As a student at Tewksbury Memorial High School, Dylan Jack submerged himself in the extreme music known as death metal. He spent his paychecks on CDs by bands such as Morbid Angel and Cannibal Corpse, and pored over magazines with names like Terrorizer while refining his chops as a hard rock musician.
One day, his grandfather asked him if he had heard of Gene Krupa. Jack was unfamiliar with the thunderous, hard-swinging drummer, so his grandfather showed him footage of the man who was as heavy and intense as any in the world of metal. Seeing Krupa go to war on his drum kit changed Jack’s life.
Years later, Jack was still cranking out rock music, and the guitarist in his band asked him why he wouldn’t play songs the same way twice. “I don’t want to!” he remembers thinking. “It just hit me. I’m more like a jazz drummer, improvising in everything that I’m playing. And then I thought, OK, that’s what I want to do.”
He went on to major in music at college. In his first year, a professor told him he didn’t have what it took to be a professional musician. Jack walked away in anger. He dropped out and enrolled at Middlesex Community College, earning an associate degree in 2008 before continuing on to the McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Jack graduated in 2011 with a degree in percussion performance and returned home. In 2016, he earned a master’s degree in modern American music from the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Now, Dylan Jack is back in Tewksbury and makes a living behind the drum kit. He is an instructor at music schools in Medford and Waltham, and at Music Elements in Chelmsford. “I love to teach,” says Jack, now 32.
He also performs live, sometimes 80 or 90 times a year. Making it as a live jazz performer can be tough. Jack tells stories of playing in clubs where the crowd is drawn more by the booze than the beats. Fights break out. By the end of the night, his sneakers are sticky with stale beer. The long drive home after such gigs can feel long indeed.
The Dylan Jack Quartet released its first album, “Diagrams,” in 2017, and is currently working on the follow-up. The quartet includes Eric Hofbauer on guitar, Anthony Leva on bass, and Todd Brunel on clarinet and saxophone.
Listen to an alternate version of ‘Geometry’ by the Dylan Jack Quartet from ‘Diagrams.’
Jack wants the next record to capture the raw and immediate aspects of a live performance. “I’ve always wanted drums to sing. I want to hear the bass slap against the wood. I want to hear that attack of the instrument.” It’s as though he’s seeking all the energy, improvisation and freedom of a live set, but without the distraction of whisky-fueled chatter.
He’s also pushing the length of the songs. There’s an extended piece called “The Twelve-Foot Man.” Jack imagines the mysterious figure who inspired the title as a combination of the vampire from F.W. Murnau’s silent classic “Nosferatu,” and Judge Doom from the 1988 film “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” “It is also a really difficult piece of music,” Jack says of the song. “A tall man and a tall task.”
Another composition is called “Gauchais Reaction.” The title refers to an effect in psychology. “You take on another form of somebody. You take on their mannerisms. … So I took a melody and moved everything up a half step following it. The notes chase each other.” In these twin melodies, Jack explains, “The notes are the same, but they’re sharped, and they begin to meld into each other on both the guitar and bass clarinet.”
Another new song is based on an inscription found on an ancient Greek headstone — the epitaph of Seikilos, regarded as the oldest surviving piece of written music. Jack’s version, “The Epitaph,” brings imaginative closure to the record and to the story of the Twelve-Foot Man as he fades into silence.
Jack is drawn to many of the dark themes that stirred his younger imagination. He is open to returning to his own musical roots. “I’ve talked to my bass player about writing heavier music,” Jack says. “In fact, he brought it up yesterday and asked me, ‘Hey, have you ever written some of that heavier stuff?’ And you know, I’ve thought about it.”
However, it would have to be on his terms. “I’m not big on using distortion for this music. I want it to be something with more of a feel of that genre. … But I just love that heavier sound.”
He notes, “I love dark feels and dark vibes. And I’m not a dark person.” These are, after all, contradictions to be resolved in rhythm. Against the tensions between heavy and light, past and future, the infinite beat goes on.