Nova Scotia has a rich and vibrant musical heritage that stems from its embrace of its Scottish roots. Growing up within a culture that defines itself in large part through music, it was perhaps inevitable that Jeff would become a musician. As to why he chose the drums, he has this to offer, "I think drums appealed to me because of the many pipe and drum bands I heard as a boy. I was always fascinated by the pipe drummers and the way they could spin and throw their sticks, and I was awed by their amazing rudimental facility. I also heard a lot of Cape Breton fiddle music growing up, which doesn't have drums per se, but has an intrinsic hard-driving rhythmic element to it that is infectious, whether you're a musician or not. And all of that music was borne out of the Scottish culture and tradition."
After beginning drum lessons at age nine, and joining his first band at eleven, he came across the opportunity to play with some of those pipe drummers by way of a close friend in high school. "I learned some great rudimental snare drum stuff from those guys. Those snare drum solos were great technique-builders with just the right amount of flash - stick twirling and stick tossing, rattling sticks off each other's drums - and the best, or perhaps the worst part was, you got to wear a kilt!"
After high school, Jeff enrolled in the jazz program at St. Francis Xavier University and after two years of study graduated first in his class. He then moved on to the jazz program at McGill University in Montreal to complete his music degree. "For me, studying jazz wasn't necessarily about learning and playing jazz in and of itself," he says, "It was about improving my facility on the drums - and getting an education. Quite often I was more interested in the academic courses I elected to take, rather than the music courses I was obligated to take. In fact, after I graduated from McGill I was offered a scholarship to the University of Miami and turned it down 'cause I just wanted to get out there and start hitting it; start to play for real."
Since that time he has worked out of Toronto and Los Angeles and has toured and recorded with some of Canada's top bands and artists, such as Charlie Major, Melanie Doane, The Supers, Dan Bryk, Andy Kim, Universal Honey, Bruce Guthro, Patricia Conroy, The Henrys, Ken Tobias, and Natalie MacMaster. He has twice performed on the Juno Awards and the Much Music Video Awards in Canada, and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in the U.S. He has also received five Gold, Platinum, and Double Platinum Album awards from his work with Charlie Major. Recently he has toured with the Broadway musical Mamma Mia, subbed on the Toronto production of Rock of Ages, and is now currently on the road with the new Broadway production of Billy Elliot with music by Elton John. "Billy Elliot requires a great deal of facility and diversity. I have to draw upon a lot of experiences on this gig in order to bring a healthy degree of authenticity to the music. There is some straight-up pop/rock stuff that requires some heavy hitting, some big band swing that is forcing me to dust off those old skills I learned in college, and some rudimental snare drum work that is evocative of the music I first heard growing up in Nova Scotia. Sometimes you have to draw upon all your musical influences at once," he laughs.
When asked why he plays Zildjian cymbals, Jeff recalled, "I still have my first set of Zildjian cymbals. They're a set of 14" New Beat hi-hats that my father bought for me when I was eleven years old. I had already been playing the drums for about two years and had just acquired my first drumset; a small four-piece set of Supremes with a Ludwig Speedmaster bass drum pedal that I used to pound into submission while playing along with records in my basement. And while I unfortunately no longer have that set of drums, I still have my Zildjians. And having survived the basement, my first band, subsequent countless other bands and recordings, relentless touring, and sometimes delicate sixteenth-note work to full-out bashing quarter notes, my Zildjians have been right there with me all the way."
Jeff's been playing the drums for 35 years now. When asked about what keeps him motivated, he had this to say, "I'm always striving to play it better than the time before; to play it like it's the last time I'll ever get to play drums; the challenge of going for something you're not quite sure you will make - whether it's a difficult fill or a new gig - that's what keeps me moving forward."