photo: Denise Grant
Let’s say you’re a frantic musical director in need of a drummer—tonight—to play in the pit of a touring Broadway production. Who are you going to call? In the Greater Toronto Area it’d be Mark Kelso. Without a single rehearsal, he’ll nail it. If you hand him a printed page, he’ll sightread it flawlessly. If you don’t, he’ll wing-it. Either way, he’ll get to the heart of the songs.
Mark knows the groove. In his native Belfast, Ireland, at age-8, he heard rhythmic bursts from machine guns shattering the night. Today its drums that break the silence. Mark Kelso, however, would prefer they sing. Steering the percussion department of Humber College, he ensures graduating students can go out and sustain a groove at any dynamic level.
It’s uncanny the way Kelso seems to channel the legendary session greats, particularly Steve Gadd. Mark can jump on a track and make it so solid it’s sick. We saw him do this for years with Gino Vanelli and Holly Cole. Nowadays he’s ramping-up the energy in club/festival appearances with his own band: Jazz Exiles. He’s also out and about with Soul Stew, Gap Mangione, and the revered Hilario Duran. His recent DVD Musician First, Drummer Second reveals fully his modus.