Drum line members of the Muskegon High School Marching Band warm up
prior to the start of the varsity football game between Muskegon and
Macomb Dakota at Hackley Stadium at Muskegon High School on August 25,
2011. (Muskegon Chronicle/Greg Lindstrom)
MUSKEGON — After a decade, local musician Winford Lee Morrisey Jr.
again faces what seemed his destiny when he began his final year at
Muskegon High School in 2001.
Morrisey recently won a $16,000 prize package — the top award in cymbal maker Avedis Zildjian's national online Drummer Love
"Lee" Morrisey, 26, of Muskegon, opens the new drum kit he received as
part of a $16,000 prize package from the Zildjian cymbal maker contest.
all-star panel of judges watched drum solo videos submitted by more
than 1,500 contestants and selected two finalists from each of six
regions nationwide. Morrisey ran away with the Midwest North title. He
received just under 60 percent of the vote.
ability is absolutely incredible. It’s easy to see why he was chosen,”
Goldschmidt, manager of digital media for Zildjian.
“Personally, I think he was in the most competitive region, in terms of
Goldschmidt visited Muskegon one recent rainy
summer day to personally deliver the prize package which included a
complete set of cymbals — the first set of new ones Morrisey has ever
Traveling with Goldschmidt was rock photographer Robert
Downs, in Muskegon for a daylong photo shoot for a “DRUM!” magazine
feature on Morrisey scheduled for its December issue.
the barbershop when Goldschmidt and Downs arrived to meet him, Morrisey
was greeted by a 3-foot-high stack of cardboard boxes piled in the
center of his mother’s living room, all stamped with the distinctive
Although it was far too hot and muggy to be
mistaken for Christmastime, there was more than a hint of boyish
excitement in Morrisey’s manner as he began to methodically unwrap his
played the drums in his church for a recent photo shoot with Los
Angeles photographer Robert Downs, right, who was using a red-gel flash
for a special effect.
was clear from the moment, at age 3, that he began banging on his
mother’s pots and pans on the kitchen floor that Morrisey was going to
be a drummer.
“He’s been a drum lover forever,” said his mother,
Muskegon Housing Commission Executive Director Yvonne Morrisey. “He’s
always had a passion for music. He spent hours on end every day
From the start, Morrisey’s father, the late Rev.
Winford Morrisey, played a pivotal role in his development as a man and
as a musician.
Young Morrisey’s infatuation, however, did not cut much ice with his father.
dad was a southern guy. He was really hardcore. He didn’t believe in
buying things for you because you said you wanted them. He wanted to see
if you were serious,” Morrisey said.
His father watched without comment as Morrisey practiced for hours on the homemade drum set he’d cobbled together.
“When he saw I was serious, he said ‘I’ll make the investment and buy you some drums.’”
animated Los Angeles photographer, Robert Downs, poses for a photo for
Zildjian after Downs was finished taking photos of Morrisey.
progressed quickly, playing in church when he was only 10. By the time,
as an eighth-grader, he met former Muskegon High band director John
Hill, his talent was undeniable.
“I could see that he had talent
and he definitely had some aptitude,” Hill remembers. “I could just tell
he was passionate, interested and focused.”
Morrisey credits Hill with reinforcing the work ethic his father had already instilled in him.
Hill really took me under his wing. He taught me the ropes and took me
up to the high school to play as an eighth-grader,” Morrisey remembers.
Hill accepted a job offer at a school in Holly, he said one of his
biggest regrets was not being able to watch Morrisey grow.
grow he did. He was the top drummer for Muskegon High’s premier jazz
band as a freshman, rivaling the prior accomplishments of legendary Big
Red drummer Derico Watson (who went on to perform with such A-listers as
James Brown, Spyro Gyra, and Earth, Wind and Fire).
all-state honors as a sophomore and was later named top musician
overall at the prestigious Western Invitational Jazz Festival at Western
There seemed few limits on the outgoing and
likeable Morrisey’s future after high school, said Jim Lawrence, Hill’s
successor at MHS. “He could have gone a number of directions: pursued
scholarships on a collegiate level, landed a position with a large
church or pursued the contemporary music scene professionally.”
he winced when Morrisey announced he was going out for the football
team, Lawrence gave his blessing, with just one caveat: “I told him,
‘Just make sure to insure your hands. Those hands are golden,’ I told
During the fall of Morrisey’s senior year, Lawrence noticed
a shadow clouding Morrisey’s normally sunny disposition. He did not go
out for football and was talking about giving up music. His father was
gravely ill and Morrisey began working full time.
