A Mashup Of Ska & Jazz

Jun 2, 2016

Casey Doremus and The Original Skazz Band

Casey Doremus was a band nerd of sorts.  Growing up in Washington, Illinois, he watched all kinds of bands, and said his heroes were the local drummers and musicians that performed in jazz and marching bands.   But like many a teen, his first experienced was in a rock band.

"It was high school kids putting together something.  A lot of people were into the "Screamo" music at the time. So we had many heavy parts to it like we were almost a metal band."

He said it was during his time at Illinois Central College in Peoria he wanted to put together a band of his own. And he wanted to mash his love of ska with big band music, which evolved into what he named "The Original Skazz Band."

"I enjoy playing jazz, but I'm not from the swing era.  I have a lot of influences including jazz that I enjoy playing.  But for the first time, this was a group where I didn't have a director. I didn't have someone sitting there telling me I couldn't play this ... or couldn't play that."

Doremus said his time at I.C.C. was a great experience, partly because faculty expected students to carry their own weight, and partly because it was his first experience playing with serious musicians.

"My first year there were some incredible drummers who blew me out of the water, and I didn't make jazz band.  That's when I started the band, the summer after my freshman year.  Though I didn't make the band that first year, we had some really good instructors, and I didn't think for a moment think I didn't get a good education."

From I.C.C. Doremus continued his education at Illinois State University.  It was there he said he was "blown away" not just by the quality of musicians his age, but also the quantity of musicians who played at a high level.

"And Tom Marko, the jazz instructor at ISU, I can't thank him enough. I wouldn't be anywhere near the drummer I am today without him."

Doremus said he when he played in elementary and middle school bands, he wished he would have learned about ska and other types of music.

"I had a lot of friends who ended up quitting band.  But once they were in high school and discovered ska music, they wished they hadn't given up the trumpet.  They realized there's real fun music out there they could have played.  You don't see ska in big band.  You're not going to see a lot of those groups who have been around 30 years pulling out a ska chart.  It's not like pep band, it's really happy and energetic music. I just like combining jazz and ska."

Doremus made sure to say that school music directors have a tough job to do, and doesn't place blame on them.

"It's hard to do everything.  But a lot of guys I see out there they just don't know what's out there.  I think if they would at least be introduced to that music, it would inspire some kids to see what they could do."

He said once he discovered ska, it freed him musically.  Doremus said he took a different approach to big band music when he formed "The Original Skazz Band."

"I just got to do what I wanted.  Some of things were probably mistakes or not professional sounding, but it was a learning experience.  And I got to be creative beyond what I was allowed to do at school."

Doremus said leading a 20 piece band certainly has its challenges, but it has gotten easier over time.  He said during his middle school years he learned from the leader of the rock band he played in, and took some of those lessons to his new band.

"When I first started my group, there were a lot of members who just didn't show up and had attitude problems and had to let people go. I weeded out those people who said they just wanted to be in a band. Now I have a lot of real devoted guys who work real hard. It's gotten easier, but it does have its challenges, you have to be psychologist and know what every single person in your band is there for."