An Interview with Bandleader Norman Edwards Jr.

Posted by: yetheart, August 11, 2016 9:45 am
Blog Image: 
Norman Edwards, Jr. by Ernest Gregory.

Drummer, educator, and bandleader Norman Edwards, Jr. will join us at Central Library for a smash-hit summer concert with his band SpinKick on Thursday, August 18.

Norman was born in Queens into a musical family—his father was a drummer in the gospel scene and his mother was a dancer and clarinetist. Norman went to Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, majoring in music. He also studied at the Manhattan School of Music, where he earned a master’s degree in Jazz Performance.

Norman is a two-time Grammy-nominated artist under the Jazz Heads label with the Manhattan School of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra and teaches at Manhattan School of Music's Preparatory Division, Arts Connection, and the New York Youth Musicians School in Brooklyn.

His musical projects include SpinKick, which fuses dance, funk, hip hop, and jazz together into feel-good grooves, and Fighting In The Streets, a video game remix band breaking new ground with funky nostalgia.

We were pleased to speak with Norman about his visits to Queens Library as a kid, his multi-instrumental talents, sharing the stage with a musical legend, and more.

You were born and raised in Queens—what role did Queens Library play in your life?
Queens Library was a part of my life since I was a little kid. The Cambria Heights branch was very close to where I grew up at 120th Avenue and 222nd Street, and I was always there reading. It helped shape my imaginations, gave me new books to discover, and gave me an outlet where I could borrow books that I would one day purchase from the book fair.

You play the drums, other percussion instruments, the vibraphone, piano, and guitar. How easy (or hard!) was it to master all those instruments?
It all started with a drum set. My father taught me from the age of four because I was genuinely interested in how the drums looked and sounded and how much joy they gave people. I picked up the piano at 15 and it allowed me to learn vibraphone and guitar fairly quickly, because they are all concert instruments. It took some work to learn all of them, but it was very rewarding and paramount to my songwriting.

Your band SpinKick blends dance, funk, hip hop, and jazz. Who are some of your favorite artists in those genres? And which musical artists inspire you?
I like two-part questions! These artists answer both questions. Earth, Wind & Fire was one of the first bands to successfully mix funk, R&B, jazz, and pop and make it sound universal for everyone to enjoy. Prince’s showmanship influenced me to become an entertainer and put it all on the line when performing. I also like Miles Davis, Max Roach, Michael Jackson, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Biggie Smalls, 2Pac, and Jamiroquai.

You’ve shared the stage with some very important artists, including Stevie Wonder! How was it playing with such a musical legend?
It was pretty amazing and a blessing. His daughter went to our church and he happened to come one Sunday morning. He asked if it was OK to play, and my dad was drumming with him at first. After that, my dad brought me up on stage and I got to play with him too! I will never forget that because it further cemented what I wanted to do in life.

You’re an educator as well as a musician. Can you talk about how important that role is to you?
It is very important to me, because in order for music to survive, the education needs to thrive. I was taught by my father, I received great instruction from my middle school band teacher Mr. Peter Archer, I had different private lesson teachers for the multiple instruments I played, and I learned great life skills from my college professors at the Manhattan School of Music—Bobby Sanabria, Justin Diciocio, and John Riley. These teachers affected my career in a big way and I want to give back to the next generation. I can’t stop smiling when I see kids learning music and discovering their own voice.

What are some of your favorite books and authors?
I’m a huge fan of George R.R. Martin and the Song of Ice and Fire series. I also like Night by Elie Wiesel and The Lord of the Rings series by J. R. R. Tolkien.

What can our customers expect at your concert here at Queens Library?
They can expect an exciting show steeped in deep grooves, catchy melodies, epic connections, and
high energy that will get the people movin’ and groovin’!

Photo of Norman Edwards, Jr. by Ernest Gregory.

Norman took over Queens Library’s Instagram on Thursday, August 11. Visit instagram.com/queenslibrary to see his posts!