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Take Five with Clemens Grassmann


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Meet Clemens Grassmann

Berlin-born, Brooklyn-based drummer, percussionist, composer and educator Clemens Grassmann has collaborated across the U.S. and internationally, releasing multiple recordings as a leader, including Grass Machine (self released, 2022). Recipient of the 2015 Armand Zildjian Percussion Award, Grassmann's genre-defiant aesthetic stretches across generations and unites listeners of every sonic prerogative.

Grassmann's compositions exist in two realms: one of intense, deliberate structure; the other, unbound exploration and spontaneity. Each of his recordings reflect a path through the lineage that begins where his heroes and mentors paved the way for his own generation to experiment and explore.

Eager to help the generation behind him, Grassmann teaches varied levels of drums and percussion and has worked as Artist in Residence in both Boston and New York. Grass Machine is a tale of the strength of community and support amidst the unprecedented disunity wrought by the pandemic.



Teachers and/or influences?

Ralph Peterson, Terri Lyne Carrington, Billy Kilson, Kenwood Dennard, Neal Smith, Ron Savage, Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Roy Haynes, Alan Dawson, Frankie Dunlop, Philly Joe Jones, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Al Foster, Billy Higgins, Billy Hart, Jack DeJohnette.

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

I would listen to my dad's music with him in the car. He was a guitarist himself and would playDeep Purple, Steve Morse, Eric Johnson or Huey Lewis and the News. I started drumming along on the car seats. He tried teaching me guitar and keyboard, but I loved the drums so much that he signed me up for lessons and I joined my school's big band.

Your sound and approach to music.

I always try to be supportive towards the music. As a drummer I'm applying form and shape while remaining receptive to what other musicians are playing. It is so important to engage in conversations while we share our craft and love for music with each other, letting it breathe and develop, establishing communication, creating dynamics, arrangements, improvisation; experiencing and living the music as a whole group. Playing music is the best when it feels great on stage and in the audience. Music is shared passion and love.

Your teaching approach

Focus on basics, rudiments, timing and phrasing, articulation, dynamics, and be open to answering students' questions about songs, techniques, drummers or bands they heard in order to help each student develop their own sound and vocabulary.

Your dream band

Billy Hart, Roy Haynes, Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Sonny Rollins, Mike Stern, Hal Crook and Randy Brecker.

Road story: Your best or worst experience

I had an incredible time on my very first tour ever, with another band along the West Coast. We started in Seattle, played a few shows and spent July 4th there before driving down towards Oregon, Portland, through northern California and eventually into San Jose and San Francisco for about three weeks. We were five people in a minivan with two guitars, a bass, three amps, a keyboard with seat and stand, a PA, a drum set, a saxophone, microphones, cables and percussion, luggage for five people and, of course, coffee and snacks for the road. Needless to say we all were stoked to get out of the van and play music!

Favorite venue

Village Vanguard

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


The first jazz album I bought was:

GRP All Star Big Band Live (GRP Records, 1993)

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

The state of jazz tends to reflect the current state of the world.

What is in the near future?

Teaching students and then playing gigs this weekend. Stay updated on my website.

What is your greatest fear when you perform?

That the bassist loses the form.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

"Sing, Sing, Sing."

What is your favorite song to whistle or sing in the shower?

Usually the song that I had just listened to.

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

Retiree living in a beach house in California.

If I could have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be and why?

I would love to have chicken dinner with Charlie Parker and listen to his stories.


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