by Jay Mazza
If you could only use one word to describe New Orleans drummer Kevin O'Day, that word would have to be "versatile." He is skilled in a plethora of styles from traditional jazz to the hip hop beats of the 21st century.
Recently, Kevin has performed in New Orleans with James Andrews, The Jesse Hiatt Band, Midnite Disturbers, and The Mardi Gras Indian Orchestra in addition to playing with his own group, The Kevin O'Day Band.
From October of 2009 to February of 2010, The Kevin O'Day Band played a five month residency at the legendary Los Angeles nightclub, The Mint. While in Los Angeles, O'Day worked with original Meters guitarist Leo Nocentelli, and did numerous recording sessions.
O'Day has worked with soul and blues legend Walter "Wolfman" Washington's Roadmasters, taking over the drum chair that was held for many years by Wilbert "Junkyard Dog" Arnold. In addition to his work with Washington's regular band, he also has led an allstar quartet that features Washington, trumpeter James Andrews and keyboardist Brian Coogan.
In recent years, O'Day has also worked with Funky Meters drummer Russell Batiste's solo project. His resume also includes stints with the groove jazz of Have Soul Will Travel; the roots rock of Anders Osborne and Eric Lindell; the slide guitar of John Mooney; the hoodoo blues of Papa Mali as well as the contemporary jazz of saxophonist Robert Wagner.
In a town filled with great drummers and renowned across the globe for percussive innovation beginning with the great trad jazz drummer Warren "Baby" Dodds, O'Day stands out as the go-to guy for gigs of any variety. He is regarded among his peers as a drummer's drummer with a passion that never wanes and a sympathetic ear that defines musical telepathy.
O'Day, who is also a well-regarded composer and lyricist, gravitated to music at an early age developing proficiency on the piano and guitar before finding his muse behind the drum kit at the age of 11. He matriculated through Loyola University under the tutelage of Johnny Vidacovich- the dean of working and teaching drummers in the Crescent City. But long before he completed his course work, O'Day was working the clubs and festivals of New Orleans.
One of his first local gigs was with multi-reedman Robert Wagner at the now- defunct Kaldi's Coffee House. The trio, which featured bassist Andy Wolf, would set the stage for future musical explorations and establish O'Day's jazz credentials. The three musicians went on to become the core of the avant- performance band Iris May Tango and years later O'Day would appear on Wagner's adventurous solo debut. O'Day's first brush with major label national attention came as a member of the critically acclaimed group Royal Fingerbowl, that signed with TVT Records in 1997. The band's unusual instrumentation, standup bass (Wolf again), sit-down electric guitar along with O'Day's minimalist drum kit, and eclectic repertoire helped him develop his sense of dynamics. The band could effortlessly veer from a jazz-inflected original that evoked the Tin Pan Alley tunes of yesteryear to a manic cover of Ozzy Osborne's "Crazy Train."
A two-year tenure with the New Orleans Klezmer Allstars, sitting in the drum chair that also was occupied by "Mean" Willie Green of the Neville Brothers and Stanton Moore of Galactic, gave O'Day a chance to hone his skills in a world music setting that belied its jazz sensibility.
Before long, the musically insatiable drummer was moving in another direction towards the funk and soulful jazz spawned by New Orleans drum icons like Joseph "Zigaboo" Modeliste and Idris Muhammad.
His long association with Swedish rocker-turned-acclaimed-songwriter Anders Osborne bloomed when Osborne reconfigured his band into a quartet and brought in Kirk Joseph, late of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Along with tenor man Tim Green, the band forged new roads in trance-inspiring performances further establishing O'Day's cred as a high-energy player who could communicate with top-flight musicians at the maximum level.
O'Day's relationship with Joseph, arguably the most important sousaphonist from New Orleans, produced an extremely funky group called Kirk Joseph's Backyard Groove with a CD entitled Sousafunk Ave.
Along the way, O'Day has lent his considerable chops to a huge array of performers. He was a member of the Kosmic Krewe- an eclectic jazz/funk band led by trumpeter Michael Ray of Kool and the Gang and the Sun Ra Orchestra. He has recorded and performed with All That, another innovative group that merged the second line beats of New Orleans with hip hop. He has also performed and recorded with the trombone collective Bonerama.
O'Day's deft touch on the drums is augmented by his deep knowledge of music of every variety. He is as comfortable on the stage at Snug Harbor- New Orleans' premier modern jazz club- as he is in gritty juke joints and watering holes. He gives his heart and soul to the music whether he is on a giant stage in front of thousands at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival or in a tiny club with only a handful of fans.
Kevin O'Day has been one of the leading lights on the New Orleans music scene for more than a decade. He is a charter member of the fertile Frenchmen Street scene and has worked with a literal who's who of the next generation of New Orleans musicians in addition to many of the luminaries who have already made their mark. He has soaked up his influences and experiences and distilled them down into an expressive personal style that is instantly recognizable and undeniably original.