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Take Five With Chris Massey

AAJ Staff By

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Donald Harrison Jr. Since then, he has performed with such renowned artists as Dave Holland, Joe Lovano, members of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Birdland Big Band and members of The Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, as well as many other great players.

He is currently a Spectra Jazz recording artist residing in the New York City area and performing with/leading his modern jazz group, The Nue Jazz Project. He has performed in many venues across New York City, such as Smoke, Cleopatra's Needle, Smalls, Fat Cat, 55bar, The Garage, The Iridium and many others.

Instrument(s):

Drums.

Teachers and/or influences? Growing up I had my share of private lesson instructors like any suburban youth does in the band program and they all had their influences on me in one way or another especially my 1st instructor Phil Zampino. But my most influential instructor didn't come until far later when I was in college. A man by the name of Cedric "Shed" Hobbs.

Cedric was a relatively unknown drummer who had worked most of his life in a steel mill in the greater Youngstown, Ohio area. However, he was a phenomenal jazz musician who was the go-to drummer in town if someone of note ever came through and in his earlier year had played with the likes of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Charles Mingus. He to me was the embodiment of what jazz was. His feel and time concepts opened my mind to the infinite possibility of the music.

Today my main drumming influences are I would say Art Blakey, Jeff "Tain" Watts and Elvin Jones. These are three drummers who, no matter who they play with or in what setting, their sound and concept behind the kit is instantly recognizable. It is what I strive for in my playing. To be truly unique and not just sound like a carbon copy of what has come before me but instead an amalgamation of concepts and historic precepts.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when... You know, I would love to say I have always known that I wanted to be a musician but in truth it wasn't until I was about 16, when I decided being a musician is the path I wanted to choose professionally. My father is a scientist and my mother is a nurse, and while they both had fantastic taste in music (everything from Brahms to Bootsy Collins was played in my household) they were not musicians themselves. Although my decision did not come as a shock to anyone.

Growing up I had a natural affinity towards music especially in a percussive sense. I was a kinetic child that always was tapping on this and that. Finally my parents signed me up for drum lessons and from then on I fell in love with the instrument.

Your sound and approach to music: Art Blakey said something once that has stuck in my head since I was about 17. "I put my sound underneath a player." Those words really resonated with me as a drummer.

"All is one and one is all" is my philosophy behind my role on the band stand. The groups that have been transcendent in music history are so because of their dynamic with each other. I try to meld with any group that I perform with and act as the catalyst or fuel for the group in terms of intensity.

There is an old saying: "You cannot outplay a drummer, so don't try." Because the drums have the greatest dynamic range of a typical jazz ensemble I consider my role in the group as "keeper of the flame"; stoking the fire as needed to either create blistering heat or gentle warmth. Elvin Jones was a master at this and much of my concept comes from his connection he had with John Coltrane's group.

Your dream band:

There are so many fantastic artists out there it is hard to name all of them off of the top of my head. Kenny Garrett and Terence Blanchard both come to mind as artists I would love to get the opportunity to perform with some day. I would also love to play with the Wayne Shorter group (Danilo Pérez, John Patitucci, and Wayne) because I feel, hands-down, that they are the most musically inspiring jazz group out there right now.

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