GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — For percussionist Kevin Jones, jazz is more than a genre.

“It’s not just music to me,” he said. “It’s a way of life, it’s a culture.”

It’s also an important part of Black history. He says modern day drumming can be traced back to times of slavery.

Kevin Jones pictured as percussionist with Whitney Houston Band in 1986. (Courtesy kevinjonespercussion.com)

“Historically, this drum was used as communication,” Jones said. “When we play this rhythm, we’re going this way or that way. It’s information.”

He said slaves used drum signals to organize a revolt in 1793, and drumming was outlawed as a result.

Following a storied career sharing a stage with jazz icons like the Isley Brothers and Whitney Houston, Jones has found his second act in as an educator and curator in West Michigan.

In addition to teaching percussion at Michigan State University, he assists in the dance departments at Western Michigan University and Grand Valley State University. He’s also heads up education as a board member for the West Michigan Jazz Society. 

When he’s not teaching, Jones is the artistic director at GRNoir in Grand Rapids, booking musicians for standalone performances or jam sessions.  

“It’s the crux of jazz,” Jones said about jam sessions. “Getting three or four or five people on stage and picking a topic and you converse with each other … through the music.”

Through his many roles in the community, Jones is determined to keep the music alive. 

He says although jazz is born out of the narratives and struggles of Black people, it’s for everyone to experience and enjoy.

“Jazz is the greatest form of democracy because everybody has to say, everybody has a chance,” Jones said.