Darren leads both electric and acoustic jazz ensembles based in NYC.
A fixture on the New York jazz and music scenes since the 1990s, Darren Lyons is a versatile drummer, bandleader, producer and composer. His most rewarding recordings to date are Evil Genius by his electric band and Three Trios, which features his subtle playing in acoustic piano trios. There will certainly be much more to come.
Born in Jersey City, New Jersey, Darren grew up in Rochester, New York. He remembers, "I was four years old when, after I was banging on pots and pans, my mother got me drum lessons. My father was a big Motown fan who had a lot of r&b-oriented soundtracks around the house. I also listened to progressive rock bands like Yes and Genesis when I was growing up. But when I heard Billy Cobham/George Duke's Live In Europe in 1972, that album changed my life. That was my introduction to fusion, and through that, jazz."
Darren studied with many different teachers including Jim Carrucci (the flutist in the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra), Artt Frank, Jim Chapin, Mike DiPasqua and Joe Custasis. "Adam Nussbaum was a fantastic teacher for brushwork. Peter Erskine was great for execution and fundamentals, and sitting with Elvin Jones was quite an education. He had a massive vinyl collection, introducing me to many types of music."
Darren earned an economics degree from Columbia University. After having a variety of day jobs while studying with various teachers and playing music at night, "I realized that I probably didn't want to work on Wall Street. It was eye-opening being in New York at that time. I remember that I went to 7th Avenue South, the Brecker Brothers club, and asked for a job. They hired me on the spot to be a dishwasher. It was a very good move because it allowed me to see both the business and musical sides of the music business up close, and that is how I met all of the cats who were in New York."
The young drummer freelanced around the New York/New Jersey area with various bands and did a handful of gigs over a six-month period with Kilimanjaro, a top fusion band out of Vermont. "That was a fantastic experience on so many levels." He had opportunities to sit in with Bireli Lagrene and Victor Bailey, did a lot of pick-up jazz gigs with talented local musicians in New York City, and worked in Albany with pianist Lee Shaw,
In 1996, Darren started his own band to enter a contest, the Disc Makers Independent Music World Series. The Darren Lyons Group won and appeared on a compilation CD. After winning again the following year, Darren organized the band as a fulltime outfit. In 2003 they recorded their Evil Genius CD, playing high-quality instrumental electric jazz/rock fusion. The recording teams the drummer with guitarist-composer Chad McLoughlin, both Mark Adamy and David Starck on keyboards, electric bassist Skip Ward and, on four of the eight selections, percussionist Manolo Badrena. Producer David Sancious joins the group playing keyboards on "Clean." The music is funky with Darren adding rhythmic excitement rather than choosing to be showcased as a soloist. With its catchy themes, tight ensembles and infectious rhythms, Evil Genius is an excellent showcase for the band.
The Darren Lyons Group, which has been in existence for over two decades, has had many highpoints through the years. They performed at the JVC Festival, the Bell Atlantic Festival, with Adam Holzman at NYC's Sullivan Hall in NYC, and at five shows at the Blue Note on bills with John Scofield, the Yellowjackets, Mike Stern/Eric Johnson, the Brecker Brothers Reunion Band, and Bill Evans' Soul Grass. They also performed at the Knitting Factory, Texaco's "What Is Jazz" Festival, and Jazz At Lincoln Center, and did the theme music for a children's cartoon series in Brazil and for the Buddy System (the first computer animated 3-D cartoon for HDTV).
Not wanting to be typecast as just a fusion drummer, Darren Lyons organized an acoustic project that resulted in the Three Trios CD. Featuring either Carlton Holmes, Jeremy Manasia or Lou Rainone on piano with bassist Paul Beaudry and Darren's drums, the standards set is filled with swinging straight ahead jazz. Among its highlights are enjoyable versions of "Boplicity," Joe Henderson's "Mamacita," "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye," and Billy Strayhorn's "Raincheck." Quite typically, Darren's saw his role as to support the soloists and keep the music swinging; he succeeds admirably.
Also in his career, Darren Lyons has produced two CDs by Kramer Daniels, performed with the rock group The Devas (playing before 70,000 people at a concert in Poland), and recorded with Urban Soul, Vince Martell and Randy Holden. He has also worked with percussionist Manolo Badrena in an experimental duo called Armed & Dangerous that utilizes drums, percussion, voice, guitar, electronic drums, a laptop, and a screen that shows various images.
Upcoming for Darren is a Wes Montgomery tribute album. "I'm a drummer who is drawn towards compositions rather than wanting to constantly solo. Wes Montgomery compositions have all of the grease one would want, from the B3 trios to his work with Wynton Kelly. I hope to have the CD coming out next year." — Scott Yanow 2019
Modern Drum Shop and Gretsch acoustic drums, Zildjian cymbals, Korg Wavedrum, LP congas and exotic percussion