Louisiana beats

Jazz drummer Quin Kirchner returns to his Oak Park roots

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After spending five years in New Orleans, drummer Quin Kirchner finally understands why it's the birthplace of jazz, Louis Armstrong and the first brass bands. It's in the water, he says.

"When you come here and actually live here, breathe the same air, eat the same food, feel the heat, you understand their life and culture so much more," Kirchner says. "It just makes sense. Why would you play anything else?"

Kirchner, who started banging drums in Oak Park, has been drumming with all kinds of bands on the streets and in the clubs of New Orleans since 2000, when he began earning his two jazz performance degrees from the University of New Orleans. This week he's back in Chicago with one of his groups, QMR Plus, to show off what he's learned and to revisit his Oak Park roots.

Although he has "picked the brains of these really awesome teachers" at the university, much of Kirchner's learning has been taking place outside the classroom. For the last few years, he's been playing four or five nights a week, juggling five bands and playing with several others when they need a drummer. He's even played on Bourbon Street in the city's French Quarter.

"Down here, to be a professional musician, you have to play as many gigs as you can get your hands on," says Kirchner, who likes the variety. "It's a way to keep myself fresh and on my toes."

He also experiments with as many different types of music as he can, with forays into jazz, rock, hip-hop, funk and Cuban and Latin rhythms. The members of QMR Plus take a bit from each style when they compose their own music for their combination of vibraphone, saxophone, string bass and drums.

"It's sort of a mix of all the members," Kirchner says about the band. "We try not to stay in any one niche."

Drumming roots

One of Kirchner's niches is Cuban music. He was introduced to the style by his Oak Park drum teacher, ethnomusicologist Donald Skoog. And he learned more when Skoog took him along on several of his annual trips to Cuba.

"Culturally, it was an amazing experience to be in a place like that, that seems so pure and un-Americanized," he remembers. "Musically, it was just super, super inspiring."

In Cuba, Kirchner spent several hours each day in class, learning the Cuban style of playing the congas and drum set. He also learned how to play bata drums, a family of ceremonial, double-headed drums with roots in the Yoruba culture in Africa.

"When you're submerged in this culture that's so strong, you start to absorb it," Kirchner says.

Skoog also got Kirchner to listen to the great recordings of jazz and Latin music. "If you take a kid and give him that information, he can really run with it," Kirchner comments. "He was one of the best teachers I've had and I've studied with a lot of people."

But even in Oak Park, Kirchner got much of his musical education outside of lessons. He started drumming when he was 13 and played with several bands during high school. "Oak Park was a really cool place to be in a band," he remembers. "There's definitely an Oak Park [music] scene."

Kirchner felt the vibe, which he describes as "the punk rock attitude where all you needed was a guitar." Since the musicians were too young to perform most places, they jammed away in their basements, attics and occasionally at the Buzz Cafe, he says.

A blend of styles

During his week back here, Kirchner is excited to revisit the scene. QMR Plus will be performing at various venues around Chicago. along with some noted local musicians. "We're kind of psyched up, freaked out that we're going to be playing with them," he says.

QMR Plus blends several "jazzy" styles, an unusual instrumentation (there are no vocals and a vibraphone plays the chords instead of a piano or guitar) and some experimental music. One song is entirely improvisation, with riffs repeating at different times and in different instruments, never the same twice.

Kirchner recruited several of his buddies when he formed QMR. Members Matt Golombisky, Matt McClimon and Robin Boudreaux also have music school degrees""the formal education thing," as Kirchner puts it"and experience performing in New Orleans.

Variety is the key, he says. "We try to use all the different textures and sounds in as many different ways as possible."

But whatever style or venue he's playing, Kirchner tries to cultivate his own sound. Whether it's jazz, Cuban music, rock or hip-hop, "I still want it to sound like me playing all these," he says.

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