Jeff Ballard is one of New York's finest session drummers. He grew up in Santa Cruz, California. He recalls when he was a child laying in bed listening to the music his father would play every weekend: Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Louie Armstrong, Sergio Mendez, Oscar Peterson, Milton Nascimento; how he loved the sound and the speed of Ed Thigpen’s brushes on the snare. “I remember feeling the power of a Basie big band shout chorus which would then suddenly disappear into some quiet dancing riff. It was the swing in it, which excited me the most. I also remember how it felt traveling thru sounds of the jungle in a Milton Nascimento record. The drums, percussion, and voice, would sound as if they either came from the earth or were made of water. And I was so happy to hear the joy of Ella and Louie singing and playing together. I think that that early exposure has made me part of what I am today, especially in regards to my love for sound.”
In a community college Jeff Ballard studied music theory and played in a big band as well as started working in small groups that played music for all kinds of occasions. He realized then that there are ways to play the drums, which are particular for each occasion. Each genre has requirements with needs to be met. "...I think the challenge is in the search for finding the music’s particular needs. The joy is in the discovery.” During this time, while living in and playing around San Francisco, he became absorbed with ‘modern’ jazz. “ Hearing Tony Williams play with Miles completely changed the way I played drums. Hearing John Coltrane and Elvin Jones, and listening to Ornette Coleman’s music changed my whole world. It was like coming home.”
At the age of twenty-five Jeff Ballard began playing with Ray Charles. “We toured 8 months straight every year with the band. Although we often played the same songs and arrangements every night, Ray was always able to make us feel as if it was for the very first time. The drum chair was the best seat in the house really. I only had to watch Ray’s feet to know where and what he wanted the groove to be. What a great school.”
After three years with Ray Charles, Jeff Ballard move to New York City where he found like-minded musicians who were drawing on tradition as well as searching for their own interpretation of playing and expression in music. "...Playing and recording with all of these musicians have opened up the opportunity for me to explore my infatuation with sound. It is the sound, not the note per se, which touches me the most.” Jeff Ballard has also played and toured with Eddie Harris, Bobby Hutcherson, Buddy Montgomery, Lou Donaldson, Mike Stern, and Danilo Perez. He joined Chick Corea in 1999 and continues to play in his various projects.Currently Jeff Ballard is a member of the Brad Mehldau Trio, Joshua Redman’s Elastic Band, performs periodically with Corea, and is a co-leader of Fly, a collective trio with Mark Turner and Larry Grenadier. Their latest self entitled record, Fly, and ensuing concerts have won critical acclaim as best of the year 2004.
Currently Jeff Ballard is a member of the Brad Mehldau Trio, Joshua Redman’s Elastic Band, performs periodically with Corea, and is a co-leader of Fly, a collective trio with Mark Turner and Larry Grenadier. Fly is a sparse unit with a focused approach in which the lead voice often changes instruments, or simply vanishes into a three-way dialogue. “Interdependence is total. We all wanted to pare down and see what we could do sonically with this type of instrumentation. There is an extra harmonic and sonic space compared to other formations. Changing the traditional roles of our instruments is just one consequence of this. Also it allows us to explore our own compositions.” Their latest self entitled record, Fly, and ensuing concerts have won critical acclaim as best of the year 2004.