Under the glow of purple stage lights in Baldwin Auditorium, Jeremy Jones ‘02 is giving a drum lesson from his perch behind a sparkling silver drum set.
As a videographer clamps a GoPro camera near Jones’ drum pedal, he jokes with her, saying, “You can sound really cool if you say, ‘Can I get some of that kick drum?’ ”
The videographer accepts the challenge, and Jones delivers, letting his drumsticks fly and crash against the drumhead, his brown ponytail bouncing to the beat. Over the next few minutes, he weaves together a string of rhythms with his sticks, moving easily from a swing jazz beat to hip-hop to bossa nova and back again.
Such impromptu musical journeys are just Jones’ style. The Seattle native plays in a jazz trio called The Teaching and was a featured drummer on Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ 2014 Grammy-winning rap album The Heist.
In November, Jones joined several dozen fellow alumni musicians, artists, and media professionals on campus for Duke Entertainment Media and the Arts Network (DEMAN) weekend. The annual event draws diverse alumni who work in creative fields into conversation with students through workshops and networking.
Jones encouraged students to nurture their artistic passions at Duke and also to seek a balanced lifestyle, something he felt stressed about as a student.
He remembers taking a master class with Winard Harper, telling the renowned jazz drummer that while Jones wanted to be a professional drummer more than anything, he didn’t think he was good enough.
“No, you can do it,” Harper told him. “You’ve got the talent. It’s all about having the love.”
Still, other paths seemed safer. A double-major in music and computer science, Jones— along with friend Stefan Negritoiu ‘02—built Duke’s first internal social media platform. Called MyDuke.com, the site featured e-mail, weather, and a textbook exchange. The two friends operated it out of Negritoiu’s dorm room. Soon Microsoft was calling.
“I figured if I take that job, I can get a house, I can start paying off my loans, I can get a car, I can get the best drum set,” Jones says. “And then I can leave in a few years.”
Jones worked as a software engineer at Microsoft’s headquarters outside of Seattle for more than four years, often spending his desk-bound days thumping his foot on a bass drum pedal beneath his desk. He bought a house and built a soundproof practice room in his garage. He practiced yoga, searching for deeper meaning and peace in life.
“I could feel within myself a shift of the type of lifestyle I wanted to have,” he says. “Instead of thinking, ‘I need the Microsoft salary in order to be safe,’ it was like, ‘I have a wealth of resources within myself… I can leave, and I’m still going to exist and be fine.’ ”
So he saved money for six months, and in the fall of 2006, he put in his notice at Microsoft. Shortly after, Jones’ trio recorded its first album. Then, a musician who often played with the trio introduced the group to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, who were at work on what would become their breakthrough album. The duo wanted a jazz sound on the album, and The Teaching ended up recording an instrumental titled “BomBom” that made the final cut.
The next stop was at the Grammys in 2014, where The Heist won best rap album and was nominated for Album of the Year. As featured artists on the album, The Teaching walked the red carpet and watched the show live. Being in the midst of musicians who had invested so much in their music was rewarding, Jones says.
“All of these great musicians... they’re people walking around in bodies just like us and just have excelled in their music,” Jones says. “Being in the same space with them felt really good.” And he knew then that Winard Harper had been right: that it was all about the love. He just had to listen for its beat.