Clubland: Jo Sallins is Springfield’s ambidextrous, adventurous ‘one-man fusion hurricane’

  • Jo Sallins Photo by Bill Curran

Thursday, March 29, 2018

At the end of one of Jo Sallins’ promotional videos, the Springfield-based multi-instrumentalist thanks those who’ve taught and inspired him, and it’s a list that includes local musicians (drummer Billy Arnold, percussionist Tony Vacca), legendary jazz masters (keyboardist Chick Corea), Deepak Chopra and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

The list also includes martial artist and actor Bruce Lee, who Sallins credits with teaching him “discipline,” and Sallins definitely puts a fiery focus and dedication into his musical work.

A typical musician might release a new album; Sallins just released a CD (“War Or Peace”) and a DVD (“2M3 Live”) on the same day — March 26, his birthday, which he spent practicing and rehearsing. 

The now-59-year-old Sallins celebrates his new audio and video collections with two live performances at the Scibelli Hall Theater on the campus of Springfield Technical Community College on Thursday, April 5, at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. Both events are free and open to the public. 

Sallins plays drums, bass, keyboard, percussion and other instruments. But as seen on his DVD “2M3” (which stands for Two Man Trio), he can play bass and piano at the same time. And not easy nursery rhyme tunes, but serious jazz fusion — mind-bending contrapuntal stuff. Sallins explained last week that his advanced-level ambidexterity came about not as a way to show off, but as a matter of necessity.

“I was preparing for a festival in New Jersey, and I auditioned piano players but was not happy. So I decided to switch roles and audition bass players — still not happy,” he said. His drummer suggested he try to play both instruments at once. “The rest is history.”

On 2M3’s cover of Chick Corea’s “Got a Match,” Sallins is a one-man fusion hurricane, hammering chords on the bass fretboard with his left hand as his right flits all over the keyboard, until suddenly his left hand also lets loose with a wild walking melody up and down the bass. As both hands fly across different instruments, Sallins casually shoots a look over to his drummer. No sweat.

Sallins’ detailed website shows his early progress in the music world, and it’s easy to feel the excitement while reading the timeline. At age ten, he got to be the opening act for a Kool & the Gang concert, doing a solo drum performance. He opened for the band again at age twelve with his first group, The Desatations, who also warmed up crowds for other soul stars of the day like The Delfonics and The Main Ingredient.

But taking jazz drum lessons with Valley master Billy Arnold at age 14 was an important step — Sallins says Arnold taught him about drums and “life.”

“The greatest lesson I learned from him was to be on time,” Sallins said. “Bill once picked me up for a gig and I came downstairs 10 minutes late. He kindly said, ‘That happens again, we are done.’ I was never late again and we went on to play and travel together for the next four years!”

Beyond the life lessons, Arnold helped open up Sallins’ musical world, too.

“I grew up listening to and playing only R&B, soul and funk. One day, Billy told me to go home and listen to the album ‘Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy’ by Return To Forever,” Sallins said, remembering the impact of hearing musicians like keyboardist Chick Corea and electric bassist Stanley Clarke. “I was blown away! Seeing them for the first time on TV during the Downbeat Awards, I saw how cool they looked playing and I decided I want to play like them, look cool like them, and meet them.” (Which, years later, he did.)

Sallins started teaching, too, figuring out how to communicate his process to musicians-in-training. He says he realized, “When I teach, I am simultaneously learning. Once your student masters the information and begins to create their own techniques, you become their student.”

The disciplined musician has also put out his own records for decades. “When you don’t have the Big Business Machine behind you, you must improvise. After making countless mistakes — or what I call opportunities to improve — I figured out a few important things,” Sallins said. “Bartering works, character counts and make sure you deliver on your word. I’ve had business and musical relationships with the same people for 30-plus years now, and I am constantly meeting and forging new relationships. I have been making mistakes professionally as a musician for 50 years, and I say that proudly!”

As of today, Ken Maiuri will write Clubland on a biweekly basis.