“You could see
the change come over him,” said Lawrence. “Lee (the name Morrisey used
in school) had been a big kid until then, carefree and happy-go-lucky.
Suddenly, with his father’s illness, he became much more serious about
things and about being there for his family.”
Family replaced music as the focus of Morrisey’s life. The loss of his father was devastating.
was my guide. He would keep me mellow. Any kid can make mistakes, but
you need your father there to keep you cool,” Morrisey says.
his father as his sounding board, Morrisey felt unprepared to face the
challenges and temptations he’d face away from home.
“I felt that
if I went off to school I would start partying or maybe take drugs. I
ended up going to Muskegon Community College,” Morrisey says.
on providing emotional support for his grieving family, Morrisey’s
studies suffered and he lost his financial aid for school.
“I needed to learn to cope by myself,” he said.
Three years later, Morrisey’s resolve was tested once more.
I pulled my glove off, Dude! I almost passed out. I screamed like a
girl. The first thing I thought was: ‘I can’t play the drums anymore!’”
Two of his fingers were broken and a third was nearly severed.
was early 2005. The snowblower Morrisey was using to clear the driveway
at his mother’s house had come to a dead stop. As he cleared the heavy
mix of slush and snow wedged solidly around the auger, the seemingly
stalled machine suddenly roared back to life, smashing Morrisey’ gloved
left hand with stunning force.
Emergency surgery saved all his fingers and extensive rehab restored his ability to play the drums.
this day, I can’t move my fingers the way I’m supposed to, but I can
drum and do what I have to do with them,” Morrisey said.
Winford "Lee" Morrisey, 26, of Muskegon, plays
the drums inside Great Lakes Kingdom Ministry where he attends church,
during a photo shoot on July 27, 2011. The photo shoot by Los Angeles
photographer Robert Downs, was for Morrisey winning Zildjian's
first-ever Drummer Love contest in which drummers across the United
States competed in six regions. Nearly 1,500 video submissions were
judged by world-renowned drummers and Morrisey was voted the
Midwest-North Region winner. Downs and Digital Media Manager of
Zildjian, Craig Goldschmidt, came to Muskegon on July 27, 2011 to do a
photo shoot for a feature in DRUM! Magazine and to deliver the
merchandise he won.
pursued music part time in the years that followed, but was focused
full time on his job as an assistant manager at a discount retail store
in Grand Rapids.
His life, it seemed, had turned down a more
conventional path. Soon he had a son and later he sold his drum kit to
help the boy’s mother finish college.
“We broke up and I was just left with nothing,” he says. “I prayed to God that he would restore everything to me.”
Morrisey was at a low point when he decided to quit his job in 2008.
“I gave it up because I felt like God told me I had greater things in store,” he said.
Back on beat
credits Apostle Rodney Savage and Muskegon's Great Lakes Kingdom
Ministry with helping to guide and support him through the tough
Now, three years later, it seems Morrisey has made the right choices.
he’s studying architecture at Andrews University in Berrien Springs.
But he has a tempting offer on the table to follow his first love once
more. He’s been touring with gospel singer/songwriter Justin Davis.
has offered me a place to stay in Atlanta. I could study at the Atlanta
Institute of Music and Justin has some contacts with recording studios
there,” Morrisey says.
It would mean leaving Muskegon and spending far less time with his 3-year-old son, Adan Lee Morrisey.
love my son and I don’t get to see him as much as I want. I keep a
picture near my bed and it’s crazy because he looks exactly like me and
is starting to do the things I used to do,” Morrisey says.
He recently bought Adan his first drum kit.
Right now, it’s still up in the air whether he’ll stay in Muskegon or move to Atlanta.
“He definitely has the ability to make a living as a musician,” said Goldschmidt.
has the same tremendous work ethic that Derico has,” said Lawrence.
“The thing Derico was able to do was to meet a number of people in the
professional arena and doors opened. I hope the same thing will happen
By Dave LeMieux | Muskegon Chronicle published December 13, 2009
Jamii Szmadzinski, who still has family in Muskegon, decided at a young age that it was time to move on.TAIWAN — Even after the winter monsoon clears, fog still shrouds the mountains near the tiny apartment in Taiwan that musician and composer Jamii Szmadzinski shares with his wife, Christina Kao.
“We’re outside Taipei, close to the River Bitan,” the Muskegon native said in a recent phone interview.
Although development is encroaching on nearby Sunrise National Park, cranes still rise from the river in scenes that mirror ancient Chinese block prints.
