Corner Brook — Whenever Lloyd Quinton would lift his pinky finger from his drumsticks, his teacher Denny Solo would reprimand him by marking up that undisciplined digit’s fingernail with pink highlighter.
To this day, the Corner Brook native’s pinkies have never left the stick when he’s playing. Neither have the little fingers of Quinton’s own students.
Quinton, 23, began taking drum lessons from the master when he was about 10 years old and is now a Class of 2010 graduate of St. Francis Xavier University’s jazz program, making a living as a jazz drummer based out of Halifax.
He is also one of the many people celebrating the legacy of Solo, who died Sunday at the age of 58 after a valiant fight with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
“Denny was definitely one of the most influential people in my life,” said Quinton, who recently recorded an album with ECMA-nominated jazz musician Jeff Torbert and has his own group called What’s Next Trio.
“The fundamental things that I needed to know in order to get into university, I was studying with Denny when I was 13 or 14. Teachers like that in a place like Corner Brook are pretty few and far between in my mind.”
Guitarist Lew Skinner of The Ducats played with countless drummers in his more than 50-year musical career. He counts Solo as one of the best he’s ever played with.
“He always talked about how good these other (drummers) were,” Skinner said Monday from his home in St. John’s. “I didn’t know why he was talking about these guys because Denny Solo was a super drummer. He should have been in a studio in L.A. somewhere.”
When local musician Louis McDonald wanted to start up a jazz quartet, he knew who he wanted on drums.
“Denny was a jazz freak,” said McDonald, who played in a jazz combo at Solo’s wedding. “He loved talking about jazz and he was a great guy to play it with. I learned a lot from him by just interacting with him.”
While jazz was his love and his forte, McDonald said Solo’s reputation as a consummate performer and teacher was rooted in his ability to adapt to any style of drumming.
“He had chops,” said McDonald. “He had feel and natural ability, but he was also well-schooled and well-practised. He put his time into learning the instrument beyond just playing by ear.”
After his diagnosis, Solo had no qualms about putting his time into raising public awareness about the progressively debilitating disease.
“He never felt sorry for himself,” he said. “As a matter of fact, he was an inspiration for everybody else.,’’ Skinner said.
Denny Jam, a fundraiser held in 2009 to help him seek out alternative treatments that might improve the quality of his life, turned into a fundraiser for the local chapter of the ALS Society in 2010. During that first event, a message was sent to Solo from one of his own heroes, award-winning drummer Terry Clarke.
“Denny is one of the most enthusiastic jazz fans I’ve known,” wrote Clarke, a recipient of the Order of Canada. “He possesses incredible insight into the heart of the music. His love of jazz drumming and music in general is contagious. When he’s in the audience, I am always aware that at least one person knows what I’m trying to do musically.”
The rhythm started by Solo to draw attention to ALS will be sustained with Denny Jam 3, which is set for Oct. 15.
Cheryl Power, the ALS Society’s executive director in Corner Brook, said ALS is often called “the nice man’s disease” and said Solo epitomized that sentiment.
“As he fought his own battle with ALS, he also took awareness of this insidious disease to new heights in our province,” Power said. “He will be missed, remembered and the beat goes on.”
Solo’s funeral will be held at Most Holy Redeemer Cathedral at 10:30 a.m. Thursday.
The Western Star