Years back while riding the Metro, riders may have witnessed a woman "practicing drums" on her knees. So caught up was she in her newfound love of percussion that..."I'd miss stops, oh yes," says Highland Square resident and musician Elizabeth Morgan.
The call to beat a drum must have been preordained because Morgan says she went out about 14 years ago to buy a used guitar and ended up with a drum. Way back, Morgan played guitar for a quite a few years but adds she was "never more than adequate." Today, she plays the djembe (JEM bay), a goblet-shaped African drum played with bare hands, fashioned of wood and leather with sisal twine.
Sitting on a front porch during an incredibly windy early fall evening in the Square, the intermittent rain lashes about, creating a feisty backdrop that complements Morgan's own passion for music and the group with whom she plays.
"The band is all A-list players who look after me and nurture the abilities I have," Morgan says. "I am very devoted to drumming. And on a scale of one to 10, this band is a nine to 14."
That band she speaks of and with which she's played for the past 12 years has undergone some name changes along the way, the All Star Jam Band and briefly the Jefferson Rice Project, named after the founder. But as of late, Rice says he content to simply call it the Jam Band. But that could change.
The band, which Morgan describes as a musician's "busman's holiday and having an extremely comprehensive play list," performs mostly jazz and blues, along with some original rock cover songs. A busman's holiday here can be defined as a musician who takes time off from performing but uses that time to practice music instead of taking a rest from it.
Morgan's music introduction goes back to the seventh grade, when she got her first guitar. During her high school years at a Catholic private boarding school in Pennsylvania, she played guitar during some of the masses until her graduation in 1972.
Her music cred includes open-mike, festival circuits, drum circles, and she played with a Celtic duo and did coffee house gigs with a solo guitarist. She employs some unique rituals and props while performing.
"I play on a rug so as not to stray away from my drum, run into my mic or bang into someone else's instruments or cords," says a laughing Morgan. "It's very tricky on stage at times when you have five or up to 11 people!"
Her drums are placed on a stand, because she says she "has to dance, I can't sit." All while barefoot. "I used to play in heels, believe it or not, but broke my foot twice," Morgan recalls. "And I like the tactile contact; it's like I'm one with the drum.
And while literally keeping in step with the music, Morgan also plays gourd shakers encased in deer skin and the tambourine, all of which require "split-second timing."
Rice, who owns the Westside Music Studios in Fairlawn and whom Morgan describes as an "excellent emcee ... and the glue of the band," says Morgan "bills herself as invisible."
"She tends to put in a supporting role, and that's an ability she has that's not always apparent (with other musicians)," Rice adds. "She always adds to it, playing a variety of rhythm."
Morgan, who says she's "an introvert, but nobody believes me," is wearing a silver bracelet engraved with "In The Pocket," which she says is kind of her motto.
"To me it means when everything coalesces," she furthers. "It doesn't happen often, but when it does it's a beautiful place to be and is very healing, nurturing, makes your spirit light."
Music has been therapeutic for Morgan, whose day job is at a pharmacy. Her life, she says, has been "fairly disjointed," and some years back she experienced the loss of someone close and was so devastated that she could no longer drum.
But Rice's band let her stay until she found her way back to drumming.
"The band is the best in the world to me because they are my support, my family," Morgan says. "Music has always been there for me, and I've never given up on it. It's been a necessary constant in my life."
Perhaps Morgan's pet can be as supportive as her band.
"I have a 13-year-old diva cat who gets furious when I play the tambourine at home."
The Jam Band performs the second and fourth Thursdays from 8 p.m. to midnight at Akron's Nashville Nights, a rock and country music venue.