The mission of music group Rhythm Child has always been to get people of all ages up and moving. For the past six years Rhythm Child founder, Norm Jones, has been inspiring young drummers and their families to get up and move as part of the Skirball’s Family Amphitheater Performances series. If you’ve been to any of the group’s last six performances, you know that once Jones passes out his instruments and lays down a beat, the Amphitheater comes thumping to life! I’ve always loved the energy and enthusiasm of Rhythm Child, so I thought it would be interesting to find out more about this fun and feisty musical collective as they plan for their Amphitheater performance on July 21st.
How did you get started in performance?
I grew up being inspired by the performance of others (my brother’s band, choirs in church, supper club shows that my mom took me to). I watched how these singers moved the audience with style, humor, and emotion. For years I practiced at the mirror in my basement before I ever took the stage and performed for people.
What part of performing for live audiences do you enjoy the most?
I love the immediate feedback that you get from a live audience. There is an exchange of energy that is unquestionable. There is a feeling of being out there on the edge without much of a safety net and usually the audience is open and willing to go for the ride. What I hope for is that everyone walks away feeling connected and inspired.
What is the most memorable moment from your career?
I must say that performing at the White House was pretty cool. I got to have my family with me on stage for one of the greatest days of my career.
What music or artist inspires you?
Reggae music really touches my soul. The rhythm and blues of the ’40s and ’50s also gives me lots of joy.
As far as specific artists, I love the social vision of John Lennon, the truth and conviction of Bob Marley, and the raw passion of an artist like Otis Redding or Sam Cooke.
What about drummers?
I never studied drumming and I don’t follow any specific rules of technique or style. I believe in letting the rhythm flow through you. My most favorite kit drummer to watch is Phillip “Fish” Fisher from the band Fishbone. He has gone on to play for a number of big acts since those early days. His groove and playing style is just effortless. My most influential hand-drummer is Ras Michael, the Nyabinghi specialist. Nyabinghi drumming is a spiritual rhythm originating in Jamaica that is based on a heartbeat pattern. This type of drumming is what gives me my understanding of simplicity and space. There are countless other drummers throughout music history that I use for inspiration and motivation, most of them coming from the classic eras of rhythm and blues, reggae, and rock.
How did you come up with your group’s name?
I came up with Rhythm Child when I was transitioning my performances from clubs to more family-friendly environments. I imagined what it would be like to watch a child grow up who maintained their connection to the rhythms of life instead of letting it go. It was kind of like forming a tribe or a secret society of intuitive souls.
How did your upbringing influence your art?
My family while growing up always had music as a backdrop to everyday life. There was always a spiritual or spirited connection to art. I learned early on to appreciate all types of music and to freely use that understanding in my own expression. Music as a career was never an aspiration but it was always an integral part of my life.
What excites you about playing at the Skirball?
The amphitheater at the Skirball is such an awesome spot to hold a drumming session so this show is a great opportunity for families to take part in a very special gathering. There is such joy in that space and I can’t wait to feel and hear the magic that we all can create together.
I have seen your children play with you. How has having children changed your music?
Having children has given me such a significant sense of responsibility to relay positive and useful information. What I have created with Rhythm Child is just a reflection of that purpose. I have learned so much from my own kids and also from the interaction that I am fortunate enough to have with thousands of preschool children and drums. The ability to share my work and performances with my family has made it the ideal situation for me. Sometimes it’s a little tough on stage to engage with the audience while still being Dad, but the kids are getting older now and I don’t have to do as much parenting during the set.
We look forward to seeing you at the Skirball this summer for fun times in the Family Amphitheater with Rhythm Child and lots more!