub in for, they’re called The Bronk Brothers – they’re a country band. It’s awesome, nobody knows I do this stuff, it’s like my alter ego. They have some of their own tunes, and they’re just a great group. People think I’m just a jazz guy, and then I put on my plaid shirt and play some Johnny Cash and Jason Aldean.

I’m in the Western Jazz Quartet; we have a new CD coming out as well, which is really exciting. I also have a new trio I’m trying to book – a guitar trio – made up of guys from Western; it’s a real funky soul-jazz sound. We have done a couple of brunches down at The Union, so we are trying to make a go at it. It’s something different from what I’m doing all the time, which I like.

The guy I’ve worked with for about 12-years now is Curtis Stigers, and we’ve been all over the world together. He had a couple of top ten hits, and has quite a pop career, but now he plays jazz music. I’ve done a bunch of CD’s with him, and we are going to Russia next month to perform. We’ve been all over England, Germany, and France. That’s probably my “marquee” gig. Curtis is a guy I can tour with for three-weeks in England and sell out theaters, which is such a great time.


How do you share your musical talent and experience?

I go around to various high schools and work with their jazz band drummers. I have a relationship with Byron Center High School, so I’m there every couple of weeks; they have an incredible jazz program. I go to different schools a few times a year as well, and work with EFA.

I go into the schools and I present jazz music for around an hour. I try to teach them about the history of jazz in a short amount of time, and give them a few concepts and an experience. Most of these kids will never hear live jazz, so this is a chance to reach them and try to relate to them on a musical level. They hear “jazz”, and they don’t think it’s cool, but when you can say to them “You like Jay-Z, but without Louis Armstrong and his musical inspiration, there would be no Jay-Z.” It’s pretty cool.

I call my program ‘Jazz Is Our Music‘. It’s American music. I’m trying to help make it a part of what they’re exposed to. I try to drive home some of the concepts that are in jazz, things like being an individual, improvisation, diversity; I’m really about embracing being an individual and having a purpose. I try to help people find their passion.

Aside from that, I have my own Keith Hall music projects. My wife and I run a summer drum camp at Western called the Keith Hall Summer Drum Intensive. It’s a two-week camp at WMU for both beginners and advanced drummers. We have 25 students per week, and we just finished our 7th year of camp.

It started with six kids, and today we have students ranging in age from 12 to 68. It’s a really cool exchange, having the older students working with the younger ones. It’s all about being a jazz drummer, being a musician on the drum set, being in a band. We do a drum choir, or a drum set ensemble of five or six drummers and we function as a band.

We end our week with two performances at The Union. The staff is my current and past drum students at Western; it’s become this big family. And it’s not just about drums; it’s about life. We teach concepts about confidence, which I’d say is our big focus. We try to drive home those life lessons and concepts our students can keep with them forever.

We get a lot of local kids, but we get people from all over the world. We have a kid from Russia who’s coming over this year – we’re doing Skype lessons right now, as he’s getting ready to start his own school. My purpose is to inspire others to be called to what they want to do.


What do you love most about Kalamazoo?

The energy. I love the energy of the university and the colleges. I love to be around younger people who are getting ready to do something with their lives. Downtown is so cool and there are so many things to do – music, arts, theater – for a town this size, it’s pretty hip. My friends from out of town come here and they’re shocked with how much there is to do here. It’s hip and there’s a lot going on, but it’s still that small town vibe. You show up to a place like The Union, and you can run into a handful of people. I love that.

I graduated from Western in ’94 and got married, then moved out to New York two years later; it’s where the gigs were, and it’s where I could thrive in the music scene. We moved back to Kalamazoo in ’03 when we had our second daughter. I was traveling about 100 days a year with a three-year old daughter and another one on the way. I played in the Lion King for about three-years in New York, amongst other gigs, but I could really live anywhere and do what I loved to do. My family is here, and it was my dream was to teach at the university – to go back and share what I had experienced.


What have you been jammin’ to recently? What’s on the iPod?

I listen to everything. If you look on my phone right now you’d be shocked. I find that there’s some music you listen to – you study it, you’re thinking about it, you’re actively listening – and it’s work; it takes effort trying to absorb it all. Sometimes you just want music to dance to and not think about, too! I like cool lyrics and cool melodies and beats. I listen to pop music, rock and country. I enjoy gospel, Cuban, African, and Brazilian music. I grew up with old school rap music, so that’s always in the rotation.


How do you take your coffee…or do you?

I drink a lot of coffee, and take it with a little cream. It’s probably not the hippest thing to say, but I make coffee at home on my french press. If I stop to get a coffee somewhere, I go to Biggby – good Michigan owned coffee shop. I like their Red Eye – dark roast with cream.


What is your favorite app to use?

My favorite app, hmm. Maybe I should say something really trendy, like Evernote. But really, my favorite app is Runkeeper. I like to run, and the last few years I’ve really started to run more and have done a few 5Ks now.


Do you have a “go to” spot in Kalamazoo?

It’s The Union. They’re like family down there. We run drum camp down there, I play there. Bob Lewis – he’s the bomb. Everyone down there’s great.


What do you think can be done to improve the music scene in Kalamazoo?

The Union has live music, which is great, and Martini’s has had live music in the past. It’d be great to have some more venues for local artists to play. We need business owners to invest in the creation of a musical experience for their patrons. How hip is it when you walk into a place and there’s live music? It’d be great if some business owners would step up and see the value in it. It’s not that we need more venues; it’s our current places opening up to a pianist or a guitarist. All over the world, there are so many places you have to pay crazy amounts of money to see live music, and I think we can do it here for a low cost, if any at all. I think that’d create more musical opportunities around our community.


If you were to play an instrument other than the drums, what would it be?

I always wished that I really learned the piano; it’s the foundation of it all. But, I would really like to sing. I’m not a singer. I used to sing in a rock band in college, but drums have always been my thing.

I sang to my wife after one of our camps at The Union. It was the song we played at our wedding and I made her sit in the center of the stage and gave her some flowers. She thought someone else was going to sing, and then they handed the microphone to me and I sang to her. I love to surprise her, so it was a great moment.

Keith, thank you for taking the time to meet with us and sharing your thoughts! Keep up with us on facebook and twitter for updates.