The esteemed drummer and poet hope to inspire community conversations
Esteemed Columbus-born musician Cedric Easton began playing drums as a child, but can't pinpoint the exact moment he picked up the sticks.
“They tell me I was 4 or something like that,” said Easton, who now lives in New York and works as the education outreach coordinator at Jazz at Lincoln Center. He can recall his mother entering him in regional competitions a few years later. He won his first at 8 years old.
Although Easton didn't own a drum set until he was 18, he received plenty of practice playing at the Mount Zion Church of God in Christ and the New Jerusalem Church of God in Christ, where his dad served as pastor. A more serious study of jazz followed when Easton attended the Fort Hayes Arts and Academic High School. After graduation, he performed throughout the city and abroad in locales such as Lima, Peru, and with well-known musicians such as pianist Bobby Floyd and jazz violinist Christian Howes.
Easton said his “pivotal music moment” was working with musician Hamilton Hardin at New Covenant Believers' Church, where Easton eventually became worship arts director.
Though Easton's talent has taken him to the East Coast, he still has a passion for his hometown. “I love Columbus,” he said. The drummer will invest in the community with an annual event, “Come Together: Concerts & Conversations,” the first edition of which takes place Thursday, July 6 at the United Methodist Church and Community Development for All People.
The program, a collaboration with Howes, will feature three sections of music performed by Howes' Creative Strings Workshop and Easton's Circle of Friends band, as well as poetry by Barbara Fant and an audience Q&A segment.
“You'll hear fiddle music [and] you'll hear free jazz or avant-garde played by the string players. And then they're also gonna do a classical piece,” Easton explained. Circle of Friends will play a combination of soul music, original pieces and “straight-ahead jazz,” he said.
Both ensembles will come together for a finale featuring compositions by Easton and Howe.
“We're just trying to musically express diversity, different angles and really to display one community but a diverse community,” Easton said.
Although the music alone would be powerful enough to move the audience, Easton decided an additional element was important.
“Sometimes people need words,” he said. “If you want to guide people … you give them something they can understand, and we all can understand words.”
He enlisted the Columbus-based Fant to write a poem for each section. “She's good,” Easton said of the poet, whom he met about a decade ago at an open-mic event. “There's more than the surface [in her poetry]. It's a spiritual undertone that's strong, and we need that.”
Fant's dedication to spirituality runs deep; the Youngstown native moved to Columbus to study English literature and language arts and then earned a master's degree in theological studies.
“My plan when going into seminary was to become a prison chaplain because I did a lot of artwork in prisons,” said Fant, who originally intended to obtain a divinity degree. “I didn't go through ordination, but I was licensed at a non-denominational church for about two years and so I preached regularly for a while. Then life took another course and I left that church and so now it's just poetry.”
Since then, Fant has achieved a prominence of her own in the city. She published a collection of poetry with Penmanship Books, performed as part of TEDx Columbus and recently placed in the top 10 at the 2017 Women of the World Poetry Slam in Dallas. She is also one of the featured artists in the Greater Columbus Arts Council's Art Makes Columbus campaign.
Having collaborated with Easton over the years, Fant didn't hesitate to get involved with “Come Together.”
“Everybody might not connect with everything, but everybody can connect with something,” she said.
Audience members will have the opportunity to engage by writing down questions which will be randomly drawn from a bucket and answered by the performers. “That will give us an opportunity to prepare for the following year because we'll see what people are interested in,” Easton said. He also mentioned the format might include speakers instead of the Q&A going forward.
Easton also hopes to eventually host the event at the Lincoln Theatre, a fitting location considering his jazz training in Columbus. “This neighborhood, this community — this is where we would like to be,” he said.
“I hope it's transcendent,” Easton said of the debut event. “I just believe in the transformative power of art and its ability to raise a person's consciousness.”