Bakersfield musician hopes for big break
The drum cases arranged neatly around the home of Jarred Pope could easily be mistaken for furniture.
Always within reach, they hold essential tools of his trade: snares, toms, pedals, hardware and an endless supply of drum sticks. They go wherever he goes and when you’re as in demand as Pope is, the next gig is always just a downbeat away.
“I promise I’m not a drum hoarder,” said Pope, 40, guiding me through a short walkway from the front door to the living room. “I’ve got some packing to do.”
But not just for another gig. A few minutes into our interview he shared some surprising news: He’s packing his bags, bound for a new home in Nashville next week.
That should come as no surprise, given his career aspirations and talent. Pope’s been a familiar local name for years, especially among active musicians who’ve sought his talents for every job imaginable. Plus, he’s logged many miles touring on the country music circuit, backing major label acts stateside and overseas.
Above: Jarred Pope. Photo by Shelby Mack, 2012
It’s a lifestyle he’s become accustomed to, having beaten a path lately between California and Nashville, where jobs for musicians are plentiful if you have the right connections. Now, he said, it’s time to go to where the music is.
“In this business, they wanna know you’re ready to go anytime they need you in the city they’re hiring you in. They’re not thinking about hiring someone from California to try and pull it off.”
Muppets drum kit
Pope got his first drum kit at age 6 from his parents, Rosemary Del Rio and John Pope. The sounds of Motown and classic rock were always on the stereo at the family’s Santa Maria home.
“It was a ‘Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem’ Muppets kit. I loved it. I beat that thing until it fell apart, then I started using pots and pans. My mom was cool with it until I started breaking all the wooden spoons in the house. I think they thought maybe I’d grow out of it, but they would have me perform for their friends so it couldn’t have been that bad.”
Despite his parents’ eventual divorce, the pair were united in nurturing Pope’s creative interests. He recalls one Christmas morning when his father presented him with a new student model drum kit along with a copy of Kiss’ “Hotter Than Hell” on vinyl.
“I’ll never forget that Christmas. I cranked that record all the time, and my dad created an environment for me to play whenever I wanted to.”
Eager to play for local parties, Pope formed his first rock bands, Saurus and Dismal Void, while learning to read drum charts. When he was 15, he and his father settled in Bakersfield. Pope’s first question once he enrolled at West High School as a junior: “Where’s the band room?”
“I didn’t know anything about marching band, I only knew drum kit. That’s what I wanted to do.”
‘He just wowed me’
Former West High music director Mike Bhone, who was teaching at the school at the time of Pope’s arrival, recalled their first meeting during one of his jazz band classes.
“He kind of walked in an introduced himself and asked, ‘Do you mind if I just listen?’ Afterwards he came over and we chatted, and he played a couple charts for me. I asked what kind of music he listened to. He goes, ‘You ever heard of Chick Corea?’ He was listening to the right stuff. From that point on, he just wowed me. We had other drummers who were great. But it was great for a band director to come across someone like Jarred, who had the right idea so young.”
Above: Jarred Pope. Photo by Shelby Mack, 2012
Bhone told Pope the only way the student could continue in the jazz program was if he also took part in the marching band. At the time, West’s band was one of the best around.
“One season, we didn’t have enough players to cover all the bass drum parts, so I came up with this idea to build a setup for all the drums to be played by one person,” Bhone recalled. “I put Jarred in the pit and he played all of them himself. If you watched him, it was like he was playing a drum kit made of bass drums.”
‘When Paul called, I dropped the phone’
Saxophonist Paul Perez, who met Pope during his visits to West High for music tutoring, said Pope’s drumming was a rare find.
“It was apparent he was leaps and bounds above just an average high school player. He even looked and played like (drummer) Dave Weckl at that time, when Chick Corea’s band was all the rage.”
Over at CSUB, Perez, a student at the time, had assembled a jazz group called Sneakers, a who’s who of the best musicians of the the late 1980s: bassist Dave Glenn, vocalist Keith Hall, keyboardist Jaime Sevilla, late Bakersfield guitarist Tim Cartwright and drummer John Snider. After Snider left, Perez hit up Pope to fill the coveted spot. Soon after, the group was recording and collecting accolades and awards at the annual Pacific Coast Collegiate Jazz Festival.+
“When Paul called me, I dropped the phone. The CSUB jazz music program was the hottest thing going on. All the good players were there,” Pope said. “Things just snowballed for me.”
Doug Davis, CSUB professor of jazz studies, recalled Pope’s immediate impact.
“What I remember is a young drummer completely on fire to learn. His willingness to work was just outstanding. My hope for him was to keep the road as open as possible so he could keep learning. There was quite a long jazz period that he was represented. The Street Players band came after Sneakers, and his involvement with other groups. That was just more creativity. He was in the mix and ready for it.”
The offers began streaming in from that point on, opportunities born of Pope’s desire to stay open to all types of drumming: jazz fusion, alternative rock, ska, country, Latin and beyond.
“There was a reason I spent so much time practicing and still do. It’s always been important for me to study and listen to what’s going on out there, and still reaching back to the basics for exercises. People must think I sit around listening to jazz fusion records, but I don’t. Most of what I listen to has nothing to do with being a drummer.”
Pope’s extensive resume covers a myriad of genres and musical occupations. He’s toured, recordied and performed with singer/actress Julianne Hough, singer/songwriter Crosby Loggins, Americana duo Hanna–McEuen, Mento Buru, the Smokin’ Armadillos, Monty Byrom, Mother Funk Conspiracy, and country act Whiskey Falls, which took Pope on their European/Japan tour in 2008. He also has appearanced on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” the “Grand Ole Opry,” and been featured in Drum! magazine.
“You have to be selfless and be able to create for the artist hiring you. Be able to step out of your comfort zone, and step up when it’s your time. I’ve been lucky to play with some great players,” Pope said.
As for the drummer’s absence from Bakersfield, Perez said Pope will leave a void. But the timing couldn’t be better.
“(Jazz legend) Ernie Watts told us, ‘If you’re genuine and sincere in your presentation and you’re undeniably good at what you do, there’s a place waiting for you. The problem is having patience to wait for that moment.’ I think Jarred is at that point,” Perez said. “Now he’s going to a place where he can shine.”
Bhone, who performed with Pope and Perez for a private show on Saturday is confident success will continue to follow.
“Jarred is warm and humble, but he’s confident, that’s an attribute that carries people along in life. His timing is amazing, and he’s a groove-oriented drummer. Everyone that I know that’s played with Jarred knows that. I’m really proud of him.”
Pope, who will make the move without his family, said he will miss his three children, Shaylan, Savannah and Alex. But because of them and his friends here, Bakersfield will always be home.
“If I had never moved here, I wouldn’t be near the player I am today.”
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Also printed in the 8-9-12 issue of The Bakersfield Californian