Chris Beck Finds Beauty in the Ashes


Drummer Chris Beck’s debut is titled The Journey.

(Photo: Gulnara Khamatova)

Reading the credits of Chris Beck’s debut recording, The Journey (A.W.M.C.), an anomaly catches your eye: Eric Clapton’s hit song “Tears In Heaven.” While Beck grew up singing in gospel choir before switching to the drums, that doesn’t readily explain the inclusion of a rock ballad on a jazz outing, performed by a young Philadelphian and his peers. Speaking with Beck at a Manhattan eatery, this bearlike, gentle giant of a man doesn’t mince words.

“I lost my first-born son in 2015,” Beck said. “The song on the album, ‘Waiting For Aiden,’ that’s named for him.”

Like Clapton, who lost his son at a young age, Beck puts great depth of feeling into his music.

“Aiden drowned at the babysitter’s house,” Beck said. “I was at a gig in Atlantic City when I got the call that my son had been in a terrible [pool] accident. By the time I got home, his body was already stiff. It only takes a second, especially with water and kids. That’s why I named the album The Journey. It symbolizes my life, the things I’ve endured. I grew up seeing a lot of darkness. This is my way of releasing what I’ve been carrying and giving it to the world. It’s about finding beauty in the ashes.”

An old soul at 36, Beck plays entirely for the music. Befitting his teachers Victor Lewis and Michael Carvin (who co-produced The Journey), Beck rejects frivolity for the music’s core values.

“The album is more about showcasing the band and my tunes,” he said. “I didn’t feel the need to play a bunch of stuff on the drums. If someone is interested, they can check me out live. I knew when this album process began that I didn’t want to solo a lot. This is more like a family gathering.”

Beck’s band includes Stacy Dillard on tenor saxophone, Terell Stafford on trumpet, Anthony Wonsey on piano and Eric Wheeler on bass. The group plays an elegant version of Wayne Shorter’s “Mahjong”; Beck’s “Teona” recalls Wayne Shorter’s “Nefertiti.” The drummer’s compositions “Yeshua (His Love),” “Quintessence” and “My Inner Circle” swing with sweet soul.

After developing his skills at the Philadelphia venue Ortlieb’s Jazzhaus, Beck studied at Temple University, and then matriculated to Rutgers University for graduate work. His resume includes time with Rufus Reid, Mulgrew Miller, Charles Fambrough, Nicholas Payton, Tim Warfield, Mark Whitfield, David Murray and Wycliffe Gordon. His drumming is graceful and streamlined, a trademark heard throughout The Journey.

“This was a special project, a very emotional project,” recalled Stafford, one of Beck’s best friends and a former instructor. “I can’t speak to the last truly emotional recording I’ve had, or if I’ve ever had one to this extent, where the whole time I felt a spirit in the room there with us. There was a peacefulness about Chris that I’d never seen before.’

Beck frequently collaborates with Cyrus Chestnut, and he’ll appear on the pianist’s next release. The drummer can also be heard on Oliver Lake Organ Quartet’s What I Heard (Passin’ Thru).

Beck’s advice to drummers fond of rudimental gymnastics?

“Broaden your scope,” he said. “If you want to work and do this for a living, it can’t just be about your chops. It’s got to be about supporting, making the other person sound good.” DB

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September 2023
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