Imagine walking into the Uptown Theater. Stevie Wonder is singing his heart out. Go again next week, and the Jackson 5 is on stage.
For drummer G. Calvin Weston, seeing these greats was a reality, and it left an impression upon his young self. He began playing drums when he was 6 years old and has had a prolific career as a drummer during the last few decades.
“My uncle took me every Sunday [to] the matinee at noon,” Weston said. “Watching all the Motown greats back in the ‘50s and ‘60s – it was always the place to be.”
His exposure to musicians at the Uptown Theater helped his early days as a drummer.
“I would just always focus on the drummer,” Weston said. “I would watch him and see how to repeat.”
One of his earliest bands, Bad Influence, was formed when he was a teenager.
“We played all music from the ‘70s and ‘80s like Earth Wind and Fire [and] KC and the Sunshine Band.”
He also picked up the cornet and trumpet in high school.
Weston, from North Philadelphia, lives near Main Campus. He became the professional musician he is today due to hard work but also because of a natural, innate talent, he said.
“It was totally God’s creation. God the creator gave me that talent,” Weston said. “Recognizing when I was 6 years old, I had these skills and, with no teaching background, I started playing. I already knew…He gave me that talent, so I kept pursuing it.”
At 18, he started playing professionally with jazz musician Ornette Coleman. Shortly after, he began playing with James Blood Ulmer.
His rise as a musician came when he began drumming with John Lurie and the Lounge Lizards. He played with the band for about 10 years, and on occasion still plays with it today.
“That was the impact that boosted my musical career at a young age and over the last 30 or 40 years,” Weston said.
For much of the music Weston plays, he said he never plays the wrong note.
“Most of the time what I am playing is all improvised,” he said. “It has to do with the soul and the frequencies. You can never play a wrong note when you’re improvising.”
This past fall, he released three albums within three months. One of the records, “Play Out Loud,” was completely improvised.
The second record, “Cosmic Miles,” was a collaboration with his trio in Italy made up of Roberto Cervi and Mario Mazzenga.
“I recorded some drumbeats for [Cervi] and left it to him,” Weston said. “I used [an] electric drum pad, and Mario put the other tracks down on it. I already had the tracks and just added trumpet, keyboards and flute.”
He collaborated again with the trio in Italy for the third album, “Of Alien Feelings.” Brian Reed contributed guitar.
“I sent off tracks to Chicago. [Reed] put some guitar on it. It all just pieced together,” Weston said. “It was all done in one year. I put them out in three months. I had been holding on to them, so I figured I might as well put them out at the same time.”
Weston said he goes into the music-making process with a clear mind.
“I don’t approach any music with any expectations,” Weston said. “[With] improvising, you go and just do it. No expectation at all. You just go with the way you are feeling.”
Among the many projects Weston is involved in, Free Form Funky Freqs with Vernon Reid is where he gets to improvise the most.
“We don’t talk about the music…We just go up and play to each other souls,” he said.
His tribute band orchestra, Treasure of the Spirits, has more structured songs.
“We have to rehearse that stuff, because that’s tunes we are playing. Improv – you don’t have to learn anything. You have a real expanded imagination – what that sound means to you at the time, you hear it.”
Weston has kept busy as a musician. This week he goes on a European tour.
“I’m going do some festivals with bass and guitar player Krzysztof Majchrzak. I met this guy over Facebook, and he invited me to Lyon, France, to come and record with [him].”
Majchrzak’s trio is called Weston Majchrzak Gembalski Magic Hands. The group is joined by Henryk Gembalski on violin.
Weston will return to Philadelphia to gear up for his next show on May 17 at Kennett Flash in Kennett Square, Pa. On June 8, he will play with Free Form Funky Freqs at World Cafe Live. The latter will be filled with improvisational songs sure to surprise everyone, Weston said.
“You can never play it the same way twice,” Weston said. “It can’t be duplicated.”
Weston noted one of the greatest assets for musicians is being exposed to a variety of music.
“Records…are the best teacher,” Weston said. “I gather inspiration from all styles of music. From jazz to fusion, even opera and symphony music. It’s sound, so it gives me all kind of ideas from just listening…It’s always good for a musician to know how to play different styles of music.”
Like improvisation, Weston’s unique and varied journey as a drummer can never be duplicated.
Maura Filoromo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.