Jamison Ross, 30, is the bright young star of American jazz right now. A drummer and vocalist, Ross won the Thelonious Monk Jr international jazz competition award early on and his 2015 album Concord Jazz was nominated for a Grammy. Satish Padmanabhan met him in New Delhi where he was the marquee performer at the Jazz India Circuit organized by Teamwork Art. Excerpts from the interview:
At a time when jazz is no long so cool, your calendar is absolutely packed this whole year. Is there a revival of sorts?
You know, music is in a tough time in general right now, it’s not just jazz. Being inside music and creating art is a very difficult thing to do in the world today. It’s because everything right now is in a hyper-sensualised environment of social media, you know, of pop music. So creating art is something that can easily be lost in this day and time.
That being said, we are touring all over the place, I just put on a new record All For One that came out just two months ago. I believe that as a young musician in Jazz, it’s our goal to be just authentic, be honest with our perspective on music, standing on the shoulders of giants that came before us. Jazz is America’s classical music, it stands for something special to us, it’s our gift to the world. So to take it forward, we have to create moments with the music that allows for people to them, and also remember why jazz is special.
As you said, in this hyper-sensualised environment in music, how do you get youngsters interested in jazz.
By keeping it honest. That’s what I like to do. Keep it real. Talk about who you are, talk about what you do. If you do that you will naturally grab people, they will be engaged in your story. Once they are engaged into your story, they will buy into whatever you play music with. You mix your story with the true understanding of how to approach music and how to play it, with the honesty of who you are as the artist and people will gravitate towards you. It’s like a relationship. We put stories with the music. And in jazz the young generation has lost all of that. We don’t really put stories or concepts with true ideas to the music we make.
And you would like to keep it classical, you wouldn’t like to lighten it up to appeal to a younger audience?
Oh, I think, we will. I am thirty years old, I didn’t grow up in the 40s or the 30s, so I am not just going to be just swinging on. No. I am going to play something I heard in the 90’s. What I do is I take the characteristics of jazz and infuse them into what I grew up listening to. I just fell in love with jazz because the way it made me feel, the art of the blues, the art of the swing. They have now infiltrated into the whole world of music. You have to take those things along with you, at the same time telling your story. Miles Davis did it, Thelonious Monk did it. They all found their own way to play the same music.
Is it also reflective of our times how the themes in music has moved away from what Monk and Davis sang about? Jazz has always been about rebellion and revolt, has the audience today become too insular to think about anything outside their own little worlds?
Yes, it has, I think we should be more vocal about everything. I try to be, I do it in every show. Music has a way of sliding in between the cracks. So even with people who feel different ways about a certain issue, music can slide in between those different points, and make everyone at least for that one moment, come together. At that moment, there is no wrong or right.
But it’s true the youngsters are very insular today. I have made it a mission of mine to know about what’s going on in the world as a whole. The young generation is finding its validation to everything right inside a computer or a phone. It does become a problem to relate to the problems of the world with what only you see.
How has your experience been in India, of the music scene, of jazz?
Well, it’s my first time in India and I am here only for a few days. But there does seem to be a true love for jazz. I mean, for you guys to have me come in here is special because I am a rarity even in the states. Yes, I have been successful as a musician but what I am doing is not lot heard of even in the United States, like singing and playing the drums, my whole approach to jazz. To be honest, you guys are taking an amazing risk by getting me here, and that’s absolutely incredible.