Danny Coots: Master of Drums, Philosopher of Living5 minute read

After making a living as a musician for 48 of his 61 years and having performed in 101 countries around the world, you’d think Danny Coots would know all there is to know about life and drumming. But he is quick to tell you that he continues to learn and mature as a person and musician. “I love the progression of my life as I age as a human being. I’m curious by nature and am hungry for new ideas and experiences.”

Likeability is one of Danny’s most admirable traits. “I’m a very happy person, and I enjoy what I am doing. I hope I’m following what my family has been taught over several generations on how to live life. Models are important. Find what you love and pursue it. It’s important to be happy and to be part of a valued community. I’m excited to be part of something that is special.”

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– Self-Assessment –

Yet in a moment of reflection, he will tell you he doesn’t feel he has great talent, and he’s not big into self-promotion. “I don’t try to emulate other drummers, although I study everybody. It’s important to have your own voice, and I’m always trying to get better at what I do. If it doesn’t feel good, it’s wrong. I just try to figure out what works best for me and to be the best possible accompanist. People tell me they like what I do.”

Reiterating his outlook on life, he continued, “What I don’t know is far more than what I know. Life is a flow. It’s like sitting on the bank of a river and realizing that as the water flows by, it is never the same. Everything and every day is different. There are no ordinary moments. I try to avoid unpleasantness and focus on those things that are beautiful—the beauty of accomplishment, the beauty of order, no matter what it is.”

– Influence of Parents –

One can see the influence of his parents. His dad was a Unitarian minister who obviously set the moral tone. He once told Danny that “Our bodies serve to take our brains from place to place. It’s a symbol of perseverance.” His mother was a probation officer so Danny knew the consequences if he stepped out of line. Danny recalls that his mother listened to music non-stop which was his introduction to Classic Jazz and Swing.

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A distant uncle was J. Fred Coots (1897-1985) who wrote more than 700 songs for Broadway shows and the movies. He is best known for “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” (introduced on the radio by Eddie Cantor in 1934) along with such tunes as “You Go to My Head,” “Love Letters in the Sand,” “Doin’ the Racoon,” and “Louisiana Fairy Tale.”

Growing up in Upper New York State near the Canadian border, Danny acquired a set of drum sticks at a very early age which he used to beat on a cigar box. At the age of six, he was given a toy drum set from Sears. He took piano lessons for a year, but then got serious about his drumming. At 14, he was taking art and music classes at area colleges and playing in a Dixieland band made up of St. Lawrence University faculty members. Three years later he was teaching as an adjunct faculty member. He graduated from high school in just three years.

He continued his education at St. Lawrence University and the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam. He took a stab at a pre-classical apprentice course that took him to Case Western and Stanford Universities and Florence, Italy, but decided that was not his thing, and he refocused on jazz. He joined the North County Preservation Jazz Band that played clubs and small festivals throughout New York and Ontario, Canada, did summer stock, and worked on Holland-America cruise ships. He trained in Karate for 15 years and after earning his black belt, he ran a martial arts school in Potsdam, New York, for three years.

– Move to Nashville –

By 1995, he was married with two children, and the family decided to move to Nashville. But the marriage wasn’t working, and the couple divorced. It was at this point that he met Louis Brown and Marcus Arnold and joined Mr. Jack Daniel’s Original Silver Cornet Band for the next five and a half years. Along the way, he helped found the Titan Hot Seven.

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Danny met his current wife Kimberly, a special ed teacher, at his children’s school, and the couple were married in 2001. They have a daughter Bella Grace. His children from the previous marriage are Alden, a graduate of Cornell University who now lives in Sweden where he is an Artificial Intelligence specialist in the film industry, and Hannah, who has been a professional dancer and actress since the age of 11. She became disenchanted with Hollywood and is now back in Nashville making up for that part of her life she feels she missed during her teen-age years.

Danny loves to cook, does all the carpentry and wiring around the house, still practices moderate martial arts, and has developed an interest in antiques which he shares with his wife who is an antique dealer.

– Danny Matson –

One trait that says a lot about Danny Coots is his concern for his fellow man. In 2009, Danny met Danny Matson of Columbus, Wisconsin at the San Antonio Ragtime Festival. Over the ensuing four years, the two developed a friendship and affinity based essentially on the fact that they both shared the same first name.

Danny Matson was a retired university professor who had become a dedicated volunteer for the Southern Illinois Easter Seal Society. A non-musician and self-described “ragtime junkie,” he was enamored with early jazz and regularly attended traditional jazz and ragtime events. But in his early 70s, he lost his wife and was beginning to deal with serious health issues, the most significant of which was chronic kidney disease.

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On one occasion, the two Dannys were having lunch in Houston, and a conversation developed over the fact that they are almost exactly the same height and weight and wear the same size clothes. “The similarities are amazing,” Coots said. “Same shirt size, pant length, everything. We could actually trade clothes.

“When he asked about my blood type and heard that we both are B negative, I found myself saying, ‘What can I do to give you a kidney?’ Danny Matson couldn’t believe what he was hearing, but after discussing with their families and doctors, they decided to proceed with the donation process.

– Donates Kidney –

Danny Coots: Master of Drums, Philosopher of Living
Ragtime enthusiast and supporter Danny Matson and percussionist Danny Coots; the second Danny donated a kidney to the first Danny. (American Rag photo)

“I just felt like it was the right thing to do,” Danny Coots said. “My family naturally had some reservations, but they know who I am and what motivates me. Here was a person in need, and I was in a position to help. Even if the operation didn’t work out the way we hoped it would, at least Danny would know there are people who were willing to step up and try to make his life a little bit better.” Matson’s emotional response was, “Danny made it seem right.”

Kimberly Coots drove her husband to Madison from their home in Nashville in early December of 2013 with a set of drums in the back seat so Danny could practice during his recuperation. The procedure took place at the University of Wisconsin Transplant Center. Danny the donor obviously went first, followed immediately by the transplant to Matson by a different surgical team. Danny C’s ever-present sense of humor was evident even during the operation when he asked his surgeon to take a photo of the donated kidney with his iPhone in the few moments it sat outside his body on the table.

The capper to this feel-good story is that Danny Matson, now in his 80s, is currently leading an active life and feeling better than he has in 40 years.

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– Coots-Holland Collaboration –

Playing with a variety of groups in various configurations and in a wide range of settings has Danny on the road 40 to 45 weeks of the year. He is looking forward to visiting Cuba in January 2020, which would be the 102nd country on his worldwide journey. The majority of the time he is paired with pianist Brian Holland, but you’re likely see Andy Reiss, Pat Bergeron, Evan Arntzen, Marc Caparone, Steve Pikal, Sam Rocha, Martin Spitznagel, or Carl Sonny Leyland sharing the stage at various times with the duo.

One advisory to a Coots-Holland appearance warned the audience “to come prepared with seat belts so as to fully enjoy excessive amounts of white-knuckle, adrenaline-charged, exuberant effervescence.” The Coots-Holland Quintet first appeared at the Evergreen Festival in Colorado and by the third set, they had been booked for three other festivals.

Danny has recorded extensively in Nashville, New York and Los Angeles, involving more than 100 recordings, one of which won a GRAMMY in 2005. “Exciting gigs, recordings, jazz cruises, playing with great musicians; that’s what it’s all about” is the way he looks at it. And he practices drumming every day, saying “It’s a real passion!”

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