Take Five With Clay Grossman


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Meet Clay Grossman:

Clay Grossman, a mainstay on the Chicago jazz scene for almost four decades, began his professional career at the age of the 19. He has been passing on his sage drum knowledge and wisdom to aspiring students of the drum- set over 20 years. He studied drums with Marshall Thompson and Ian Wallace.

Clay has performed with Yves Francois, Franz Jackson, Lin Halliday, and Burton Greene. In addition, he has performed at many venues in the Chicago area like the Hothouse and the Gateway Theatre. Clay has over 18 studio albums to his credit. His current group is Jazz Apocalypse. Clay is the host of the jazz radio show Classical and Beyond on WNUR 89.3 FM.


Drums, tabla.

Teachers and/or influences?

My teachers have included Jim Piekarczyk, Marshall Thompson, Dede Sampaio, Ian Wallace, Charlie Harrington, and Kalyan Pathak.

My biggest musical influences are John Bonham, Bill Bruford, Brian Eno, Max Roach,Tony Williams, Art Blakey, Ed Blackwell, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and my favorite all-time drummer, Papa Jo Jones.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

I knew I wanted to be a musician when as a six year old I did vocal duets with my mother. She played folk guitar. She started buying a lot of sheet music and I would spend hours looking at the "funny" dots and lines.

Your sound and approach to music:

I prefer the "old school" sound of calf skins and '50s/'60s classic cymbal sounds. I approach music from an organic approach. Drum machines have no soul just as a windup toy has no "feel" or spirit. Notes on a page are lifeless until you breathe life into them. My role in an ensemble is to breathe that life into the music and be supportive. Depending on the mood and tone, the respirations may be fast and shallow—or, perhaps, deep and more profound. Life is too short to play something the same way twice.

Your teaching approach:

Information is knowledge and knowledge is power. I want my students to be as powerful as they can be and to have the ability to adapt to any musical situation. I try to impart as much knowledge as I can without being overwhelming in each lesson. You're only as good as your last lesson and you have to read your students, as everyone is on a different rung of the drumming knowledge ladder. Quality and succinct didactics are not synonymous. We will cover something for as long as it takes, regardless of what the clock on the wall says. If someone wants a cookie-cutter "that's all we have time for today" approach in an instructor, then I'm probably not a good fit for them.

Your dream band:

I have to go with Fats Navarro on trumpet. He was such an innovator and had a strong stylistic influence on many other players. On bass, Percy Heath is my choice. It would have been great to have garnered anything from him as a musician. Bud Powell gets the nod for piano. He is my idea of the perfect bebop pianist. Bird and/or Coltrane on the sax. Bird was the original genius of modern music. Coltrane was cut from the same cloth in that he had a seemingly endless supply of musical ideas. J.J. Johnson made everything he created sound easy and smooth. He was the Charlie Parker of the trombone.

Road story: Your best or worst experience:

Best: I recently finished touring with an Indian Garba Band. It was one of the most refreshing and enjoyable experiences in my career. It was a mix of cross- cultural artistry where I heard and did things musically I had never done before. Worst: A Bar Mitzvah where the affluent children screamed obscenities loud enough for the man on the moon to hear. It was topped off with an hour-long food fight. I cleaned whipped cream out of cases and amps for a week. Ah, the gigs we take when our career is fledgling and economics overrides artistic integrity.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?

My latest, Jazz Apocalypse Vol 1. Artistically, I respectfully say it's the best thing I have ever done.

The first Jazz album I bought was:

Kenny Wheeler's Gnu High(ECM, 1976), with Jack DeJohnette on drums.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

Ideas, color, energy. How about something along the lines of I feel stylistically, my ideas, while drawn upon the great masters (after all, you can't innovate until you assimilate), are original and unique. As a result, I view what I am trying to contribute as being a kaleidoscope of colors. In that respect, I feel as though I'm a painter creating and giving my impressionistic interpretation of a veritable plethora and cornucopia of musical colors.

Did you know...

There are three generations of boxers in my family. My dad was a fighter boxer as was his brother. They must have picked it up from their father who was a boxer too.

Desert Island picks:

Sun Ra, Strange Strings (Saturn);

Captain Beefheart, Trout Mask Replica (Bazarr);

Charlie Parker, Complete Charlie Parker (Dial);

Mozart, Mozart Edition: Complete Works (Brilliant Classics);

Henry Cow, In Praise of Learning (Virgin).

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

To me, some of the more exciting music being created today is out in the smaller clubs and venues. So much of what was done 50-60 years ago is coming back around. The road forward for me is through the avant-garde.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?

Education is essential. Involving the younger generation and expanding their minds is key to not only help jazz live but to broaden its appeal and influence.

What is in the near future?

I am producing and will release Jazz Apocalypse Vol 2 in the near future. I am developing a minimalist eclectic jazz/classical project at present. I am also continuing to expand and explore in non-traditional eastern influenced music and have plans to gather and garner new sounds in that arena.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

I do not want a funeral. Just go home and listen to one of my albums.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:

Something creative such as a fine art painter, fashion designer, or architect.

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