On a recent episode of The Late Show, host David Letterman jokingly tells his musical guest at the conclusion of his performance, “You’re doing pretty well now, buy [your drummer] an actual drum!” Dave was referring to the talented percussionist Mona Tavakoli, who was backing Mechanicsville, Virginia native Jason Mraz. Touring with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, percussionist and inventor Roy “Future Man” Wooten is seen sitting on a box playing intricate and tasteful rhythms with one hand while playing his signature drumitar with the other hand.
Hello, modern drummers! This is drummer/percussionist Brad Ellsworth from Richmond, Virginia (“RVA”), and if you don’t already know, the instrument referred to above is the cajon (pronounced “ka-HONE”), which is derived from the Spanish word caja, for box. Traditionally utilized in Latin, flamenco, world, and acoustic music, the cajon is increasingly showing up in other modern musical settings, and for many drummers can be a versatile instrument in many genres, including rock, metal, funk, hip-hop, electronica, and jazz.
My latest project, Boxwave, which recently released its debut album, Broad Street Grease, is an instrumental alternative-rock and funk duo that combines driving and melodic rhythms of the bass (played by John Mustachio) with the percussive sounds of the cajon. The songs on the album were recorded with a cajon played with wire brushes, and a few auxiliary cymbals. This somewhat basic setup allows for a tight funk drumkit sound, as both deep bass “kicks” and percussive sounds can be attained with the hands, while the brushes add higher frequency hi-hat and swish-like sounds as well as rimshot effects (similar to the bucket drummers on the streets of Richmond and Washington, D.C.).
By playing with both brushes or alternating between brushes and the hands and fingers on the front and sides of the cajon, one can produce many different sounds and textures from this amazing instrument. Furthermore, the heel of your foot can be placed on the playing surface and moved up and down to adjust the pitch of the cajon. With all of these possibilities, you certainly won’t be limited! The end result of the recording was fairly unusual and a really fun and rewarding experience.
So no matter what your musical influences or playing styles are, go ahead and make sure to add a box to your drummer toolkit—for its versatility and portability. Also, make sure to check out and listen to some of the great cajon players, including those I’ve already mentioned, as well as other world-renowned percussionists such as Alex Acuña, David Kuckhermann, and N. Scott Robinson.
In addition to Boxwave, my musical projects include Vibe and various other groups throughout RVA, Central Virginia, and the Washington, D.C. area. I also played drums and percussion on Nashville’s R&B/soul legend Marion James’ upcoming album, Northside Soul.
Thank you for checking out my blog, and thanks to Modern Drummer magazine for your interest. Signing off, and make sure to keep it on the 1!