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Jeff Ballard: Paid Dues

By Published: October 11, 2013
JB: I hope not. I try not to do. I think I do and I try not to have it. And when I find it getting there, meaning I kind of smell a rat somewhere, I would definitely stop that. I'll stop it. Go to the music, it will tell you what to do. If you try to tell it what to do, I can't get behind it as much. I can't get behind it with as much faith. If I think of something, if something comes to me, I can get behind it much more easily than if something comes to me and I'm going to put it in. If I think of something beforehand then I should not play it. If I find something to play, if I encounter the thing to play, I can really trust it because it came to me without preconception, without ego needs, without limitations. It's just there; right there, one hundred percent, clean of any kind of attachment or anything. You encounter it. Then you do. The thing with this music is velocity—speed of thought. You've got to be so fast. And you're only going to be fast when you're super focused.

GC: Would you say, too, that there's a certain amount of fearlessness that you need to play that way?

JB: Yeah, fearlessness and faith. You've got to trust the other guys, that they're able to understand that thing that you're doing, or trust that the music can take what's going on, trust yourself that you can make it come out. But you should really be clear—the more abstract in a sense, or the more complex you're going to play, the clearer it should be. So it's understood what you're doing. It occurs to you when you do it. You're not going to understand what I just said, because I kind of just... you know... you left it up to the ear. Sometimes it's good, but we're talking about making a statement.

GC: Because we're talking about all these things that are very important musically, do you feel like there's a point when you don't really need to practice?

JB: I'm not so sure, man, I'm not so sure. I mean I go through stages when there's time and I can practice, I practice. If I don't have the time, I'm hoping I'm playing. But I regret not having the time to practice sometimes. When I haven't been playing and I haven't been practicing and I start again, the first thing that I notice that's lost is my velocity of thought. Imagination is not all hopping and springy; it's kind of lethargic and a little sleepy. So sometimes the technique is actually better for the first few days. I'm not so sure, man. I still feel like I have some stuff to practice myself, and I've been doing it for more than 25 years. I'm not done, so therefore I have to practice.

GC: Where do you see yourself in five years? Or 10 years?

JB: Hopefully with maybe more gigs behind me. [laughs] At this time right now, I really want to play every day if I can—I work a lot, and I go home and chill for some weeks, and I come back. I want to [play] as much as I can, and a variety of stuff. I'd actually like to try some other genre. I'd like to play with a singer again—in fact specifically I'm kind of digging Leon Russell, and some Southern Funk, swampy tunes that have a message, some guide tunes, in a way... I don't know. That's kind of where I'm thinking at this point. I'm not really sure exactly what I want to do. The jazz that I'm playing now is great, I mean I'd like to play with a couple other guys like Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
[or] Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
. But I can't really complain about the jazz, but I would like to try some other stuff. With this trio with Lionel and Miguel that I have, that's some other stuff and I'd like to explore that a bit more.

GC: In this trio with Lionel Loueke and Miguel Zenon
Miguel Zenon
Miguel Zenon
, are you the leader?

JB: I'm the leader. But it's an equal thing musically speaking. I put it together, I get the gigs, [and] so I put my name on it. I did the same thing with FLY

in a way, but I gave that up. It's a collective. I don't want to be the leader.

GC: Right. Are these your first efforts leading?

JB: Yeah. I did something years ago when I first got to New York, some quartet work, but nothing as a regular thing.

GC: I see. And do you find it to be very different from being a sideman?

JB: The only difference is that I know am concerned about taking care of the guys, whereas I didn't have that concern being a sideman. As far as other things like talking on the mic or getting the set together, I can do it or we can together, I'll ask them. So it's still kind of collective. The only thing I need to know is that they're cool, they get their money right, they get their rest, the travel isn't so bad, and the food is good, and that's that basically. If they're happy with that and they're happy with the music, then they'll play great.

GC: Anything coming up that you want to mention?

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