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  • Writer's pictureJAM

Peter Shilliday

How did this evolved artistry of spoons come into your world?

“I was really inspired by the stories my mother told me about my grandfather. Unfortunately, I never got to meet him because he passed before I was born. (Playing) spoons was a way (for me to) connect with my grandfather. From what my mom told me; my grandfather learned to play spoons as a kind of pastime. He was in the Army as World War II was winding down and he was on standby in the Army.

He was also a good card player. He had a collection of fun skills. I was inspired by that. So, he taught my mom and uncle how to play spoons and the piano. I grew up in a folk music community. My mom played the piano, and my dad played the fiddle. That's the kind of context (in which) I learned (to play) spoons. I did a deep dive into spoons.”

What were your dreams growing up? Was it always going to be music?

“Music has always been a very big part of my life. Everyone in my family plays at least one instrument, if not a couple. For me, I was always attracted to jazz. In college, I figured out I really liked that older swing style of music, from 1930 to 1945. I’ve played the piano and theater pipe organ. I play the upright bass. I have done a little bit of classical and jazz (on) all those instruments.”

The Art of Jazz Spoons - The Utensilist’s Touch

“I have been exploring different instruments trying to see what works for me. Then for some reason in college I decided to dive into spoons. It all started with a choir concert where we were doing a folk piece. I figured since I was in the choir already, I should incorporate the spoons into it. The choir director thought it was a great idea. After that show, I thought it was kind of fun, and that I had something. That’s where it all started.”

Has this been done before, what kind of attention do you get from this?

“Playing the spoons has been done before. Abby the Spoons Lady has become an internet sensation. She’s a fantastic performer. There are different folks who have done spoons performance.

When it comes to my path into performance, I like swing and jazz, I am in a unique camp, as far as I know. Spoons players (usually) stick with folk music, I took a little side road into swing, and it's been fascinating! Swing spoons work well in the folk context, that's why it works (so very well in swing).”

Seems like you have a real non-competitive kind of niche.

“It's kind of cool to provide this kind of percussion (in) a small swing group setting. That's when I find (that) the spoons really shine. With one or two other performers, the drums can be too much. There are a lot of fun, unique opportunities in KC where spoons (are) the right tool for the job.”

You are a dancer and a DJ. How do these 3 talents come together for you?

“The dancing came about in college. I found that when I listened to swing (music) I can't not move. I figured I might as well learn how to swing dance. I had to do something with all that movement. (Then,) I became fascinated with tap dancing. I’ve always loved watching Fred Astaire (dance). I incorporated (my) tap moves into my swing dancing. My spoon rhythms are taken from tap dance rhythms. The motion translates well into spoons motions.

It was very easy (for me) to turn those (tap) rhythms into spoons rhythms. The DJ thing simply comes from loving swing music. I find as many swing tunes (as I can) that I think would be fun for people to dance to and then spin them.

I really love the (songs) that are off the beaten path but swing really-hard. I incorporate those tunes into my spoons playing, as well. Each (new) thing helps all of the others. Dancing helps with spoons playing, spoons help with the dancing. I also like to jump around on the piano and bass to get other newer ideas and unique sounds to share with people.”

What do you like best about being a part of the Kansas City jazz scene?

“I love being in a city that has such a rich, deep history of swing. We have this great supportive group of jazz musicians. Especially people like (pianist) Bram Wijnands and (the band) Al A Mode. They really showed me that (my) spoons (playing) was happening. They helped me be a better performer and they taught me about the music business.”

What is it that you like the most about the swing era?

“It is the reason I started (swing) dancing. (Swing music) moves me. I love interacting with the audience and I really love the improvisational communication that happens when playing (in a swing band). I’m going to continue my trajectory, playing spoons, and sharing (that) with everybody. It seems simple, but I find many nuances and ways of playing different sounds with the spoons.

I want to keep adding on to the craziness of it and be a positive influence (as I) learn (more) about the world. I found that with spoons, it's a simple thing that brings joy to everyone.”

by Joe Dimino

The full interview is right here:

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