“We didn’t know it would be so attractive (to developers) when we moved here,” Szmadzinski said. “We’re right on the mountainside, but it’s only 15 minutes to Taipei by car.” Szmadzinski sat for this photo for The Muskegon Chronicle in 1994. He was in town for a concert at the Frauenthal.
Although he says he’s a country boy at heart, Szmadzinski, 55, needs to be near the second most congested city in the world in order to pursue his still-hectic music career.
Earlier this month, the Universal Peace Federation named Szmadzinski, now a well-established figure on the Asian music scene, as an Ambassador for Peace. Szmadzinski says the federation, which has ties to the Unification Church, has offered to send him on a world concert tour.
In the late 1970s, long before Szmadzinski was famous, now Mona Shores music teacher Rod Schaub recognized the mercurial Szmadzinski’s rare talents.
“He was a child genius,” said Schaub. Schaub, a music student in Boston at the time, became a mentor for the teenage Szmadzinski.
“I’ve never heard him play out of tune and his technique is just phenomenal. He was just born to play the violin and, of course, he works really hard at it,” Schaub said.
Certain at 16 that music was his future, Szmadzinski left home.
“He refused to stay in Muskegon,” Schaub said. “He kept running away and coming to Boston.”
For Szmadzinski, dropping out of high school, moving to Boston and taking private music lessons proved to be the right move, Schaub said.
Szmadzinski not only wrote and recorded music for the series, he acted in it as well.
Szmadzinski returned to Los Angeles when work on the series was finished, but he didn’t stay in the U.S. long. Within six months he’d sold his house in the states and moved to Taiwan. He and Kao were married on Dec. 12, 2007.
Szmadzinski said he’s enjoying his life in Asia. “I’m just back from the Shanghai Film Festival and my wife and I are involved in a TV project called ‘The Lost Temple,’ he said.
“A lot of people are opening doors now. China and Taiwan are shaking hands,” Szmadzinski said.
Hollywood and Bollywood are both eager for a share of the huge entertainment market in China, Szmadzinski said.
On the border between East and West, Szmadzinski appears to be the right man, in the right place, at the right time.
When asked to think about the above statement made Smith became silent. Was it because he didn't need another assignment due to his juggling football and drum major duties or because his brain was thinking back to those days at Grace adventures in late August?
Many Big Red Band students had sectional practices, weekly color guard and percussion rehearsals throughout the summer. Drum majors begin their own preparation by studying musical scores, recordings,vocal commands and conducting techniques. But the official band camp adventure begins early in August when most students and teachers were still enjoying the last few weeks of summer. The students and directors of the Big Red Marching Band begin their preseason rehearsals with "two a day" practices known as pre-band camp week. After this intensive week, the students, directors, camp nurse, auxiliary staff, and chaperones pack up their equipment and head to Grace Adventures Youth Camp in Mears, MI for an even more intensive experience lasting four nights in five days.
Three students in particular have a very important role in the success of the Big Red Band. They are the drum majors, who are the student leaders of the group. Nate Smith (senior), Elijah Curry (Junior) and Molly Christopherson (Junior) returning drum majors for the 2009 Big Red Marching Band. They help teach the new band members, push the returning members to be better, and keep the focus of all the students during rehearsals. They also organize freshmen/senior buddies, they protect the traditions that make the Big Red Band strong, they conduct, they march, they drive... in short they lead!
"Yes, being a drum major is demanding at times, but it not only helps the band get better, it helps us become stronger leaders," says Elijah Curry. Molly Christopherson adds, "Band Camp takes dedication, determination, discipline, trust, heart and respect. I really do care about this program and realize how 'big' it is. I believe if I show that, others will pick him on my attitude. I want the other members to respect the band like I do." Nate Smith says, "I feel like the drum major is sort of the 'poster child' for the band. If I am positive and respectful, then the other members will follow my leadership. I can see why the directors get so frustrated. It takes a lot of patience and determination to be a drum major, but the satisfaction at the end of a successful season makes it all worthwhile."
The drum majors see band camp as an opportunity for all band members to be focused without the distractions of school and home. Elijah Curry said, "I believe that we accomplish much more while at band camp because we see people as they really are. We see the good, the bad, and everything in between. But, we still make it work." Molly Christopherson agrees and says, "We actually get stuff done. Band Camp takes you away from your other problems, you get lost in the music." However all of them believe the most important goal of band camp is for the members to bond together and become a family. "You have no choice but to become family because you are with each other 24/7." Nate Smith became quiet again. He looked up and said, "I do a lot of things, but I need this band. It's just part of who I am."