American jazz drummer and vocalist Jamison Ross accomplished a lot in the world of music, including a Grammy nomination, at a very young age. He speaks to Priya Singh about his career.
Q. You started off fairly early in your life as a musician. How were you introduced to jazz and more specifically to drumming?
A. I grew up with music all around me. My entire family culture is deeply rooted in music. My mother enrolled me into an arts middle school. My middle school jazz band was the beginning of my relationship with jazz.
Q. Who were your musical influences as a young jazz protégé?
A. Jimmy Cobb, Philly Joe Jones, Miles Davis. and Duke Ellington.
Q. How do you go about creating a composition, or an album?
A. All For One is the second chapter to my story as an artiste. With a deep understanding of American music, I continue to explore the aroma of jazz using elements of gospel, soul and R&B. I utilise the organ as my string orchestra, tugging as much emotion from a composition as possible. I use the soul of my voice to share a message with conviction. With the use of traditional R&B, I preach the need for the world’s love to be united. Every track relates to me in a personal and musical way. Learning life as a husband, father and friend, I show that we all have a deeper capacity to love with empathy. From boogaloo grooves to down-home swing, this album wraps its arms around American music, revealing a love story by which we can all be inspired.
Q. Which album would you play for someone completely unfamiliar with jazz?
A. Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue.
Q. What’s the secret to understanding the basics of rhythm?
A. Staying calm. It’s very easy to allow adrenaline to take over when the music gets exciting. I like to focus on breathing even within the most intense musical moments. Don’t tense up! Stay relaxed.
Q. How do you prepare yourself mentally and physically before hitting the stage for a live performance?
A. I love to work out during the week—running, high-intensity training. It helps with my breathing while singing and playing the drums. I also drink lots of tea with hot water, lemon and honey. As for the drums, I like to play double-stoke rolls as slow as possible for 10-minute increments.
Q. Name a musician whom you admire and would like to collaborate with.
A. I would have loved to collaborate with Ray Charles. But to choose one who’s alive, Herbie Hancock.
Q. You are one of the youngest jazz percussionists in the world. How would you describe your journey so far?
A. My journey has been extremely organic. I was known mostly for my drumming abilities and I’ve naturally added another piece to the puzzle: my singing. This process has been very honest and a culmination of my life experiences.
Q. Tell us a bit about your recent show in Delhi.
A. This was my first time in India. I was very excited to present all of my music to you. I was excited to be inspired by a new culture that I have never experienced before. Together we participated in a joyful night of music that inspired us all. This was a special night. Putting your music in different situations is healthy for me as an artiste.
Q. You have been nominated for a Grammy, and have won several other reputable awards. How does that feel?
A. I try not to think about it, to be honest. I like to keep the awards far away from my artistic process. It can sometimes slow you down from achieving the goal you have in mind. I’m thankful for all of my success, but it’s also not the reason I signed up for this music thing.
Q. But how much do these awards mean to you?
A. They mean a lot in regard to more people knowing about what I do. To the journey I am on as an artist. They serve as affirmation to keep creating. To me personally, they don’t mean very much. I have a lot to accomplish and I stay focused on my artistic practice.
Q. How much do you think is formal training important when it comes to making a career in music?
A. It depends on what we consider as formal training. I consider apprenticeship with great artistic minds to be formal training. It’s not just about going to school. It’s about learning your art form and being able to articulate your path. School helped me to identify my path and musical concept. But for some people, school can actually be a hindrance.
Q. Have you ever tried playing the tabla, or any other instruments that are used in India?
A. I was just on tour with this band, Snarky Puppy, and the percussionist, Nate Werth, and I had a long conversation about the tabla and its spiritual approach. I’ve never played it, but I would love to experience it.
Q. Do you have any words of advice for budding drummers who look up to you?
A. It’s about the music first. Drummers have a tendency to dive off into “drum world caves” where it seems that only drums matter. But the drums are an instrument just like the piano, like a voice or brass instrument, or a reed instrument. All these instruments are to be used to make music.
Q. What are your professional plans for this year?
A. I would love to record more music before the year is over. I will be touring my new album, All For One, all year and I would like to document my band’s growth with another album.