Like many musicians, Black Hills native Tad Britton displayed his talents early in life. In fact, one title for his autobiography could be, "From Spoons to Snare Drums: The Journey of Jazz Drummer Tad Britton."
As a toddler growing up in Sturgis, Britton's "daycare center" was his grandmother's house, where she would set pots and pans and a couple wooden spoons on the floor for the young boy to blissfully bang upon for hours on end.
"It was the earliest indication I was probably destined to be a drummer," he said.
By age 10 Britton had graduated from pots and pans to furniture, pounding with silverware on the kitchen table, for example.
Soon after that, his parents bought him his first drum set.
"I think my parents figured that before all the furniture got ruined, they had to get me something," he said.
Giving a 10-year-old boy a drum set can be a risky move: "My parents may have regretted that decision shortly thereafter," he acknowledged with a laugh. "But everything worked out okay."
Although his interests first lay in rock, Britton was exposed at an early age to other genres as well. His oldest brother, Mike, was a jazz aficionado, bringing home records by George Benson and Ella Fitzgerald.
"Because I looked up to my older brother, I was curious enough to give it a shot myself," Britton said.
But when he attempted ? using his experience in rock 'n' roll drumming ? to play along with his brother's records, Britton found it extremely difficult.
That only deepened his curiosity, and soon, the teen was collecting jazz records and cranking up the stereo to play along.
And a jazz drummer was born.
While he loved the Black Hills, as he grew older Britton realized there were few opportunities to perform. Playing for a time at Durty Nellie's in Deadwood's Franklin Hotel, Britton recorded some music and sent it to Bianca's, a jazz club in Oklahoma City, where his brother Mike then lived.
They liked what they heard, and for the next seven years, Britton played in the house band at Bianca's, meeting bassist Jeff Johnson, who would become a longtime collaborator.
In 1989 Johnson moved to Seattle. Britton soon followed, and has lived there since, quite happily. "Seattle and the surrounding cities are very rich musically ? in art in general," he said.
Britton likens Seattle's jazz community to a small town.
"There could be a million people in the city, but 100 or 200 in the jazz community," he explained. "After a number of years, you get to know everybody, the way you would get to know everybody in a small town."
But Britton still refers to the Black Hills as home.
"When you grow up in a place, it always has an enduring influence on you," he said.
In fact, his latest CD, released on Origin Arts Records, a Seattle-based label focused on jazz artists from the Northwest, is titled "Black Hills."
Britton, Johnson and pianist Marc Seales came together last fall to record "Black Hills" at Studio Litho.
"We approached it as if we were going to perform at a club or concert someplace," Britton said. "We showed up at the studio, basically looked at each other and said, ?What do you want to play?' Whatever we felt like, we played."
"I knew when I got Marc Seales and Jeff Johnson to do the recording that I could just rely on their expertise without really giving a lot of direction," he said, pointing out the close connection he and Johnson have formed over their nearly 25 years of collaboration.
"We have gained so much trust for each other's playing over all these years that we pretty much know what the other one is going to do," he said.
The smooth, instrumental album includes two originals ? the lyrical, atmospheric "Dark Kiss" by bassist Jeff Johnson, and Britton's complex drum solo titled "Red Drum."
The other songs are standards, familiar melodies or well-known composers that were influential to band members, classics such as "Fire & Rain," "Ring of Fire" and "Time Remembered." The recordings are low-key and intimate, some of the most interesting and complex music I've heard in a long time.
"Black Hills" was released July 17 and is available at various record stores and downloading sites, as well as at www.origin-records.com.
That Origin Arts Records Web site offers an unusually short ? and just plain unusual, for that matter ? bio for Tad Britton. It's only four sentences long, and one of those four is, "I can turn invisible."
Invisible or not, he's an artist to watch.