Girl On Drums founder, Jazz Kelley, says She Saw the Problem & Wanted to Fix It

Tell us what it is like being a woman of color ON THE DRUMS!?!

Oh my goodness where do I even start?! It feels legendary! I always feel honored and grateful to be who I am.

It’s one thing to be a woman, but to be a BLACK WOMAN; it hits different.

Jazz Kelley

The reason being is because when I look at life I see it as a honor and responsibility. It tells me that God trusts me with life! The only way to exist in this Earth is to be brought through the womb of a woman. That’s so profound to me.

When I think about that it just always reminds me that I am a creator that has the power to produce and multiply and not only that I get to do it in the skin that I’m in which happens to be black. That screams legacy to me. So not only do I get to produce life in everything that I do, but I also get to carry the power and strength that comes from black culture. The older I get the more grateful I become for my life and how it has played out from the beginning to now.

We’d love to know more about how you got started and when this journey began. What can you tell us about your introduction to the drums and your life setting at that time?

I started playing drums when I was about 5 years old. I actually started out singing in the choir first, which is hilarious to me. I was always very good at understanding rhythms and patterns. When I would be in choir rehearsal, I’d always give all of my attention to the band.

One day after rehearsal on a Saturday morning I saw my cousin, who wasn’t a drummer by the way, play this drum groove. I still remember it to this day. Lol When I heard it, in my mind I said to myself I can play that! From that moment on and I meant that day I started telling every person I knew that I could play drums. — My family thought I had lost my mind and that they officially had a kid who was a habitual liar. Honestly, looking back I can understand their concern. Here’s why…I HAD NEVER PLAYED DRUMS BEFORE EVER! I hadn’t even held drum sticks before. However I KNEW I could. It was like answering a call from a phone where only I could hear the ringer. But, I had to answer.

After days of going around saying I could play the drums to any and everybody, my great aunt finally got fed up! She told me “Jazz you need to stop going around telling that lie. You can not play drums!” I responded to her “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Maaaan was she heated! But what could she say when in fact she was the person who taught me that. So, by the grace of God I didn’t get my teeth knocked out of my head. (All the black kids reading this know exactly what I am talking about.)

Well, time passed later that week, and the church I was attending at the time was having a special anniversary service. If you’re from the South then you know these type of services are always a big deal. People travel from across the country to visit and celebrate. They bring in the best musicians and singers. Its literally a big party.

This particular service they didn’t have a drummer which was really strange. But, for me I knew I was supposed to play. However, at the time my auntie was being a hater and blocking me. (If you’re reading this Auntie Brenda I love you don’t kill me! haha) Well, the organ player that was there who let me mention, I did not know and had never seen before looks at me in the audience and nods at me to come up and play! Crazy right? But in the words of Mike Todd, “It’s only crazy until it happens.” It was clear as day, and my other aunt who was sitting near us saw it too. I remember her saying “Aww Brenda let the girl go up there and play. You see he called her up there!” My Auntie Brenda just rolled her eyes and acted as if she couldn’t hear at all…

At this point, as time passed I was trying to plot several plans on how I was going to get up there. — Well, it was time for offering! This was my chance to escape! In old southern Baptist churches back then you would walk around to the front to drop your offering in a basket. This was going to be my chance. I decided I was going to risk probably getting a whooping later. I didn’t care. As I got to the basket and I was dropping my money and walking away, at the same time I started to say EXTREMELY fast “Hey Auntie Brenda going to go speak to the organ player be right back bye!”

There was no turning back or looking back; I kept my eyes on the prize and went to the drums! Finally I got over there and the organ player looks at me and signals me to come on and play. Yall… I sat down and I played the rest of that service! Not only did I play, but I held it together. You would have thought I had lessons or practiced, but truth is I hadn’t. I remember having a drum solo and everything that night and the energy being so high in the room!

After I played and it calmed down a bit, I stood up since no one could see me because I was behind this wall and I was a little kid. Once I stood up, I pointed at myself like “yea that was me.” The room was shocked and I remember hearing someone say “That’s Jazz!!” My God parents were the hosts that night and I remember my daddy yelling “Yesss! That’s MY BABY!!” That was probably the best part, honestly! But that was how it all started. Little did I know this was ALL God and would be the beginning of many conversations with him telling me who I am and what was possible through him.

Are you the musician that reads music and has learned all the technical things, or would you say you are more of a natural freestyler and music curator? Or both?

