At the age of 27, drummer Worrell McFarlane has amassed a number of impressive musical achievements, including working with Canadian jazz icon Molly Johnson and Grammy Award-winning musician Larnell Lewis. His experiences working with these two incredible musicians are among the highlights of a career on the rise, and the result of a dedication to learning and absorbing as much as possible.
Born in Scarborough and now residing in Brampton, Worrell was surrounded by music growing up. “Music is a huge part of my life,” he said. “My father was musical, and my family was always playing or involved in some sort of music.”
In Grade 9, Worrell became even more involved in music when he was finally able to learn the drums in his high school music class, something he’d wanted since Grade 6. Having access to a music program in high school was a major factor in Worrell’s development as a musician, and is something he believes should be available to all youth. “Music is important,” he told us. “Everyone loves listening to music. It would be great to be able to play it as well.”
Following high school, Worrell turned his academic attention to culinary studies, but never stopped making music. He regularly played at church, and eventually enrolled in the Bachelor of Music degree program at Humber College. Though his program focuses on jazz, he is “looking to learn as many styles as possible,” and is always open to opportunities that will help him grow as a musician.
One such opportunity was the Music Monday Anthem recording session. In early 2019, Worrell was approached by producer, artist representative, and longtime Youth4Music Ambassador Céline Peterson, whom he’d met through Molly Johnson, about playing in audio and video recordings of her dad’s iconic “Hymn to Freedom.” In February of 2019, Worrell found himself at Yamaha Canada Music, for two intensive days of recording and learning alongside peers and pros.
“It was a great experience to record audio and video at the same time,” he said of the session. “That was a first for me.” Beyond learning about the process of recording a music video, this was an opportunity for Worrell to work with some of Canada’s top jazz musicians, and to receive one-on-one instruction from drummer Jim Doxas. Though he’d played with pianist Robi Botos before, he’d never “played with or met any of the other musicians before.”
Working with Doxas, he told us, was a transformational, if challenging, experience. In Worrell’s own words, “Jim is an amazing drummer and musician to work with. His workshop was an interesting lesson on sound and control. It was so well explained and kind of uncomfortable to perform (which is a good thing), but it definitely helped. It has changed the way I approach songs behind the drums.”
Since doing the “Hymn to Freedom” recording, Worrell made his debut with the Kensington Market Jazz Festival, and returned to Humber to continue his degree. He practices and performs as much as he can, though not as frequently as he’d like. “I’m slowly getting more show opportunities, but I’m mostly playing at jam sessions as a form of practice outside of the practice room.” With a commitment and approach to learning like this, it’s no wonder that Worrell has been called upon to play with some of the greats, and we see a bright future in music ahead of him. To keep track of Worrell’s upcoming gigs, and to see all his newest drumming videos, find him on Facebook and Instagram.