Territories of Representation: Europe
The Jeff Ballard Fairgrounds makes music that feels like the 21st century – open, fluid and ever-developing, a sound informed by jazz but truly coming to life where worlds collide: acoustic and electric, swinging and ambient, analog and digital, accessible and experimental. Led by Jeff Ballard – the virtuoso drummer who is also a keen-eared composer and close collaborator with the likes of Brad Mehldau, Mark Turner and Guilliermo Klein – the band initially involved a rotating cast (including Eddie Henderson, Larry Grenadier, Jeff Parker and Anders Christensen, plus such guests as Miguel Zénon, Tigran Hamasyan and Phil Grenadier); in that guise, the Fairgrounds played such hallowed halls as the Village Vanguard and around Europe. But the group has settled into a fresh quartet for a March 2015 tour of Europe and the recording of a live album, for release via OKeh/Sony. This core foursome features Ballard with guitarist-vocalist Lionel Loueke, keyboardist-vocalist Kevin Hays and Reid Anderson on electronics. This potent combination consists of musicians who revere the past while realizing that art is always made in the present tense; they grew up versed in deep traditions – with Ballard, for instance, earning his stripes early on as youthful stickman for Ray Charles – but are keen to blur boundaries between genres. Jazz, rock, electronica and West African music all figure into the shape-shifting, cross-cultural sound of the Jeff Ballard Fairgrounds.
Born on September 17th, 1963 in Santa Cruz, CA, Jeff Ballard’s musical inspiration and drive was sparked by listening to musical legends ranging from Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, and Antônio Carlos Jobim, to The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. His exposure to multiple genres of music and the types of playing required for each enabled him to develop his foundation and understanding of music and planted the seeds from which his own varied approach to playing grew.
Ballard began playing drums at the age of 14 and while attending community college, began the journey of being a musician, playing in college ensembles and gigs around Santa Cruz and the Northern California region. While making the rounds as a working drummer, he delved deep into the modern jazz catalogue soaking up the language of classic innovative jazz groups. Listening to Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Ornette Coleman, added to his own toolkit with the sonic palettes created by the drum legends who played in these groups: Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, and Billy Higgins. At the age of 25, Ballard began an educational journey no college could match. He went on the road for eight months annually from 1988 to 1990 with Ray Charles, backing one of music’s biggest stars, perfecting his time feels and tempos from playing with Charles nightly on the bandstand for three years. In 1990 Ballard moved to New York and jumped into the transformative scene that was developing there at the time. He began collaborating with Kurt Rosenwinkel, Brad Mehldau, Mark Turner and Ben Allison, among others who were mixing jazz tradition with their own influences, ranging from Middle Eastern rhythms to electronica and hip hop. Ballard’s past and present recording sessions and touring associates read like a who’s who of jazz. To name a select few: Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Joshua Redman and Brad Mehldau. His present work continues with the Brad Mehldau Trio, as co-leader of collective group FLY (featuring Mark Turner, Ballard, and Larry Grenadier) and his own groups The Jeff Ballard Trio and The Jeff Ballard Fairgrounds. 2014 will see The Jeff Ballard Trio with Lionel Loueke and Miguel Zenón releasing their debut album, Time’s Tales, in January on Sony/OKeh Records. The album presents originals and covers of tunes originally penned by Gershwin, Bartok and rock band Queens of the Stone Age, thus confirming Ballard as one of the most stylistically diverse drummers on the scene.