Three life changing moments from behind the kit

As with anything we embark on in life, we do so in hopes to evoke an emotion. Something real, something that instills an honest sense that we are alive and present in the moment. Without these experiences, we wouldn’t understand the complexities of what makes each of unique and in turn we would never get to recognize why they are so important to helping us grow as individuals.

For me, music has given me the opportunity to experience a broad spectrum of emotions, from joy and elation to sadness and outright resentment, and in turn I’ve been able to appreciate just how important being a musician is to understanding myself.

I chose three moments in my life to briefly write about that I feel illustrate this point.

Starting with perhaps one of the most difficult moments in my life, an event that not only re-focused my outlook, but also re-shaped my future. I was diagnosed with cancer at age 25, a point in my life when I should have been focused on starting a career and enjoying my early adult years, but instead I was stuck dealing with the traumatic aspects of dealing with cancer. I was just starting to come into my own with music at the time, making a name for myself on a regional level, playing with some great bands, and all of a sudden, I was questioning whether I could even play drums anymore. One of the hardest and sobering moments came when I was forced to ask a friend to play my drums parts on an album that I was recording at the time. It was at that point that I was so overcome with fear, anxiety, sadness and frustration that I couldn’t even pull myself to get behind the kit anymore… A couple months later, when I was starting to heal from the surgery, I decided to give it a go again, and it was one of those redefining moments that will always be a part of me. Up to that point I was so gripped by anxiety, but as I started playing, my muscles started to relax. My brain was distracted enough to allow me to focus on what I was doing, and the longer I played the longer I felt a rush of relief from what I was currently going through. I realized at that moment, playing drums was far greater than a hobby, it was a therapy, and it was going to be the focal part of my life from then on, and to this day, I still play the drums not because I want to, but because I have to.

The second moment came two years ago on February 17th and March 13th, two dates that I’ll never forget, but before I can dive further in to those days, I would like to go back even further to around 1990. One of the keys to success in my opinion are to set goals for yourself, some that are attainable, some that are more difficult and then some that shoot for the moon. Without goals, motivation tends to waiver and ambition fades away. Back in 1990 when I was 10 years old, I got my first drumset. A beat up, old Ludwig in black with cracked Zildjian Cymbals, and they quickly became my most prized possessions. I would cut out pictures from magazines of my favorite drummers who also used Ludwig drums and Zildjian Cymbals, because it made me feel like we were are all in this exclusive club together … Fast forward about 25 years to February 17th and March 13th 2015, it was on those days that my childhood dreams came true, when I got to officially join those exclusive clubs that I wanted to be in so badly and signed endorsement contracts with Ludwig Drums and Zildjian Cymbals. To say I was proud would be the severest of understatements, and it made me realize, you can achieve those goals, as long as your don’t assign a time frame to them and stay hungry and driven.

The third and final moment and perhaps the experience that sums up this whole article most perfectly came on December 8, 2016 when I was named “Session Musician of the Year 2016” by the Boston Music Awards. While it may not be the biggest or most coveted award out there, it came with a much more personal meaning to me, more so than any international award I hope to win. Being from Boston, growing up here, learning music here, cutting my teeth in the scene here, giving my blood, sweat and tears to this city in order to grow my career is something I cant even begin to explain in a few short paragraphs. But winning that award, to be recognized by my peers and the city that I adore so much is as humbling an experience as I’ve ever known. Pride and elation left me emotionally speechless when I heard my name called in a sold out House of Blues. A moment I will remember and relive over and over, and it is with great excitement that again this year I am honored to announce I have been nominated again for this same award.

These three moments are just a few of many that have helped define me as a person and a player and have in turn given me the tools to grow both in confidence, humility, and appreciation.

If you would like to vote for me for “2017 Session Musician of the Year” you can do so here:

For more on Jonathan Ulman including live shows and session info visit:

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