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New Orleans transplant drops his debut release

29th June 2015   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

Jamison Ross pulls off a stunner with his debut release, Jamison, on the highly-regarded Concord Jazz label. He will celebrate the event at Snug Harbor on Friday, July 3, and perform again at the Prime Example on Thursday, July 23, with trumpeter Nicholas Payton.

Ross, a native of Florida and now New Orleans resident, first won acclaim as a drummer and in 2012 won the prestigious Thelonius Monk Jazz Competition on that instrument. His drum work on this album makes it clear why he came off on top. However, there’s a lot more in this musician’s bag of talents. Most notably, he is a remarkably soulful and creative vocalist, a gift thoroughly nurtured in the church.



“That’s why the album is called Jamison because it is a coming of age of the concept of being a total musician – being myself,” explains Ross, 28, who realized it was wise to trust his instincts. “Yes, it’s okay for me to combine the concepts of me as a singer, which explores my upbringing, and me as a drummer, which explores my education and my knowledge of the music.” Smartly, and somewhat remarkably, Concord let him fly with it.

The success of this marriage is immediately evident on the disc’s opening cut, an interpretation of blues guitarist and vocalist Muddy Waters’ classic, “Deep Down in Florida.” Ross’ drums lay down a funky beat while his rich vocals reference the soul blues. Our own pianist Jon Batiste with whom Ross has toured and recorded and who is heard on four selections, naturally brings at taste of his hometown to the session. Kudos too to guitarist Rick Lollar who will perform with Ross at Snug teamed with locals, bassist Roland Guerin, guitarist Brian Seeger and keyboardist Shea Pierre.

There’s a superior mix of cover and original material here with each complimenting the other. The result is an album that seems to fly by like a party you just don’t want to leave. Ross’ choice of saxophonist Eddie Harris’ “Set Us Free,” for instance, works on so many levels. While the tune begins as a ballad, Ross wisely includes Harris’ signature boogaloo vibe with Dayve Steward blowin’ fine sax backed by Corcoran Holt’s walking bassline. “I got a chance to get down and dirty in swing,” says the drummer who steps up for a solid, cymbal-splashed solo on Harris’ classic.

“He found a way to make jazz super listenable—he was a brilliant musician,” says Ross of Harris. “It embodies my world as a jazz musician and also just being someone who loves to play music that is fun to play. All these tunes deal with a certain thing that I love about the music.”

Throughout his career, Jamal, of course, relied on a host of great New Orleans drummers including Vernel Fournier, Ed Blackwell, Idris Muhammad and Herlin Riley. Ross brings his drums to the forefront and like those previously named drum masters, always remembers the melody in the rhythm.

“The really great drummers have some kind of melodic sense of music,” Ross offers. “Jack DeJohnette is a phenomenal piano player. Herlin plays trumpet. Singing informs Shannon Powell’s drums. For me it’s singing.”

Ross acknowledges that “Emotions,” particularly vocally, has a Stevie Wonder kind of feel. He explains – and demonstrates – that ala Wonder, he utilizes chords to sing certain notes. “That a very, very Stevie concept,” says Ross, adding that simply put, “it’s singing something (a note or phrase) that is out of the normal – different than the average radio tune.”

“When it comes to singing, Stevie, Donny Hathaway, Ray Charles and Lee Dorsey are some of my influences,” Ross says. New Orleans rhythm and blues hit-maker, the great Lee Dorsey could, understandably, be considered the surprise name on this list of legends.

“I love Lee Dorsey,” Ross declares. “I love his phrasing and the way he kind of breaks a tune apart and how he kind of talks and sings a tune.”

Horns – saxophonist Stewart and trumpeter Alphonso Horne III – joyfully open Ross’ “Epiphany” that the drummer describes as his answer to pianist/composer Thelonius Monk’s “Evidence.” Pianist Chris Pattishall’s flying fingers forward the upbeat tune with Ross’ voice – singing a sort of non-lyrical vocalese – becoming one with the horn section.

“I grew up singing in church,” Ross says. “My grandfather was a pastor. Everybody in my family does music – my mom sings, my dad sings, a lot of my uncles sing and play piano. Singing was a huge part of who we were. I grew up in a saturated church and music environment.”

Jamison Ross shares his loves, his jazz mastery, his romanticism, his influences, his soulfulness and joy on Jamison. It’s this talented artist’s fascinating musical biography that makes one eager to dig into the many pages to come. A brilliant debut.

This article originally published in the June 29, 2015 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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