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Artist Stories

John Dillard, “Bassist of the Stars”

Headlining next week’s Jazz at Victoria Yards Summer Concert Series will be the John Dillard Group. Bassist John Dillard is described by many as “one of the funkiest”. This 2-time Grammy Award-winning bassist grew up in NY and considers NC his home.

Your Grammy awards are in the gospel category. What compelled you into that genre and how does it inform your other music?

Gospel is my roots. I’m what’s known as a PK – preacher’s kid. My wife is as well. I come from a long line of preachers.

My dad was also a bassist. I gravitated to music early on, and was never boxed in. I grew up in Rochester, New York, and went to school with teachers and kids from all backgrounds, so my musical influences were vast. I was around R&B classics, pop stuff. My first rock band influence was KISS, because my good friend Ray was a rocker. I fell in love with Brazilian and Latin being around my Latino friends.

You’ve been called “bassist of the stars”. What is it like to play alongside so many star musicians?

Many of the artists I’ve worked with I grew up listening to. I feel like that kid in the candy store. Wow! I’m playing with someone I’ve always wanted to work with. But the thing I learned is that I can. We are our own worst critic and own competition, so I don’t even compare myself to other musicians. I just work hard.

Things happened in stages for me. I believe everything happens for a time, space and reason. Hard work, flexibility and luck are all part of that. But I don’t throw things to chance. Understanding how to connect, be in the right place at the right time, you can’t be behind closed doors. In my experiences, I’ve learned how to be professional, to establish relationships.

So, what are some other pivotal realizations you’ve had in your career?

Funny that I was just having this conversation with a younger musician. When we first get into music, we are taught to practice. Hard work is important. After that we are taught backwards. 90% of success is professionalism. At the end of the day, it’s about relationships, being prepared, being professional, and being on time.

A prime example: I played my first professional gig in my 20s with John Key, alongside Kevin Nappa. I moved on, but stayed in touch. Later, he was doing smooth jazz on the road with Stephanie Mills, and brought me into that gig. That led to being her Musical Director for the last few years.

Growing up in New York, but now spending so many years here in Charlotte, how would you compare the music scenes?

Back in that time, Rochester itself was not a music meca, but everything revolved around NYC. The diversity I experienced in New York was amazing.

I moved here 25 years ago. And you can’t recognize anything from that time. The Bank of America Tower was in the beginning stages of going up. Everything has been moving so fast.

Charlotte is my home – bottom line. North and South Carolina has incredible musicians native to the area, not even talking about the ones moving in to make a place they call home. Here in the South, the music meca was Atlanta. We have worked hard for years to bring attention and awareness to Charlotte. I’m really proud to see what’s going on now, the younger musicians, including my son, born and raised here, having grown up knowing each other, now becoming producers and writers. This is one reason I never wanted to leave Charlotte. I always believed at some point we would see that.

How did you keep busy across the past year, and keep your chops on? How does it feel to be back in front of an audience?

As disappointed as I was that my life came to a halt, it allowed me to focus on some things that matter. Number one was my health. I had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes the week I turned 50. It was my diet. But I’m not one of those guys whose gonna yield. That’s not my mindset. I’ll do whatever I can. I’ve lost 35 lbs, cycling with a group. I needed to focus on health and family. I found that positivity in the disappointment.

I’ve been proactive getting back in the saddle, taking a few small gigs to get back into performance shape. At first, we were all sitting back after 2 ½ hours breathing hard like a 100 yard dash. Work is coming in, and we’re excited and ready to serve our community, our artists, and our families.


John Dillard will be playing a mix of R&B, jazz, fusion and soul at jazz at Victoria Yards June 11. His group includes Gena Chambers on vocals, Howard McNair Jr on keys, Quanta Dillard on drums, and more.

From there, keep your eye out for his new single “Push”, being released early this summer. He wrote the song in 2019 not realizing what 2020 would look like, and feels, like everything else, that this music is coming in the right place at the right time.

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