JazzColumbus.com Interview Series: Tony McClung

Next in our new series of interviews with some of Central Ohio’s finest jazz musicians is drummer Tony McClung. McClung is established as one of Columbus’ finest drummers in all styles of music and has a deep and musically diverse resume. He is currently active in a (growing) handful of bands, including continuing to hold down the drum set on Sunday nights at Rumba Cafe with the Hoodoo Soul Band, with whom he’s played since 1995. Keep reading for insights on McClung’s development as a music listener and as a music performer, as well as details on current endeavors, including a run of Tuesdays in September at Rumba with Tony Monaco:

When and why did you start playing music and jazz?

Tony McClung (TM): I always gravitated towards it. I remember being a toddler in the back seat of my dad’s car and picturing myself in a band. Music has always had the ability to heal me, make me laugh, bring tears, and help me sort my thoughts and feelings. I was always around music. My grandparents played bluegrass and all my aunts and uncles played music. I remember being mesmerized by the family playing Bill Monroe, Carter Family, and Flatt & Scruggs songs from a very young age. My stepfather had a set of drums. I watched and observed the basic 4/4 groove and just started playing when nobody was home. I played my first paying gig (a Moose lodge) when I was in fourth grade.
A lot of people still think of The Beach Boys as this silly surfing group. First, even that stuff has depth. Second, the band produced music of unbelievable quality in the second half of the sixties. I heard the song “Surf’s Up” and I was reborn. Brian Wilson’s work on stuff like “God Only Knows” started my lifelong love affair with beautiful sound.
Jazz first hit when I stumbled upon a Duke Ellington record. It stuck. The exotic and mysterious quality of his music turned my room into a three-dimensional, living cartoon. Ellington was the flame for me. I love great music REGARDLESS of style.
I didn’t know much about most jazz until I was an adult, having grown up in a remote area of West Virginia. I was about 20 when I started discovering Miles, Coltrane, etc. I kind of worked my way backwards from Weather Report. I had always been an improviser by nature, so jazz spoke to me. I like beautiful, creative, daring, and emotional music. A lot of that happens to be called jazz. The bottom line though, is that I NEED music.

Who are some of your main influences in your playing/performing?

TM: More than I could possibly list, but….

Miles Davis
Duke Ellington
Merle Haggard
Led Zeppelin
Brian Wilson
Ornette Coleman
Caetano Veloso
Weather Report
James Brown
Tony Williams
Jack DeJohnette
Bill Stewart
Jim Keltner
Carlos Vega
Jim Castoe
Steve Gadd
Stewart Copeland

What is your fondest musical memory?

TM: I have three:

James Brown dancing in the wings and giving me the “thumbs up.”

Playing music with two of my kids (so far).

The first time Birdshack played. Literally, the first four beats.

What are you listening to today? What’s on your playlist?

TM: My wife and I live on records. Our kids listen to records. A wide variety. Lately…
Kind Of Blue
Masterpieces By Ellington
Donald Fagen
Beach Boys
Willie Nelson – Teatro

What inspires you about the Columbus Jazz scene?

TM: I live here because there have always been a LOT of really great, creative musicians in a lot of styles. Columbus is blessed to have a still-flowing river of music. People here don’t have to specialize to eat, so they play a variety of other things and that influences their jazz playing. I find it to be very open.

What are you working on currently? Any new projects, exciting shows or releases?

TM: Birdshack is my church. That trio allows for any possibility. We have been playing more standards and yet our original music has become more daring. It’s a privilege to have such an expansive outlet.

Popgun: my project with Jeff Ciampa, Josh Hill, Jon Elliott, Joey Hebdo, Kevin O’Neill, and Lucas Holmes. Queen, Yes, Talking Heads, Wings, Paul Simon, Steely Dan, Stevie, etc.

Playing regularly with Tony Monaco and Josh Hill coming up.

Sanctuary is my tribute to late 60s/early 70s Miles Davis.

Magically Delicious is active again.

Of course, I’m still doing Hoodoo Soul Band and Hadden Sayers Band.

With all of my gigs, I am playing at higher level these days because of the fact that my wife Lesley supports me (and what I do) in a way I never knew possible.

Where can local audiences see you play in the near future?

TM: Birdshack has two weekly gigs:
Every Sunday 11:30am – 2:30pm at The Crest
Every Monday 6:00pm – 8:30pm at Giuseppe’s.

Tony Monaco Trio: The first four Tuesdays in September at Rumba Cafe.

Popgun: October 1 at Oktoberfest in New Albany and October 16 at King Ave 5.

Hoodoo Soul Band every Sunday at Rumba (10pm).

Hadden Sayers on the road.

Magically Delicious popping up more around town in the near future.

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