Kennesaw State music alum a mainstay of famed Count Basie Orchestra

KENNESAW, Ga. | Apr 12, 2023

When he arrived at Kennesaw State University in Fall 2009, Robert Boone Jr. had spent several years playing drums.

More than a decade later, not only is Boone a working musician playing in clubs around Atlanta, but he is also the drummer in the legendary Count Basie Orchestra.

Boone grew up in Augusta in a musical family. His father  was the minister of music at their home church, and Robert and his brother Brandon played drums and bass, respectively, in the church. He chose KSU after a strong audition with John Lawless, director of percussion studies.

Robert Boone Jr.
Robert Boone Jr.

“I just remember that at the audition, professor Lawless made me feel super comfortable,” Boone said. “But he also went over some of the things that I could do better as a percussionist. So I got a chance to experience his teaching style, which involved a lot of positive reinforcement.”

Boone studied with Lawless for his first two years before Lawless told assistant professor of percussion Justin Chesarek about a supremely talented drummer making his way through the program.

“Robert was so accelerated when I met him,” Chesarek said. “He had great timing and tempo and a natural feel on the drums with strong technique to back it up, but he worked really hard, too.”

Throughout his time at KSU, Boone said his professors treated their students like colleagues and collaborators, including hiring students for gigs, which helped them make the switch from student to professional musician. 

“My professors did me a huge favor by hiring me for some gigs that maybe I was a little too young to be on, but it really paid off,” he said. “I learned a lot about being a professional, showing up prepared, wearing the right clothes. Sometimes you learn more on a gig than you do in class.”

After graduating with his bachelor’s in percussion in 2013, Boone enrolled at Florida State University, where he earned his master’s in jazz studies under professor and jazz percussionist Leon Anderson and was the student assistant for professor Scotty Barnhart—also the director of the Count Basie Orchestra. He finished his master’s in 2016.

Months later, Barnhart called and offered the opportunity  to audition for the Count Basie Orchestra. The audition lasted for a month—a week in New York, two weeks in Japan, then another week in Kansas City—before Boone officially took over.

Now Boone has a full passport when he’s on the road and a full schedule when he’s at home.

With the Basie Orchestra, he spends months on the road both abroad and in the U.S. In Atlanta, he teaches jazz percussion at Georgia State University and is an in-demand session drummer, playing gigs several nights a week.

It’s a lifestyle he wouldn’t have any other way and one that he credits KSU with helping him achieve. 

“From becoming a better drummer to learning how to truly be a professional, my classmates and faculty from Kennesaw State pushed me to where I am now,” he said. “This is exactly what I want to do.”

This article originally appeared in the current issue of Kennesaw State Magazine.

– Dave Shelles
Photos by Judith Pishnery

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 45,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit