Joe Saylor: From A Small Town To The Late Show

This is Joe Saylor’s route to CBS.

Joe Saylor

Saylor, jazz drummer and Indiana, Pa., native, landed a spot on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert as a member of the house band, Jon Batiste and Stay Human.

In this role, which he and the band earned last year, he has assumed the title of “jazz cowboy,” according to the buzz on social media.

Well before stepping onto the Colbert stage, he and his band opened a concert for rapper Asher Roth. Saylor played tambourine while his bandmates played melodica, saxophone, and tuba.

“These people came to see a rap concert,” Saylor said. “And what they saw first was basically two toys and two archaic instruments.”

Saylor told the story:

“About ten minutes into it, people just started booing and we had never experienced that before, and we just kept playing and we just kept going harder and harder.”

It still was not going well, so Batiste, the band leader, gave Saylor the green light to solo.

Saylor said he was thinking he had to get the crowd into it, and then he noticed a nearby microphone. During his solo, he smacked the microphone with his tambourine with so much force that the stand fell to the ground, causing eardrum-blowing feedback.

The crowd went wild.

Joe Saylor

“From that point on, they loved us,” Saylor said.

If you were to go back in time even further, you would see him selling his drum set just to make a living. He was determined.

Even if he had been driven to homelessness, he said he would still be sure of his choice to pursue music.

“There was never a time where I wanted to give up or had any doubts,” Saylor said.

His drive to become a jazz musician started at 12-years-old when his father took him to see Roger Humphries, Pittsburgh-born jazz drummer who’s played with folks like Dizzy Gillespie and Ray Charles.

“That night completely changed my life,” Saylor said. “From the minute I walked into that club, I knew I wanted to play jazz. Roger changed my life.”

Throughout school, Saylor played the trumpet and the upright bass, yet the drums stayed constant for him. Ever since the age of three, he had been playing drums on a kid-sized kit that his father bought him.

Saylor said his love for drums first welled up in church when he watched the worship band’s drummer.

“I would always watch him play,” he said. “I was fascinated.”

Then after graduating from Indiana Area High School in 2004, Saylor set off on his pursuit of a career in jazz. He earned his bachelor’s at Manhattan School of Music then later his master’s at Juilliard School.

His tenacity to be his best is clear in the way he plays his instrument.

You may see him gripping the crash symbol against his body as if it were trying to escape while he beats it with his drumstick. Other times, you may see him drumming on the body of his kit as opposed to the skins.

He has even placed his foot on top of his tom drum during a solo.

The skills he has developed have earned a lot of people’s admiration, but he doesn’t seem to get distracted by that. He said he wants to focus on uniting and uplifting people with his art.

“Anytime that I play music for people and it touches them and uplifts them in a certain way, that’s always the best feeling for me, to know that I have that kind of impact,” he said.

“My goal is to uplift and love people through music.”

Even if it means selling his drum set or risking a life on the streets. Even if it means withstanding a booing crowd or sharing the screen with celebrities. 


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This article first appeared in my music-magazine-turned-podcast, Musicateur.

Learning How To Say ‘No’ In A Go-Getter World

Take a breath. It’s okay to say no.

This is the lesson I’ve been learning: how to say “No” in a go-getter, work-is-everything world.

Continue reading

Music Is Like A Time Machine For Ian Murphy

In 2006, Ian Murphy was in a near-fatal car crash, colliding with a truck and damaging his brain. He was 21 years old then.

Now, at 30, he has trouble with short-term memory. He forgets people’s names, but he can hear a new song and remember it the next day. He doesn’t remember what he did or whom he saw on a given day, or sometimes five minutes ago, but he sings the music he remembers without hesitation.


RELATED: Music Overcomes Amnesia


Before the accident, he was a singer, fronting a rock band while attending high school in Indiana. He enjoyed singing the likes of Switchfoot, Third Eye Blind, and Nick Drake. Now, he said listening to music, especially music from before the car accident, stimulates his memory more so than anything else.

“Takes me back to the place of where I used to hear that song,” he said. “And that’s good for me because I want to be back there.”

And “back there” is the time when he had plans to get engaged to his girl and graduate from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, both of which he ended up doing but later and differently than he’d planned.

Music and the brain

But today, it’s rare that he can dig up a short-term memory.

On one occasion, he heard a pop song called “Shut Up And Dance With Me” by Walk The Moon. Later that day, he recalled it without prompting and without hearing it again. That’s uncommon for him.

Music had been right alongside him as he worked hard to progress from comatose, to awakening, to speaking, to singing, and to walking. Music is still a part of his life, which now involves a bit of fame. He and his wife ended up being one of the feature stories in Oprah Winfrey’s Belief series and making an appearance on Dr. Phil’s TV show.

Music and the brain

So what if Ian didn’t have music?

“I’d die of boredom,” Murphy said. “I think that describes the health of my brain. I would die and take my brain with me.”

Maybe he’s striving for a life that used to be, and maybe music transports him there while his body just waits to follow.

Maybe music is his time machine.

Music and the brain


Originally published in Musicateur

This Man Sees Music As Color (Literally)

He was in elementary school when he first realized that not everybody saw music as color. Not everybody witnessed ribbons of green when they heard a C-note, or indigo when they heard a G sharp.

Not everybody had synesthesia like Nacho Alarcon.

Nacho Alarcon (via Musicateur)
Nacho Alarcon (via Musicateur)

One day in class, he and his peers were preparing to sing a song. His teacher played a note on the piano for the children’s reference.

“I noticed that she played the wrong note and called her on it,” Alarcon said. “She asked me how I knew it was the wrong note, and I described how the different notes both sounded and looked different to me. We talked after class, where she told me that she doesn’t have any colors associated with pitch and that she’d never met anyone before me who had.”

Synesthesia is having a sensation other than the stimulated sense, as defined by Merriam-Webster. Alarcon describes his color-tone synesthesia as an “involuntary cross-wiring of the senses” and “a multi-level experience.”

He said the wind even has a color, the tone depending on the wind’s speed.

Like his teacher, he’s never met anyone with this type of synesthesia, but he’s heard stories.

“I know it’s been rumored that Jimi Hendrix had sound-color synesthesia and that’s part of why he was so good,” he said. “Also at the same time, he was usually not sober.”

RELATED: How Jimi Hendrix Wrote “Little Wing” In 145 Seconds

For Alarcon, listening to music can be an amazing experience. Concerts, for example, are extra stimulating.

“It’s a lot of color,” he said. “When I was a kid, I never liked it. Either because I thought the colors didn’t mesh well, or because I was just distracted musically by people coughing and seeing color … being like, ‘Stop! There’s stuff going on.’ But now I’m just sort of used to it and it’s cool.”

As psychedelic as this sounds, he said it can also make everyday tasks more difficult, like driving. Imagine the tone of the engine, the turn signals, and other cars driving by. Each one would cause colors to fly into Alarcon’s view.

Why does this happen?

Nacho Alarcon (via Musicateur)

He talked about the possibility of genetic inheritance, but he said he doesn’t know of any family member with any type of synesthesia.

RELATED: Did We All Used To Have Synesthesia?

He also said it might be related to a childhood accident. When he was three years old, a rock shot from a lawnmower and hit his right eye, blinding him.

“Since I can remember, essentially, I’ve been visually impaired. So I’m blind in my right eye. And so (my synesthesia) could possibly, I guess, be trauma related.”

Whatever the case, he knows music on a different level than the average music lover because of his synesthesia.

“It heightens the experience,” he said. “It’s just a good thing.”


Originally posted on Musicateur