There’s some kind of informal debate when it comes to music — what’s the upside of knowing how to play many musical instruments versus the upside of being a master of one? Then again, you can take the debate right out of it and just focus on the positive: It’s all upside.
That’s State College native Jason Adams’ approach. He has a degree in vocal performance from Penn State, but he doesn’t simply consider himself a vocalist. He’s a tried and true multi-instrumentalist.
“I sang in every choir, musical and opera on stage through middle and high school,” Adams said. “Along the way, I also played in every band — marching band, jazz band and orchestra — starting with trombone and tuba. Now I can play and compose with more than 15 instruments.”
Adams takes his eclectic resume and turns it into gigs at Centre County mainstays like Good Intent Cider and Big Spring Spirits. His gigs feature all kinds of different styles that keep listeners on their toes, and he steadily works on original music, which he unveils when he has the right ensemble.
“For about a decade now I’ve been focusing on songwriting with guitar and bringing in my vast classical and choral understanding to create my style,” Adams said. “My songs often have more than eight chords and are a bluesy, folk rock with structures that are always changing.”
Indeed, Adams’ overall approach is to expand existing forms. He may start with a bluesy, folk rock feel but it’s just an initial framework.
“As I write a song,” Adams said, “I’m constantly asking, ‘how can I make this one different’ and ‘what would I usually do?’ Then, I do the opposite.”
Along with working the low-supply gig circuit like all the rest of us here in Centre County, Adams keeps his hooks in the local scene by working as the manager of Music Mart, one of the four music stores in Centre County. It’s a great position because we have so few music stores in the area, and it’s a way to stay connected with musicians and help people who are exploring the musical medium.
“I teach private music lessons in guitar, voice, ukulele, piano, theory and more,” Adams said. “I’m also the manager at the Music Mart six days a week, helping local musicians with new gear, accessories and maintenance/ repairs.”
Adams has big plans for the future, whether it be here in State College or in some other area. He’s not talking duo, trio, four-piece or anything on the leaner side either — he’s talking something big.
“I hope to be traveling for performance more in the coming years,” Adams said. “Beyond Centre County I already play in Philly, Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio, when visiting friends. I’ll build a band to tour with my music, a slow and steady task, as my songs are charted and precise and the realization of these songs requires 12 or more people.”
Ambitions, day job and accomplishments aside, Adams has the heart of a musician, which is evident when discussing his experience as a performer. It’s all about what’s happening in the center, in the pocket ... when he’s dropped into the moment.
“It’s the tingly feeling at the top of my head, or goose bumps at a particular moment in a song,” Adams said. “It’s the universal language. It’s about giving people something they didn’t know they needed, and taking them on a journey. Every perceivable mistake is one to learn from or lean into because it wasn’t a mistake, it was perfect in its own way.”
Kevin Briggs is a musician, writer and teacher who performs at venues throughout central Pennsylvania. Contact him at KevinTBriggs@gmail.com.