Jeff Ballard: A Life In Music
AAJ: Was that when you were a bike messenger?
JB: I was doing that and waiting on tables and stuff.
AAJ: Now when did you go to Spain and why?
JB: That was during the time when there wasn't much going on for me here and [drummer] Jorge Rossy, pretty much the main aqueduct which connected the New York scene with Barcelona, was the cause. He was and is a huge force in that regard. He had gotten some work for Ben Street and Kurt to come out there and play with him, but he couldn't do it at the last minute so I went out there to play for a month and it was great. Then I came back here and there still wasn't anything. Because I had made some contacts with some schools and some other players over there, I decided to go back a couple months later.
I stayed there for a couple months more, just living and teaching there. I came back home after that and then I did a tour with [guitarist] Wolfgang Muthspiel and a couple other various gigs. I then went back out there for another three months or so to live with a lady I had met there, to see what was going on between us. During that time I woodshedded quite a bit and played quite a lot. We came back here and things really started kind of moving forward at that point you know.
JB: No. When I was younger I lived in England for about half a year or so, or a year.
AAJ: Those are typically eye-opening experiences. Did you speak Spanish when you went?
JB: No, I learned it as we got to know each other.
AAJ: So that is where you met you wife or your girlfriend?
JB: Yeah, my wife, we're married.
AAJ: Lourdes right?
JB: Yeah, Lourdes Delgado, she's from Barcelona. She's a great photographer actually.
AAJ: She does the pictures for everything these days, it seems. So what happened after you came back from Spain?
JB: I got the gig with [pianist] Danilo Perez.
AAJ: How did that come about?
JB: I started working with Avishai Cohen. I had known Danilo through working with the same circle of guys but he plays with in Boston. I had sent him a tape once but nothing came directly out of that. I really liked his playing, that's why I sent it. He was playing with Larry and [drummer] Dan Rieser, who I saw in Barcelona, and I felt like I'd like to play in that band, so I thought I would put it out there.
I played with him for the first time with Grenadier and [saxophonist] David Sanchez, while I was living in Spain. But at one point, some time later in New York, he needed a sub again, this was while he was playing the music from his record Panamonk (Impulse!, 1996). I really 'shedded that music and that was very instructional for me. It showed me that when I put in all of this good effort, writing out my own parts, you know, my own charts to the tunesby really digesting the music, really knowing it, that when the gig came about I was able to eat it up. I came in without a rehearsal and we just played and it worked really well, with ease. And then I started playing with him regularly.
AAJ: Did you meet Avishai Cohen on that gig?
JB: No . He approached me earlier when I was playing at Small's [NYC jazz club] with Kurt. We had a regular gig on Thursday for some years there. But all of this was around that time I've been talking about. It was a time, maybe something like four years or so, of serious development of music for me. So Avishai was around then and [pianist] Jason Lindner. Hooking up with them was another kind of a super-intimate hookup. Very high. Jason and Avishai. Super bad cats. So I was playing in Avishai's band and at the same time I was playing in Danilo's band. I stayed with Danilo for a while. A couple of years I think. Then a manager of Chick [Corea] heard Danilo's trio at an IAJE convention. Avishai gave him a tape and Chick dug it and so Chick's group Origin came out of that. Origin was pretty much most of Avishai's band at that time.
AAJ: Wasn't Adam Cruz the first drummer in Origin? At what point in time did you come in and take over?
JB: About four months after it began.
AAJ: And that was it. So from there on out you were the drummer for Origin?
AAJ: How long have you been playing with Chick now?
JB: Probably going on about six years now.
AAJ: I caught the gig at the Berklee performance center at the Berklee College of Music in Boston in the spring of 2002. It was unbelievable.
JB: It was super high! I mean that was another impressive experience for me, playing with Chick you know, playing with someone that was top shelf from the moment he walks over to the piano. All of sudden, you know, boom, put it up there and it's super serious, super connected and very fast mentally speaking. The other guys in the band were [trombonist] Steve Davis, [saxophonist] Steve Wilson, first Bob Sheppard, and then Tim Garland on tenor, and Avishai. I loved that music and that band, it was great. It's on a DVD [Rendezvous in New York (Image, 2005)] that's out. There's ten DVDs in the set, with Origin and the New Trio. It's got some great Roy as well.