"When I went into Berklee (School of Music), I never thought I'd join a rock band," Will Calhoun drawls over the phone en route to a recording session he's producing in New York City.
For the millions who have headbanged to Calhoun's vicious kick-start to Living Colour's late-'80s megahit "Cult Of Personality," it may seem strange that one of the most decorated hard rock drummers of all time has a full time gig as a globetrotting Jazz bandleader. It may seem stranger still that he's leading a quartet this Saturday under the stars at Pinecrest Gardens -- less than a month after rocking out with Living Colour at the Culture Room to a capacity crowd.
"If Living Colour was a Reggae band, it wouldn't be that way." Calhoun agrees. But because we were a 'black rock' band, it stuck. When you do something in an industry, that's what you are known for. If you become famous for that, it becomes your modicum. People are unaware that I spent a lot of time at (legendary jazz club) the Village Vanguard when I was younger. I experienced that and said: 'I want to be an artist.'"
Calhoun cites legendary jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette as the inspiration to go all in as a jazz artist. "When I first hooked up with Jack, he told me that people needed to know."
Calhoun's 2013 album, Life In This World is a 13-cut trip that fully shows Calhoun's musical personality. "Brother Will" the opening track manages to swing and funk it up simultaneously. "Afrique Kan'e" is a showcase for the polyrhythmic research Calhoun picked up on his pilgrimages to study with Master Drummer DouDou Ndaiye Rose, the 85-year old patriarch of one of West Africa's most famous musical dynasties.
"He has 36 children, all drummers." Calhoun enthuses. "It's not time as we think of it. It's traditional original time. It goes back to all the way to when 'Lucy' walked the earth. It's like a brand new musical language to me."
Armed with something old and something borrowed, Calhoun is able to hit his spots and combine his wide musical palette into that rarest of all things in 2015: something new.
"It's really easy to keep doing the same thing," he testifies. "I don't want to swing in a dinner jacket. I need to keep the art moving forward. Art has to move forward. We possess it and it moves on. You can't take it with you."
KCC Presents the Will Calhoun Quartet at the South Motors Jazz Series, 8 p.m., Saturday, March 14, at Pinecrest Gardens, 11000 SW Red Rd., Pinecrest. Tickets are $25 to $30, $15 for students with promo code "COOL." Call 877-496 -8499, or visit pinecrestgardens.org.