I’ll bet when two-year-old John Beasley assembled his first drum kit from trash can lids, he had no idea he would wind up directing the biggest jazz concerts in the world with the greatest artists of our time. But he was certainly off and running as soon as he hit the ground.
His grandfather and both his parents were professional musicians, and all of them encouraged him. In fact, he taught himself an unusual assortment of instruments, based on his mother’s needs to fill sections of school bands she directed. In addition to drums, he played sax, flute, trumpet, oboe, and piano.
Shortly after high school, he was touring the world with heavyweights such as Freddie Hubbard and Sergio Mendes. He turned down an oboe scholarship to Julliard in order to tour and record with Miles Davis, and went on to work with a diverse number of artists, including Queen Latifah, Christian McBride, James Brown, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, just to name a few!
He’d been composing since he was 14, at which time he wrote a piece for the University of North Texas Jazz Band, which got him a scholarship to the Stan Kenton summer jazz camp. Kenton ended up adding the piece to his orchestra’s repertoire.
By the old age of 24, John was writing for television shows, including Star Trek, Cheers, and Fame. He got into the movies by playing piano on such scores as WALL-E, Finding Nemo, Erin Brockovich, and The Godfather III. And even today, he continues to play on the hit shows like American Idol and America’s Got Talent.
The studio work, while steady, has not slowed him down as a performing jazz artist. In 2008, he released an album in tribute to Herbie Hancock, Letter to Herbie, which featured Jeff “Tain” Watts, Christian McBride, and Roy Hargrove, and charted very well. The following year came the Grammy-nominated Positootly! These days, he’s living his dream by leading his own big band, MONK’estra, which just released its first disc last August.
This new disc, titled MONK’estra, Vol. 1, is actually John’s third release of Monk’s music, but his first with the big band. He has been exploring Monk’s music for many years, and has served as music director for the Monk Institute’s International Jazz Day gala concerts since their inception.
Every April 30th, since 2012, in Paris, Osaka, Instanbul, and most recently, at the White House in Washington, D.C., John has directed a star-studded array of international talent, ranging from Esperanza Spaulding to Aretha Franklin, and including Hugh Masekala, Anat Cohen, Ruben Blades, and Toshiko Akiyoshi, among many others (always including his “boss,” Herbie Hancock, who conceived and established the event in partnership with UNESCO and the Monk Institute).
On Sunday, December 4th, at 7pm, at the El Rey Theatre, John will join saxophonist Danny Janklow, vibraphonist Nick Mancini, bassist Benjamen Shepherd, and drummer Jonathan Pinson for the opening set of the annual KJazz benefit concert, Jingle Jazz.
And not only do we have this stellar ensemble, but headlining the evening will be The Clayton Brothers Quintet!
This joyous gathering of giants in celebration of the winter holidays sells out every year. We’d like to have YOU with us! We have even added a special student-priced ticket! So please be sure to secure your tickets NOW! Tickets are only available through KJazz membership, by phone at 310-478-5061 (ask for Mkenzi) or online at jazzandblues.org.