As a kid, Jonathan Pinson often found himself next to the drummer for the church.
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His mother and stepfather—both active in the church choir—would plop him there during practice. It’s where they could keep an eye on him.
“Naturally, I was easily gravitating toward the drums because they were right there. It was the most present thing I had access to,” says Pinson, now an accomplished drummer and percussionist who performs internationally. “Music is healing to people.
“I got a view of that as a child — that music can be not only a source of fun but also a spiritual source and a healing source,” he adds. “That I received that foundation as a young child in Los Angeles—it was really grounding in how I enjoy making and teaching music.”
Now Pinson has brought his passion back to CalArts, where he participated in a summer program as a teenager. This fall, he joined The Herb Alpert School of Music as faculty focused on jazz drums. He teaches two ensembles.
“CalArts wants me to provide experience and relevance, because I’m still touring with really great musicians,” says Pinson, whose recent performances include the Angel City Jazz Festival in Los Angeles and the Zig Zag Jazz Club in Berlin. “I can share that experience with students. They have shared that they’re inspired by the people I play with.”
His own training started early, about the time he was in middle school, when his mother took him to jam sessions. Pinson had a vision: He could make music a career.
He soon enrolled in the Colburn School of Performing Arts. Learning the history of jazz as early as age 11, he says, helped set him up to become a music educator. He finds joy in stirring others to become passionate about music, too.
“I’m always a student. And because I have that mindset, I’ve always been optimistic about learning more about myself from the musical experience,” Pinson explains. “You can approach musical lessons in a critical, negative way, or you can go about it as a very healing, eye-opening experience. I’ve always enjoyed growing, learning about people.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Pinson was among seven musicians chosen for the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance at the University of California, Los Angeles. There he earned a master’s of music, going on to tour and perform with such notables as Ambrose Akinmusire, John Clayton, Dave Liebman, Ed Siimon and Kamasi Washington.
His performances have included the Tokyo Jazz Festival; International Jazz Day in Istanbul, Turkey; and the Panama Jazz Festival.
At CalArts, he says, “I always felt spiritually that I had some unfinished business.” Playing on the road helps inform his teaching, which he casts as a chance to lift up and grow with his students.
“We all do music for different reasons,” Pinson says. “I want to shelter that and encourage the path that the students want to follow—to encourage music and make it a positive.”
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