Karl Schwonik
Award Winning Drummer

“Giving back should be a priority for people who are in a position to do it. If you can, you should. I have received amazing support and I want to give that to others. I love to do it."
                                                          - Karl Schwonik


Alberta born, award-winning drummer, Karl Schwonik, grew up on a farm near Gwynne, Alberta, where he was exposed to countless musical situations ranging from polka to jazz.  Today, he has performed with from rural fields of Alberta,  to the stages of Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center.

Schwonik was born with achromatopsia, a stable condition, but one which left him with profound loss of color vision, reduced visual acuity and severe aversion to bright light. Schwonik has not let these visual problems limit the expression of his talent, rapidly reaching the upper level of his profession.



“I can’t drive, which is a major disadvantage in Calgary, Simple things like walking up stairs can be extremely difficult due to my lack of depth perception.…People say to me, it must suck not to see color. I'm thinkin, I've never seen it. So I don't know.'"
                                                                - Karl Schwonik

Schwonik first learned to play he violin, but by this early teens, he had left the violin behind in favor of the drums. This decision did not go over well with his parents, who made him pay for his own private lessons. Which he did. While he felt the drums were more exciting, his vision also played a major role in his change to the drums. His ability to easily see printed music was impaired by his achromatopsia. Schwonik reports that it is difficult to read music respecially sitting away from his eye in a music stand.  He found the drums, and particularly jazz drumming, could be learned with less dependency on reading the music.

“When I switched over to drums it was so great, because you can learn more on drums from listening than reading – which was a big thing for me. I could listen to a rock album and I could learn the drum part and that would really help me. And jazz is the same way. The tradition of jazz is very oral, and as a drummer you’re not necessarily expected to read music. That’s a great thing about being in this genre.”

                                                                 - Karl Schwonik

He uses computer equipped with special screen enlargement software to help him read, write and use the Internet, but sometimes had trouble with school work in music requiring him to read sheet music.

“It’s a constant struggle for me, Sometimes I have to work many more hours than my peers do, because when they hand out an assignment with examples, I can’t read them. It takes me a long time and it can be really tiring too.”

                                                               - Karl Schwonik

Fresh out of high school, Schwonik embarked on a tour with 2-time Canadian Country Music Award Nominee Heather-Dawn. This was followed by an invitation to study at the Banff Centre where Schwonik was the youngest artist ever to be a part of the long-term career residency program. Recently Schwonik graduated  from Montreal's McGill University with a music degree, and he just released a debut album with his quartet on Chronograph Records.

The Calgary Jazz Association reported Schwonik “…one of Canada's youngest, hardest working and most creative musicians..."  Peter Hum of the Ottawa Citizen called Schwonik "...one of Canada’s 3 up and coming drummers…”

Schwonik’s 29-day, 2010 ‘Visions From the Farm’ tour, his 5th of Canada as a leader, was in support of his newly released recording by the same name. ‘Visions from the Farm’ appears on Chronograph Records in Calgary and has debuted to rave reviews across the country. The title of the recording is a play on words, combining Schwonik’s rural upbringing and his visual impairment. Each song is programmatic. For example, ‘Motorhomes/Green Line’ is a commentary on his journey from the simple lifestyle of the farm to the bustling metropolis of Montreal.

In 2009 alone, Schwonik was featured nationally on CBC Radio 2 as a part of a the series ‘NEXT: Canada’s Music Future’, was featured nationally on CBC’s ‘Canada Live!’ and was the winner of the VSA Arts International Young Soloist Award, where the prize was a cash award and a performance at the famed Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. Schwonik was also named one of Calgary’s ‘Top 40 Under 40’ for 2009 by Avenue magazine. He is the youngest person ever to be given this honour.

Schwonik’s professional work and initiatives have been generously supported by: The Canada Council for the Arts, The Alberta Foundation for the Arts, the Anne Burrows Music Foundation, the Royal Bank of Canada and Downbeat Magazine among many others. In addition to this support Schwonik: received the 2008 Queen’s Jubilee Award for Excellence in the Arts; received the Richard Cowie Scholarship for Young Jazz Musicians; performed at Carnegie Hall and The Kennedy Center; was named ‘Alternate Drumset’ for the Henry Mancini Institute; and has received numerous scholarships to attend music workshops across North America.

Schwonik is the President and Founder of the Wetaskiwin Jazz Society in Wetaskiwin, AB, and Artistic Director of the Wetaskiwin Jazz Camp.

"I grew up on a farm in a small community where everyone knew each other and everyone attended the high school concerts. I needed to find a way to give back”

                                                                     - Karl Schwonik 



Karl continues to rack up awards. He has recently received three major awards.


Downbeat Magazine Composition Award

AFM (American Federation of Musicians) International Diversity Award

Alberta's Emerging Artist Award, Lieutenant Governor of Alberta


Schwonik’s performing credits include: Dave Douglas, Chucho Valdes, Dave Liebman, Sonny Fortune, David Braid, Jens Lindemann, P.J. Perry, Tommy Banks, Hugh Fraser, Remi Bolduc and many others. In addition Schwonik has been featured in over 100 newspapers and magazines throughout North America.

Schwonik uses Yamaha drums and Hardware, Vic Firth sticks, Remo heads, and Paiste, Zildjian and Sabian cymbals.

Visit Karl Schwonik's website here.