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July 12, 2005

Master Drummer Keith Copeland

Written by
cindy mcleod

Jazz music has provided me the opportunity to meet and develop loving friendships that I might never have had otherwise. Meeting drum master Keith Copeland at the Banff Centre’s Jazz Program many moons ago is a case in point.

Keith Copeland, who’s discography totals well over a hundred recordings, was born in New York and grew up in the arms of jazz, his father being the famous trumpeter Ray Copeland, probably best known for his work with Thelonius Monk (listen to his solo on Round Midnight for the quintessential Ray!). Being steeped in the tradition from birth, Keith has gone on to become a highly regarded professor of jazz percussion and is in great demand as a performer and studio musician.

I remember sitting in on one of Keith’s workshops many years ago, and being struck by the fact that every second word as he instructed his students was ‘love’. Love of music, of spirit, of life, love is something this master inspires in all who know him. He is the epitome of benevolence when presented with a passionate student, and unlike many teachers, once his students have found their wings, he is still there for them after they become full blown artists. On more than one occasion Keith has paid tuition, housing, or transportation costs for his students, and in my case, not only gave of himself to my recording, but used his airmiles to come to Canada for the project. I could write a book about this man as an artist, as a friend, and as an extraordinary example of human spirit.

Whether a student or not, Keith is a mentor to many, listening to him play is worth a lifetime’s lessons in jazz. Knowing the man is another lifetime of lessons in heart. Early this spring Keith had a massive stroke, something that would have ended the life of the average human, but true to form he’s back at the drumset, having beat all odds to make a complete recovery. He’s been told by the medical community that he’s a walking miracle, but for those of us lucky enough to know him, we are not surprised that his will to live and play jazz superceded a brush with death.

Keith Copeland and Cindy McLeod
Keith and Cindy in the studio
*Cindy McLeod photo

I had the honour of recording my latest CD Conversation With Love with this great man, and I will be eternally grateful for this rare gift. His performance on the recording is brilliant, I learned more that one day in the studio than I could learn in a lifetime of schooling. Yet it’s Keith ongoing support and encouragement that are perhaps the greater gift, for he continues to prod me to forge ahead, setting a powerful example in his remarkable recovery and his continuing illumination as a jazz master.

We plan to record again in late fall of this year, this time in Europe where Keith has lived since 1992, but I would fly to the ends of the earth to work with my dear friend again! www.keithcopeland.com

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