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Jeff Ballard: A Life In Music

Renato Wardle By

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AAJ: So he was totally open to all of your hand drumming and extended drum set techniques?

JB: Absolutely! Wanting it all, yeah. All these guys, I mean Chick too. At one point I was bringing so much percussion on the road, you know, it was a gas![laughs] So it was really a chance to explore all that. It was great.

One of the first times I started using other stuff likes bells and the like was with that band with Kurt. I started playing some hand drums or some bells and holding the bells in hands while I was playing the stick at the same time. That was pretty early on. But here and now I get to not just hint at it, I get to really dive in; playing on a Columbian drum for a whole solo or something like that. I was doing that with Danilo too, but that was still drum set sounding like percussion. But here I was using other things in addition to the kit and I almost always have something extra in there now. Right now I'm staring at a bunch of stuff I picked up over the years which is on my walls. Another example—playing with Guillermo Klein's band —Los Guachos. A huge lesson in world music. I mean he's a combination of Tango, Philip Glass and the Beatles, you know.

AAJ: Wow. That's a mix.

JB: So all this stuff in the past, you know, playing weddings, playing Stevie Wonder tunes, playing on the cruise ship, playing pop tunes, playing bossa novas and all this stuff just starts coming back into play. It's great, its just like I couldn't have planned it any better! [laughs] Super lucky.

AAJ: So you have the situation with Josh, and now the gig with Brad Mehldau. He had that trio with Jorge Rossy and Larry Grenadier and you've known Larry forever. How did you get the gig with Brad?

JB: I started a band halfway through the thing with Chick called Fly. It's a co-led thing with Mark Turner and Larry. Chick wanted to make a compilation CD of everybody who was in Origin, to record the different projects we all had going on. But since I didn't have a record or really a band he just gave me some money to go record and play with who ever I wanted, do what I wanted. It was amazingly nice. And a great idea.

So I picked my best friends and the baddest motherfuckers I could find [laughs]. And it was that same kind of brotherly vibe, it was perfect. They're my dearest friends and I really think the highest of musicians. I didn't want to lead the band, I wanted it as a collective although the first thing was under my name. So we called it Fly and started doing some things. Not a lot because all of us were kind of busy so we were doing what we could.

Brad heard and dug the band, dug the way Larry and I played together. I had done one gig for a couple of nights at Smalls with [singer] Claudia Acuña and Brad and Avishai and that was a cool hookup but nothing came from that really. And then there were a couple of other records where Brad was also on the date or on a tune here or there. So we did get to play together a bit before, but then after hearing Fly he said he wanted to play with the band, plus I think he was ready for a change in his music too. So we played as a quartet last year with Turner and after that he asked me to play. We started in the beginning of this year [2005].

AAJ: Is Jorge back in Spain?

JB: Jorge's back in Spain and teaching up there and playing piano and rocking the house.

AAJ: Isn't he a trumpet player?

JB: He started off as a trumpet player.

AAJ: I had heard that he went to Berklee as a trumpet player and hadn't played drums yet.

JB: I think he had started playing drums by then. I remember there was a another fun band that he was a part of called The Bloomdaddies. I loved subbing for him in that band.

AAJ: Yeah, the Bloomdaddies, [saxophonist] Seamus Blake's band.

JB: Yeah, Seamus, [saxophonist] Chris Cheek, [bassist] Jesse Murphy and [drummer] Dan Rieser. And that was super fun too. That again was at the same time as all of these other groups, that was all inside this time frame of four-to-six years. Anyway, Fly—we kept going and we're still going. I'm really happy with that. And next year it seems it like Josh's thing is gonna slow down a bit. I don't know what he's gonna do, I don't think he knows exactly either. It kind of opens up some time, and Brad doesn't work all the time, I mean he's got a nice amount of stuff, but it leaves holes for Fly to start working some more. Brad is the main gig for me but Fly is always there too. It's our own music you know what I mean?

AAJ: So are you guys [Mehldau] recording another record soon?

JB: Yeah, we're gonna record with Metheny, the trio with Metheny in a couple weeks and I don't know what's gonna happen when were done with that.

AAJ: That will be interesting.

JB: Yeah, that'll be fun, I'm looking forward to that.

AAJ: Have you played with Pat before?

JB: No, no.

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