I do know how to read music. However, I didn’t learn seriously, until I got to Albany State University. I learned by ear growing up. I am grateful that I can read and play by ear. I think they’re both good traits to have. However, one is taught and the other, either you have it or you don’t. I’m grateful to have both. Personally speaking though, I think it is so special to be able to just play what you hear, but I value both, because it’s great to be able to share what you are actually doing on paper with others who may need to see it in order to play it.

Tell us about your work with the Atlanta professional sports teams, such as the Atlanta Hawks and the Atlanta Braves!

Wow, all I can say is I love Atlanna….(Yes, I said what I said. Lol no spell check)

Working in the sports music entertainment industry has honestly been like a dream come true. I never knew growing up that I could do marching drums professionally and I love it, because it’s just the drumline.

The Atlanta Braves is where I got my start and I have continued to grow since then. It’s such a cool experience to see the different sports and crowds and how they enjoy seeing me do what I love to do. It’s mind blowing to me. I don’t think that will ever get old.

It’s nothing like being in an arena or stadium and feeling the energy of the room while you perform!

Jazz Kelley

What have been some of your greatest accomplishments through music and drums?

Some of my greatest accomplishments for me personally is when I began to transition into the film industry for non-musical industries like Olay, Proctor and Gamble, Jack Daniels, Famous Footwear, and others. That began to open my mind that all things really are possible and I can do whatever I want. I’ve always wanted to be in film since a child, I just never knew what it would look like.

What have been some of your greatest challenges and how have you worked to overcome them?

My greatest challenge for me I think is accepting who I am and understanding I don’t have to prove myself to anyone; especially when someone else has an issue with my gift because they haven’t yet accepted the greatness of who they truly are.

As far as overcoming, it has honestly been time, and having people outside of the industry who can pour into me has been a game changer. Also, my sister has played a major role in that just by loving on me, correcting me when I’m wrong, but also showing me how to be a boss and be about my business.

Community is so important and has played a major role in my success. Your circle is everything. It will show you how far you will go. So, be mindful of your circle and choose wisely. Also, if you need community and feel alone, DM me, I am always open to help people and just be there. It’s so necessary, especially in our society now.

Who would you say are your favorite WOC drummers? Who are you inspired by and what about them grabs your attention?

We would be here all day if I named them all. I’m inspired by so many, but Sheila E. is my favorite drummer of all time.

I’ve been watching her since I was a child. She is always so genuine and graceful on camera and off. She was one of the first women who I saw that was so lady like, but still was a force behind the kit and I love that! — And on top of that, it impacted my life so much as a young black girl, because I was able to see someone on tv who looks like me. Super encouraging.

Tell us about your community & clothing brand; Girl On The Drums! What can we expect there and what inspired the startup?

Girl On Drums is a community and clothing brand built for women by women, impacting the world one hit at a time. I am so excited for Girl On Drums, because we have so much coming that we are working on behind the scenes. Girl On Drums was honestly inspired by other women. Being a woman myself I have had the honor to go through the struggle of being in the industry. — And I say honor because I realize that everything I have experienced as a woman in the music industry was not for me, but it was so that I could serve other women along their journey.

I was always bothered that there was really no safe place for women in the music industry to just be; and so that’s how Girl On Drums was birthed. I saw the problem and I wanted to fix it by adding value to MY community through style and fashion. It’s so much larger than clothing; its community and we are just getting started.

If you could perform with ANY music artist in the world, who would it be, and why?

Wheeeew, that’s such a tough question. I have so many artist that I admire and respect. To name a few in no particular order Diddy, Beyonce, Khalid, Monica, 21 Savage, KiKi Sheard and so many others. The number one reason for the names I mentioned is because I have watched their heart posture and character over the years. I’m the type of person where I like to hear people speak before I ever hear them perform. It tells me a lot about the person.

The geniuses of their hearts is always touching to me. I could write a book literally, but I won’t. Lol just shoot me a DM and we can talk.

Is there any advice you can share for young black girls looking to dominate in the musical arts industry? And how can we stay connected with you and your work, going forward?

My advice would be is that you have permission to be who you were created to be despite what culture or society may be telling you. Be bold and stand on that. Its literally in your genetic makeup for you to dominate, produce, and multiply, and maintain everything that you set your heart out to do.

You can stay connected with me on all social media below:

Instagram: @jazzkelley_ @thegirlondrums

Youtube: Jazz Kelley – Girl On Drums

Facebook: The Jazz Kelley, The Girl On Drums

Twitter: @JazzKelley_ @TheGirlOnDrums