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."
At the age of twenty-five he began playing with Ray Charles. " We toured 8 months straight every year with the band. Although we often played the same songs and arrangements every night, Ray was always able to make us feel as if it was for the very first time. The drum chair was the best seat in the house really. I only had to watch Ray's feet to know where and what he wanted the groove to be. What a great school."
After three years with Ray Charles, Jeff Ballard move to New York City where he found like-minded musicians who were drawing on tradition as well as searching for their own interpretation of playing and expression in music. "Kurt Rosenwinkel, Mark Turner, Brad Mehldau, Avishai Cohen, Guillermo Klein, Larry Grenadier, Ben Allison…and so many others. I started playing music which was of a more personal nature and which drew from an extremely wide palette of influence. I remember, for example, investigating Argentine rhythms and transposing them on to the drumset; or introducing middle-eastern rhythms to my drums. I guess you could say the approach here was in finding the sound equivalent on the drums to something from the original: the dry staccato sound of the dancer's shoes on a hard wooden floor, the ornamental sounds of bells strapped to the wrists of the percussionists, and then synthesizing my own version of what I felt would fit musically into the drums. Then there were investigations in finding my own things with the drums. Playing and recording with all of these musicians have opened up the opportunity for me to explore my infatuation with sound. It is the sound, not the note per se, which touches me the most. "Jeff Ballard has also played and toured with Eddie Harris, Bobby Hutcherson, Buddy Montgomery, Lou Donaldson, Mike Stern, and Danilo Perez. He joined Chick Corea in 1999 and continues to play in his various projects. " I learned so much playing with him during those six years. I encountered thru him a high speed of thought in improvisation and a constant clarity of expression in the music. The chance to play in all kinds of different musical situations like with his sextet Origin or the New Trio or large symphonies brought a heightened awareness of touch to my playing as well. I very rarely used monitors on the gig. It was all about hearing the sound of the instruments themselves on stage."
Currently Jeff Ballard is a member of the Brad Mehldau Trio, Joshua Redman's Elastic Band, performs periodically with Corea, and is a co-leader of Fly, a collective trio with Mark Turner and Larry Grenadier. Fly is a sparse unit with a focused approach in which the lead voice often changes instruments, or simply vanishes into a three-way dialogue. "Interdependence is total. We all wanted to pare down and see what we could do sonically with this type of instrumentation. There is an extra harmonic and sonic space compared to other formations. Changing the traditional roles of our instruments is just one consequence of this. Also it allows us to explore our own compositions." Their latest self entitled record, Fly, and ensuing concerts have won critical acclaim as best of the year 2004.
Drummer and composer Jeff Ballard makes his long overdue, much anticipated debut as a leader with the diverse and wide-ranging Time's Tales. A master of the trio format who anchors the renowned Brad Mehldau trio and is one-third of the inventive collective group FLY with Larry Grenadier and Mark Turner, Ballard here documents his own longstanding trio with guitarist Lionel Loueke and saxophonist Miguel Zenon.
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Jeff Ballard recently arrived in Dublin. Best known as one-third of the all-conquering Brad Mehldau Trio, Ballard has also worked with - Ray Charles and Chick Corea among others. Ballard will on March 6 n Christ Church Cathedral with his band Fairgrounds, featuring Kevin Hays (piano), Lionel Loueke(guitar), and Reid Anderson (electronics). Like so many American musicians, his first experience of jazz education was in his own high-school band.
"It was actually a very nurturing environment," says Ballard. "The director was an old trumpet player from Chicago. He was a very hip guy and he would instil a community feeling in the band. They'd bring in very heavy old-school guys to teach us, and for me the message from the older musicians was that nobody owns this stuff. It's greater than you, and it deserves to be passed on."
READ THE FULL Irish Times ARTICLE
The staff of NPR Music and thier member stations have once again gathered to collect thier' favorite albums of the year.' Out of the thousands of they listened to in 2014, they selected 50 that they feel helped define 2014. One of those was - Jeff Ballard - Time's Tales.
