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Interview: David Jonathan – Playing through Transitions

David Jonathan (the drummer formerly known as Teaspoon) got his first drum set from Music City when he was 8 years old. Since the age of 3, his parents noticed (how could they not?) that he loved to beat on pots and pans on the floor, which is where he earned the nickname “Teaspoon.”

“I was a big kid too,” said Jonathan, who told me that he was born 9 pounds and 2 ounces. “Between the banging on the pots, and my father watching his favorite western TV shows, my family was used to a lot of noises. We grew up in an East Side housing project, and early on my parents wanted to move on and get a slice of the American Pie. In 1988, we moved into a house and the first thing my father did was get a stereo system with 6 speakers. He was a dancer – he could cut a rug. He was also an amateur boxer, and a father-figure to many children. My mom was in the church choir – my family was really into music. My aunts were two of the writers of ‘It Takes Two.’ It turns out that they were robbed of their idea, which actually happens a lot. My uncle – Fred Patrick – was a radio personality and the voice of WBLK. Music runs on both sides of our family.”

Jonathan told me that once his parents bought him his drum set, it changed everything. “I used to go to Music City and look at the drum sets,” he said. “They would have all of the catalogues. I would circle everything and build my dream monster drum set. Up until that time, I only had a practice pad. But I had a vivid imagination, and I still do.”

From the start, Jonathan was fascinated with drums and drumming. His family encouraged his passion.

“My mom wanted me to get into it,” explained Jonathan. “We were visiting my aunts in California, and we were at a church service that was going to be broadcast on the radio. The drummer never showed, so my mom said that I could fill in – I was 4 years old at the time. They said that there was no way that I could hold down the church service, but they had no choice. The next thing they knew, I was holding down the church service, and I was on the AM radio banging away.”

Jonathan began his formal training at the age of 7, taught by a popular drummer by the name of Reggie Evans, who was “a left hand drummer.” “Reggie knew that I was going to be able to retain all of the rudiments, and began teaching me the basic 7,” said Jonathan. “Short stuff… to practice over and over again. Then the church where I was practicing closed, and I was back in my basement. Luckily, I got accepted into the Academy (the future Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts) when I was 14. There was no performing arts there at the time, and we were in the original building (old school, in more than once sense of the words) – that’s where I got my classical training, playing jazz, orchestra, Latin… I got to apply all of my teachings, which was great.”

Jonathan described his first teacher – Ben Boyer – as a “very serious teacher; his ‘ears’ were huge, so you couldn’t sneak anything by him.” After attending Erie Community College, and continuing on with his music studies and practices, Jonathan found himself in a bit of a rut, or a skipping record, if you will. Actually, it was not him as much as it was the music scene that he found himself traveling, revolving around and around. “There was a recurring theme at the time,” he said. “Cover songs – Buffalo was a cover town, it seemed. I saw a lack of originality. There was so much talent, but everyone was playing covers. Now, don’t get me wrong – it has a place, and I’ve played cover tunes, but for a long time that’s all I was doing – cover shows and tunes. After playing around, I didn’t agree with some of the groups that I was playing with, and I even saw some racist things that I didn’t like, especially as the election was drawing near. That was over the last five years, on the outskirts of the city.”

Growing up on the city’s East Side, Jonathan had a strong sense about what was going on in my lifetime. “It’s sad and it’s disheartening, to not see the changes that you think are coming. My response to this was the creation of ‘David Jonathan and Inner City Bedlam.’ If I was going to do cover tunes, I was going to do soul, protest music, James Brown, Curtis Mayfield… I remember when I was singing Gil Scott-Heron’s song ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,’ a table of three people walked out of a nightclub. Then, I got a call from the guy who booked me who said that it was a fantastic show, but the owners didn’t want me to play there anymore, unless it was in someone else’s band. I knew that there was a reaction, but it was misinterpreted. This was a song that was released 30 years ago, and nothing has changed. The needle has not moved. This was a neighborhood in the city near where I grew up, and it’s been gentrified, and now I can’t play there. My intentions were not to incite anything, but to play meaningful music that carries a message that people need to hear… still. I was there to tell it like it is.”

After that, Jonathan figured that it was time to start writing his album ‘400.’ Although there are a mix of songs, the album’s name signifies 400 years since the start of the transatlantic slave trade. The sound is a tribute of sorts, to those distant lands, and the people that were displaced and enslaved – “there’s R&B, reggae, funk, soul, African culture coming to the islands and then to the US – a tribute to those styles.”

When asked what his ultimate takeaway from the album is, Jonathan replied “My takeaway from the album is that we do not get through any of this without each other, but in understanding that we must acknowledge the piece of our history both musically socially, economically and politically, that has affected the black community. My music takes a look into that – it makes you feel each experience, and the genres that I touch, to gently remind us of our contributions and the greater contribution to humankind which cannot be denied. The message that I want Buffalo and the world to know is that ‘We Are The Inner City Bedlam… join Us!!!'”

Featured on the ‘400’ album (and the accompanying “No Collusion – The Remix” video) is one of Jonathan’s favorite “go-to” vocalists, Chuckie Campbell, who was spotlighted on BR in 2019.

“Me and Chuckie met in 2014,” said Jonathan [laughing]. “Here this guy walks into The Colored Musicians Club for a Sunday night jam session. Those were some late nights. Anyways, here’s this white guy rapper, blowing my mind. The words that he was speaking were socially conscious – coming from a white guy. Pretty soon we teamed up – I would say, ‘I’ll start a beat, and you come around.’ We blew people’s minds, old and young. Who is this dude?

“Playing around locally led to forming a live band – we got some horns, and bass, and became The Phaction. We ended up touring all over the country – a 50 city tour, playing with the likes of EPMD, and members of the Wu-Tang Clan. Along with Chuckie’s passion for hip-hop, we were getting the message out. Here’s a guy who is a professor in language and linguistics. The two of us realized that we have a mutual understanding of the art form.”

Currently, Jonathan is enjoying his solo career, but continues to play with the best and the brightest in the music industry, including some slick up and comers. Like every other musician during the pandemic, he’s looking inwards and doing some soul searching, and hoping that the rest of the world is doing the same. It’s definitely easier, when listening to his beats.

Get connected:

ig: @innercitybedlam


Written by queenseyes


Newell Nussbaumer is 'queenseyes' - Eyes of the Queen City and Founder of Buffalo Rising. Co-founder Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Co-founder Powder Keg Festival that built the world's largest ice maze (Guinness Book of World Records). Instigator behind Emerald Beach at the Erie Basin Marina. Co-created Flurrious! winter festival. Co-creator of Rusty Chain Beer. Instigator behind Saturday Artisan Market (SAM) at Canalside, Buffalo Porchfest, and Paint vs. Paint. Founder of The Peddler retro and vintage market on Elmwood. Instigator behind Liberty Hound @ Canalside. Throws The Witches Ball at Statler City, the Hertel Alley Street Art Festival, and The Flutterby Festival.

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