Local trumpeter Mark Rapp, one of the true scene leaders for jazz in Columbia, has mountains of praise for Danny Boozer. “He’s a precious soul with a big heart and can play the #$%! out of the drums.”
In 2013, Boozer saw his music nearly taken from him. He was shot in the leg, rendering him incapable for months of the footwork necessary for his craft. But even then, he never thought he wouldn’t be back behind a kit.“I just believed that I was blessed,” he says. “God just took care of me. I wasn’t worried. He put a lot of good people in place to make this happen.”
Coming out of one of the lowest points of his career and soon to turn 65, Boozer is appreciative of the peaks he’s reached. Among those he counts playing and traveling with is Claude Rhea — a Savannah-born keyboardist who got behind the ivories with The Temptations and Otis Redding among other notables, and is thought by many to have been the first black musician to play at the South Carolina State House in 1979. Also high on Boozer’s list is drumming with Ravi Coltrane, son of John, as well as Ralph Ellison.
Growing up in a military family, his love for jazz came from listening to the music at parties of his parents and their friends.
“I was always beating on things as a child,” Boozer recalls. “I couldn’t afford drum sticks so when I got older I started taking acorn tree sticks making them drumsticks and taking coffee cans and inner tubes and stretching them over and that’d be the drums.”
He graduated from tin cans to a full kit soon enough. By high school, he was traveling the state as the stickman for a group called the Soul Aces with the Job Man Caravan, a South Carolina ETV show hosted by the one of the state’s most prominent broadcasters, Bill Terrell.
In 1967, Boozer, then 15, grabbed a chance to get into the jazz world where he’d always wanted to be. Skipp Pearson, longtime improvisational sax veteran in Columbia, gave Boozer the call up. He became a mentor to the young kid who started off banging on coffee cans.
Boozer was already paying back what Skipp taught him by offering lessons to would be drummers before he graduated grade school. Decades later, he’s still teaching new up-and-comers.
Cameron Gardner, drummer for the Sub Pop-certified indie rock act Washed Out and a go-to touring and session musician for a number of other groups, was one such student.
“One of the biggest things he taught me was how each piece of a drum kit has it’s own voice and you need to make them sing together,” Gardner says. “He could make a single idea or phrase fresh every time he played it.”
Daniel Crider is another of Boozer’s proteges. He plays in the Charleston-based rock band Dead 27s, whose recent debut, Ghost are Calling Out, hit the Billboard’s South Atlantic Heatseeker chart at No. 9.
“Boozer taught me music is a conversation,” Crider offers. “Talk with the others, but more importantly, listen to the others.”
“I was going through a rough time personally and Danny was there to listen,” he continues, speaking to Boozer’s influence away from music. “He offered words of wisdom and encouragement that kept me going.”
With music, like life, Boozer knows you never stop learning.
“The thing about jazz is it’s a free form of improvisation,” he says. “There’s so much to jazz and no limit as far as creativity is concerned.”