Jeff Ballard, the drummer of choice for plenty of major jazz figures, waited many years to release a true solo album. What he delivered impresses with its range, but truly astounds with its execution. With only guitarist Lionel Loueke and alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón - no true bass instrument - Ballard summons parades, ballads, intricate rhythmic games, free improv, West African and Latin American colors, even a distorted-guitar Queens of the Stone Age cover ("Hangin' Tree," in 5/4). But everyone here can staff multiple positions on the court, so the three-man team never lacks for players. It's a spare band with a full sound, pickpocketing ideas from far and wide and sprinting away with them. -Patrick Jarenwattananon
Drummer Jeff Ballard had never led a recording before Time's Tales, which is amazing considering how many recordings he's been a part of. His debut album reflects most of his divergent impulses toward the worldly and the familiar, the knotted bundles of odd-meter asymmetry and the silky-smooth groove - and does so with only three guys. It works because while his two collaborators play guitar (Lionel Loueke, from Benin) and sax (Miguel Zenon, from Puerto Rico), everyone's a percussionist at heart. That rapid fire rhythmic dialogue, and some nifty guitar noises, enables a skeleton crew to throw a street parade.- Patrick Jarenwattananon. SEE THE FULL NPR Music ARTICLE.
Drummer Jeff Ballard talks with Tim Wilkins about Time's Tales, his OKeh CD with Lionel Loueke on guitar and Miguel Zenon on alto sax, and the trio's rhythm-driven approach to composition and improvisation. Listen to the Jeff Ballard interview on WBGO: New York.
Who would have known that the young man banging on drums downstairs in my old Noe Valley neighborhood would have advanced to be one of the great percussionists in jazz? And who would have thought that, after years on the road with Brad Mehldau, he would be opening the new season at SFJAZZ in the Joe Henderson Lab room with his new band on with two searing sets of trio jazz?
But I guess I should not have been surprised that, as we packed into the modest space in the SFJAZZ building on June 11th, we were about to see the emergence of an astounding group. For Jeff Ballard would not be satisfied with anything else. That said, for this listener, who has seen hundreds of performances since the days of cruising New York and watching Tony Williams bring down the house in the Village, there is always the time and space for something so new. READ THE FULL Jazz Police REVIEW.
The jazz drummer Jeff Ballard tends to close the distance between himself and the other musicians he plays with. His drumming is active, busy, rarely loud and constantly shuffling pattern and timbre: He's often trying to connect with, illustrate and magnify whatever else is happening around him.
Mr. Ballard's steady job for nearly 10 years has been with Brad Mehldau's trio, but he's been leading another trio off and on for some six years with the guitarist and singer Lionel Loueke and the alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón. It's a three-way split in all but the fact that it has Mr. Ballard's name on it. They seemed to know what they were up to early on, but it took them a while to have their picture taken: a strong first album, Time's Tales, released this year on Okeh. Now comes the good part: the re-enactments and revisions of the picture.
An early set on Thursday at the Jazz Standard, where the trio will play through the weekend, showed that it can bring in a jazz group's traditional structure and scaffolding - theme, solos, theme - without making you very aware that it's doing so. Partly because of the lack of a bass player, the group needs someone to hold down a grounding pattern; everyone takes turns with that. It has a set list with contributions from each musician, and each member has his own abilities to create a real-time event. (Mr. Loueke has the greatest number of ways to do this: by playing bass-frequency notes, on his guitar's lowest string, against his own soloing; by shaping sound with pedals; and by singing, using rhythmic clicks adapted from the Xhosa language, over his own guitar accompaniment.) The band has some clear strategies and reasonably fixed outcomes, though they're dealt out so lightly that a listener tends not to anticipate them. READ THE FULL New York Times REVIEW.
Drummers don't often lead jazz ensembles. But when they do, usually the sound is either bright, hard charging and rhythmically precise, as in the classic recordings of Art Blakey and Arthur Taylor, or big and propulsive, as in the work of contemporary musicians like Jeff "Tain" Watts and Cindy Blackman Santana.
