Sunday, June 22, 2003


Most of the James family are drummers. At their drum shop are Chuck and Lynda James, foreground, and three of their sons, Justin, 23, left; Jeffrey, 14; and Jonathan, 17.

Drums’ beat becomes
heartbeat of a family

In their childhood, the James brothers didn't step to the same beat as their father, a well-known jazz drummer.

Jerome James: Played with Cecilio & Kapono, Azure McCall and other isle entertainers

Now, they've got the beat.

"There's much more of a bond," said Chuck James of Waipio Gentry.

James said it was important for his sons, as well as others, to learn how to play an instrument.

"It teaches them about discipline," he said.

Three of his four sons play drums. The eldest son, Jerome, played drums with Hawaii entertainers such as Cecilio & Kapono, Azure McCall and Tennyson Stephens. Justin obtained a full-tuition waiver at Hawaii Pacific University through the skills he learned from his father. The youngest son is a percussionist at Pearl City High School.

"I never really wanted to do it. ... I was doing it almost out of boredom," Jerome said.

At 18, Jerome decided to focus on playing drums after his interest in jazz gradually grew stronger. He later taught at his father's studio and spent three weeks in Cuba to learn different styles of drumming that included the congas and Afro-Cuban rhythms. Two years ago, Jerome decided to move to Queens, N.Y., to broaden his knowledge in jazz.

"I had a quest for knowledge," said Jerome, now 26. "I hope to take it further."

He added: "I would talk to jazz musicians and they would give me ideas and concepts. I just got deeper into music when I got here," he said. He calls his father once a week to share what he learned from other musicians.

"It's always been a thing that we can talk and be deep with each other," Jerome said.

"I see myself as an evolution of my father. That's what the child is supposed to be."

His younger brother, Justin, 23, like Jerome, had no desire to learn how to play the drums.

"I didn't want anything to do with it 'cause my dad did it," he said.

As a teenager, Justin said, he was into football and skateboarding. When he was 18 years old, he started teaching beginning drum students once a week at his father's studio. Through instructing his students, Justin realized that he was becoming a good drummer.

"After a while, I just noticed I became better at it," he said. "Then it became really fun."

Justin plays for the HPU band during volleyball and basketball seasons while working toward a business degree. He also plays about three gigs a month at Studio 1 in downtown Honolulu. He continues to teach about 30 students.

Justin is unsure whether he wants to pursue a career as a professional drummer.

"I'm hoping one day I could acquire my own drum store and be around music and play gigs on the side," he said. "Being a musician is hard to live on."

The youngest, Jeffrey, 14, the percussionist, was selected as one of the most outstanding freshmen in the Pearl City High band this past school year.

He said he plans to become a teacher at his father's studio and will continue to seek his advice.

"I know my dad can help me get better," he said.

While his brothers gravitated toward the drums, 17-year-old Jonathan has not developed an interest in the instrument.

"It's just not my thing. I want to be different from everyone else," said Jonathan, a 2003 graduate of Aiea High School.

Despite his lack of interest, he helps out his father at the drum shop four days a week with sales and upkeep of the studio.

Chuck James, a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, credits his mother, Evelyn James, with sparking his interest in jazz. His mother, whose stage name is Maxine Ware, is a jazz singer in Canada. As a child, James would accompany his mother while she performed at various television and radio stations.

James grew up with a cousin who was part of a Scottish pipe band. He taught James at age 12 the rudiments of drumming after James expressed interest in playing. It wasn't long before he started playing with trombonist Trummy Young and with the rock band The Guess Who.

His skills progressed when he moved to Los Angeles and studied music at Harvard Junior College and Los Angeles City College. He played at jazz nightclubs with his bandmate Dave Holden, a vocalist and organ player.

In 1972, both moved to Hawaii and started entertaining people at basketball games and ballrooms. James also played with entertainers such as Jimmy Borges, Don Ho and Ethel Azama.

From 1983 to 1989, he ran his first drum studio called New Directions in Kaimuki that drew an estimated 50 students. Nine years later, he opened a drum shop and studio in Mapunapuna with a team of five teachers and about 160 students.

With a husband and three sons involved in drums, James' wife, Lynda, said: "There's never a dull moment in my house. Someone's always pounding on something."

Aside from running the drum studio, James teaches drums at several public schools on Oahu and the Big Island, and continues to play gigs at the Musicians Union in Honolulu with the PBS Big Band and Kapono's at Aloha Tower Marketplace.


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