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Jeff Ballard

Jeff Ballard grew up in Santa Cruz, California. He recalls when he was a child laying in bed listening to the music his father would play every weekend: Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Louie Armstrong, Sergio Mendez, Oscar Peterson, Milton Nascimento; how he loved the sound and the speed of Ed Thigpen’s brushes on the snare. “I remember feeling the power of a Basie big band shout chorus which would then suddenly disappear into some quiet dancing riff. It was the swing in it, which excited me the most. I also remember how it felt traveling thru sounds of the jungle in a Milton Nascimento record. The drums, percussion, and voice, would sound as if they either came from the earth or were made of water. And I was so happy to hear the joy of Ella and Louie singing and playing together. I think that that early exposure has made me part of what I am today, especially in regards to my love for sound.”

In a community college he studied music theory and played in a big band as well as started working in small groups that played music for all kinds of occasions. He realized then that there are ways to play the drums, which are particular for each occasion. Each genre has requirements with needs to be met. “A big band needs a propelling and simple drive, more supportive, for the ensemble to sit in. Brazilian drumming needs that driving bass drum with an insistent yet light dancing quality with the hands. Reggae asks for a sophisticated groove comparable to that of swing. Afro Cuban music I can compare to boxing: something like sparring with an opponent. I think the challenge is in the search for finding the music’s particular needs. The joy is in the discovery.” During this time, while living in and playing around San Francisco, he became absorbed with ‘modern’ jazz. “ Hearing Tony Williams play with Miles completely changed the way I played drums. Hearing John Coltrane and Elvin Jones, and listening to Ornette Coleman’s music changed my whole world. It was like coming home.”

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