When Daniel “D.K.” Kelly II ’18 began his studies at Shenandoah Conservatory, he arrived as a musician steeped in gospel and marching band traditions. But after four years in the jazz studies program, the drummer emerged as a musician who, just a year after graduation, has been selected as the grand prize winner in the Shure Drum Mastery Contest.
Kelly’s entry in the international audio products company’s contest bested 1,000 entries from 38 countries. As the grand prize winner, he was awarded a trip to London, a two-day masterclass at Metropolis Studios with Ash Soan and $5,000 worth of Shure gear. The jury consisted of professional drummers from around the world including Soan, Taylor Gordon, Tobias Derer, Takashi Kashikura and Shiguang Cui.
Contestants submitted a video in which they played without accompaniment. “Daniel’s creative approach and colorful rhythmic styles won over the jury. His playing styles include Gospel, Jazz, R&B, Rock, Latin, and even Classical,” states the Shure press release about Kelly’s win.
Check out his winning submission:
Kelly, who is originally from Hampton, Virginia, but now calls Winchester, Virginia, home, said he plans to travel to London in early-to-mid October, instead of September as originally planned, because he’s playing two shows, “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Boynton Beach Club,” at the Surflight Theatre in Beach Haven, New Jersey, that month.
Kelly said he entered the contest on a whim, having only previously entered one other similar contest – a Guitar Center one – as an 11th grader back in 2011, and didn’t make it past the store round. This time out, he was excited to learn he was the contest’s U.S. winner, and when he received the email about winning the grand prize, he said he screamed, then yelled, “Oh my gosh! What in the world? I’m going to London!”
He recorded his winning video at Shenandoah, which is where he developed the chops he displayed. Adjunct Associate Professor of Jazz Percussion Alphonso Young Jr., M.M., has served as his mentor, Kelly said. When Kelly was a student, Young took him under his wing, and exposed him to different genres, styles and techniques. Kelly said Young still shows him musical ideas that blow his mind. “I learned a lot from him.”
As a Shenandoah jazz student, he also learned “how to listen more to the band,” and be a cohesive part of a musical whole. No one wants to play with a showboater, he noted.
Since graduating, Kelly has often worked as an integral part of a team, serving as musical director for the production of “Revival: The Resurrection of Son House” at the Geva Theatre Center in Rochester, New York. He began his tenure with the show as a drummer, and later moved into the music director position, using conducting skills he learned from Professor of Voice, Choral Conducting and Choral Music Karen Keating, D.M.A. He’s currently engaged in writing sheet music for the show’s performers for any future productions of the show, which originally focused on music of the blues player Son House, who didn’t notate his music.
His summer also includes serving as drum staff for the National Jazz Workshop at Shenandoah as well as time playing in the orchestra pit for the Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre productions “Ragtime!” and “Young Frankenstein,” and being percussion coordinator for two area high schools – one in Fauquier County, Virginia, and one in Loudoun County, Virginia.
And, he’s planning and creating his online show, “The Drum Orpheum,” where he’ll use the Shure video kit he won through the Drum Mastery Contest to film interviews with fellow drummers and musicians. He expects the first episode to drop this fall. His contest win, he said, has put some additional fire into him, and he anticipates it’ll draw more attention to him as a musician, so he needs to keep the momentum going. “I cannot slack off now,” he said. “I cannot stop now.”
But even as he’s in the midst of a young career with plenty of activity, he doesn’t see himself as an expert. Instead, he calls himself a “tadpole” in the drumming world.