Billy Hart and Jeff Ballard defy those stereotypes. Both drummers front bands that lean toward a more nuanced approach, and they create music that is more complex and texture-driven. The percussion leads the band, but in a gentler way. Both musicians released superb recordings earlier this year. Mr. Hart's One Is the Other (ECM) features his quartet, with which he's worked for nearly 10 years; on Time's Tales (Okeh), Mr. Ballard is in a trio setting with guitarist Lionel Loueke and saxophonist Miguel Zenon. Mr. Hart's group is on the road from Tuesday through June 20, starting with six nights at The Village Vanguard in New York, while Mr. Ballard's is making select stops from Tuesday through June 12, beginning in Washington at Blues Alley and including four nights at New York's Jazz Standard. READ THE FULL Wall Street Journal ARTICLE.
With the release earlier this year of Time's Tales, it's clear that drummer Jeff Ballard is a crucial part of not one, not two, but three top-notch trios in which he can make beautiful music.
Ballard, 50, may be best known for his work in pianist Brad Mehldau's trio, which he joined in 2005, completing the group that also includes bassist Larry Grenadier. In addition, since 2003, he's co-led the trio Fly, which combines Ballard with Grenadier and saxophonist Mark Turner.
Now, Time's Tales - the first disc under Ballard's name - features the drummer joining forces with the two A-list jazz players guitarist Lionel Loueke and alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón. The resulting music is compelling, eclectic and wide open, democratically made by three very tightly connected peers. READ THE FULL Ottawa Citizen REVIEW.
It's a testament to Jeff Ballard's skill as a leader-and this, at age 50, is his first official outing in that capacity-that on Time's Tales the drummer brings out some of the most inspired playing to date from his companions, Beninese guitarist Lionel Loueke and Puerto Rican alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón. Ballard understands that he must serve as anchor within this bass-less setup, but he's not about to allow himself or his co-conspirators to be tethered by configuration. Got expectations? Forget 'em. Time's Tales' repertoire and arrangements are gloriously all over the map: original compositions and unhinged explorations, a Gershwin standard and a piece by Bartók, Latin and NOLA rhythms and, most astounding, "Hangin' Tree," a raging Queens of the Stone Age cover on which Loueke unleashes some serious, never-before-heard-from-him demons.
Ballard is comfortable within the trio format; his work with both FLY and Brad Mehldau's trio is always exceptional. Here he's enjoying putting to use that gift that so many drummers crave but don't achieve-he's exceedingly shambolic on the surface yet always in the pocket below. Ballard encourages that same free-floating inquiry in Loueke and Zenón (not that they need to be encouraged), knowing that however far afield they might stray, they will never lose their footing.
So there's an appropriate flightiness to "Western Wren (A Bird Call)," credited to the three, all avian chitter-chatter, and great freedom in the open improvs "Free 1" (47 seconds) and the full-length "Free 3" (there is no "Free 2"). "Beat Street," Ballard's lone solo composition, comes closest to a drum showcase with its Congo Square tenacity, but he's equally content to supply gossamer toms on Loueke's "Mivakpola." For all of the chops at work, Time's Tales is mostly just a whole lot of fun. Sometimes that's quite enough.
Drummer Jeff Ballard is best known for his work with Brad Mehldau's trio as well as his work with FLY, and this is his first as a bona fide "leader." While still in a trio format, this one is quite unorthodox as it includes guitarist Lionel Loueke and alto saxist Miguel Zenon, so there's a lot of intriguing directions with each tune. You get music ranging from luscious ballads such as "The Man I Love" to almost heavy metal as on the head banging "Hangin' Tree," which has Loueke playing like you've never heard before. A couple of free improves will keep you on your toes, and with Zenon in the mix, there's always room for some latin sounds, as on the bolero "El Reperador de Suenos" which is filled with Afro-Cuban moods. Ballard displays deft alacrity on all of these moods as on the moody "Dal (A Rhythm Song)" and the atmospheric "Western Wren." Impressive variety and technical agility.
Drummer Jeff Ballard sure knows how to pick his playmates. In drafting one-of-a-kind guitarist Lionel Loueke and the focused-yet-irrepressible Miguel Zenon on saxophone, Ballard managed to create the most exciting trio to emerge in recent memory for his new Sony/Okeh CD: Time's Tales. READ THE FULL all about jazz REVIEW.