“Enter To Exit” (Destiny Records, 2015)
A native of South Carolina, drummer Kenneth Salters moved to New York City in 2006 after finishing his undergraduate degree in orchestral percussion at the University of South Carolina. Before long, he was performing and recording with jazz heavyweights like Myron Walden and lending his graceful but strong drumming to rock and indie bands such as Elysian Fields and The Bloodsugars.
In September, Salters released his début album, Enter To Exit, on Destiny Records. The album features a core sextet that first convened in 2008, which is represented on the album by Tivon Pennicott on tenor saxophone, Matt Holman on trumpet and flugelhorn, Aki Ishiguro on guitar, Brad Whiteley on piano, Spencer Murphy on bass, and Salters on drums. With the addition of Myron Walden on alto saxophone and bass clarinet, pianist Shai Maestro on one track, and harpist Bridget Kibbey on several tracks, the album expands the sextet configuration for greater compositional possibilities, showing Salters’s diverse sonic palette culled from an open ear to all genres of music and his background in classical composition.
We caught up with Salters by phone before he makes his first appearance as a leader at The Jazz Gallery, performing new material and some of the music from the album with a sextet that will feature Marcus Strickland and Irwin Hall on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, respectively.
The Jazz Gallery: When you first came to New York, who were you checking out?
KS: Well, the Brian Blade Fellowship was really hot then. That was before Blade got really busy with doing the singer-songwriter thing and playing with Wayne Shorter. They’d play once or twice a year at the Vanguard, which was always an amazing show. I caught that a couple times.
I was also checking out some Johnathan Blake then, and Ari Hoenig. He’s always been doing his thing, so that was a real eye-opener for me to see him. I wasn’t really aware of what a great musician he was until I got here, and I’ll never forget the first time, which was one of the first shows I saw: Ari and Chris Potter playing duo at the 55 Bar. It was ridiculous.
TJG: You studied orchestral percussion in undergrad.
KS: Yeah, I wanted to do everything. I played in everything from samba school to percussion ensemble to opera orchestra; I even played with show choir! Of course, I did all the other usual stuff like jazz combo and big band, but I was trying to be into everything. At some point in my college career, I decided I wanted to focus on drum set.
TJG: How would you say your study of orchestral percussion informs your kit playing?
KS: I think I got lucky because, as an orchestral percussionist, I had to take a lot of the general ear training, sight-singing, and general theory classes. It’s funny, I’ve never really had a jazz theory class in college, so all my background comes from a counterpoint, classical background as far as composition goes. I was also learning how to play the drum, how to strike the drum, how to move—like, if you’re learning to play marimba, you have to learn how to move on that instrument. It’s like 60 targets in six and a half feet—it’s like dancing—so if you can apply some of that stuff to drum set, it’s going to help you a lot.