Beantown Recap: “Who Said Girls Couldn’t Play Drums?”

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Sheila E. on the drums at this year's Berklee Beantown Jazz Festival

This year’s Berklee Beantown Jazz Festival featured a great variety of different musical acts, including trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire’s band, the New York-based Snarky Puppy, and the main act, renowned percussionist Sheila E. Most people know Sheila Escovedo from her time playing with Prince’s band. She grew up in a musical family; her dad, Pete Escovedo, was a percussionist and bandleader, and several other of her family members were involved in the music industry. Aside from Prince, she has toured with many greats over the years, including Marvin Gaye, Herbie Hancock, and the Ringo Starr All-Star band.

Perhaps best known for her time in Prince’s band, Sheila E. is one of the many women, alongside musicians such as Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman, to play an important role in Prince’s long and distinguished career. I have been fortunate to see Prince perform live a few times; the first time was at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark. His drummer at this concert was Cora Coleman-Dunham and Sheila E. was on the timbales. My favorite story about Prince and female musicians is the story of his discovery of bassist Ida Nielsen (she’s from Denmark like me). As the story goes, Prince and his team discovered her through her MySpace page and got in touch with her. She went out to Minneapolis and jammed with Prince for a few hours before being asked if she would be interested in joining his band; she said yes. She has become a huge part of Prince’s new sound in his newest collaboration with guitarist Donna Grantis and drummer Hannah Ford. Another great female artist who was part of his band was guitarist and singer Andy Allo. She has collaborated with several members of Prince’s most recent NPG band (New Power Generation). I will say this: without women in Prince’s band, his music wouldn’t be the same; they are part of his sound.

Sheila E.’s concert at this year’s Beantown Jazz Festival started at 5:00 pm at the Natixis Global Asset Management Stage. Her band consisted of Berklee students who started the show, before Sheila entered the stage to the opener, “Locked Out of Heaven,” by Bruno Mars. Aside from doing covers, she played music from her most recent album, Icon. Towards the end, she played some of her classics, including “A Love Bizarre” and “Glamorous Life.” During “Glamorous Life,” she pulled the Berklee Beantown artistic director and teacher, Terri Lyne Carrington, on stage.

Sheila E. recently released her book The Beat of My Own Drum, in which she talks about her experience through life and how she was sexually abused in her young days. I highly recommend checking out Sheila E.’s career. It was great to see her perform at this year’s Beantown Jazz Festival; she shows such a passion for what she does when she is up on that stage performing. At this concert, she would sit at the drum set, then suddenly get up, pull out a bass, and start singing; of course, she also had her moments playing the timbales. Simply an amazing experience!

Recommended Reading and Listening
Bio of Sheila E.
Stevie Wonder, Marcus Miller, Raphael Saadiq, Sheila E. with members of Earth, Wind & Fire at jam session
Sheila E. on the David Letterman show
Famous solo on “Glamourous Life”
With the Ringo Starr All-Star Band
Sheila E. at Guitar Center
El Rey del Timbal with Tito Puente, Pete Escovedo and Sheila E. 


          February 10, 2018