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 Antonio 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, Joshua Redman, and Ben Allison, among others who were mixing jazz tradition with their own influences, ranging from Middle Eastern rhythms to electronica and modern 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, Kurt Rosenwinkel, 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 with his own groups The Jeff Ballard Trio and Jeff Ballard Fairgrounds. In 2014 The Jeff Ballard Trio with Lionel Loueke and Miguel Zenon released their debut album, Time's Tales, on Sony/OKeh Records. On January 25th, 2019 the group, Jeff Ballard Fairgrounds, will release their debut album entitled Fairgrounds on Edition Records. This album presents music recorded and selected from a tour in March 2015. The music is filled with wide-open improvisations and originals touching on the blues, rock and roll, electronica, and RB. It can have the funkiest grooves or a meditative minimalistic space, or it can go all the way over and outside to the unexpected world of free jazz, thus confirming Ballard as one of the most stylistically diverse drummers on the scene.
I've been using Vic Firth sticks for most of my professional musical life, changing the models only a couple of times during that entire time.
At this point, I am using the Vic Firth MJC4, a stick I helped Firth develop. It is part of a new series called Modern Jazz Collection (vicfirth.com/modern-jazz-collection).
I’ve been using the same Oaklawn Camco maple-shell drums for the last 30 years or so. The Oaklawns are from the early ’60s. Depending on the music or the size of the bands, I choose from:
Bass Drums: 18" x 14" and 20" x 14"
Toms: 10" x 9", 12" x 8", 14" x 14", 16" x 16"
(all Oaklawn, Illinios except for the 10” tom which is a DW)
14" x 5" Camco (Oaklawn, Illinios)
14" x 5" Camco (Chanute, Kansas)
14" x 5" Johnny Craviotto Lake Superior snare single-ply of bird’s-eye maple.
14" x 6" Yamaha bamboo proto-type barrel shell
Skins: Normally the top drum heads on the drums are Remo Ambassadors though with the Craviotto, I’ll use a calf skin head. The bottom heads are clear Remo Diplomats.
A small collection of old 20” Ks (from the '40s and ‘50s)
A couple of 22” old A Zildjians
Some 20” and 22" Zildjian prototypes made for me
A couple of 20" Istanbul Agop 30 year Anniversary
A few 18” Ks (from the '50s)
A pair of 13” Ks (from the '50s)
A pair of 14” Paiste Sound Creation hi hats
A pair of 15” Istanbul Agop Om series hi hats
Right now I play the 14” Sound Creation top hat on top and the Istanbul Agop Om series 15” on the bottom.
The drum set used on Time's Tales is made up of drums and percussion pieces from all over the world: India, South America, Pakistan, Europe, China, North Africa, and South Africa. The snare is from North America. The cymbals are Turkish. The bells are from Tibet as well as from Maine.