XRIJF Day 7 – Jamison Ross
I had actually seen drummer and vocalist Jamison Ross perform last year with one of the Jazz Fest’s most adored acts, Cecile McLorin Salvant. I was impressed with his performance; a bigger dude behind a smallish kit, cuttin’ and sawing away in an efficient way. As I’m sure many were as well, I was surprised when he released his debut album, a vocal album. “Jamison” was acclaimed by critics and the jazz public, as it was nominated for a Grammy in “Best Jazz Vocal Album.” Ross used the funds he earned from winning the 2012 Thelonius Monk International Jazz Competition for drums, and thankfully the great Concord label let me do a vocal album.
Ross is certainly paving a new path for jazz drummers. The rock world has had a small smattering of drummers who sang lead for a group or in a solo act; Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins of Genesis, Levon Holm of The Band, and Don Henley with The Eagles. After hearing the album, I knew that Ross was talented vocally, and could certainly shred on the drums, but I was was curious to see how he would put them together on a live stage.
Even behind a drum kit, which was placed front and center, Ross exudes charm, warmth, and poise, skills no doubt learned from growing up in a church down in Florida. The “take it to church” mentality pervaded the whole show, as he treated audiences to a dark tenor sound, complete with belting, runs, some grit, and a sentimental touch when needed. Occasionally he would raise a hand from the kit and uncork a gesture you might see from a pastor, driving his message home. He and the band, which consisted of all friends and fellow Florida State University alum (they couldn’t help but give a “Go ‘Noles!” in support of their school) were energetic, and exceptionally polished.
Ross was also also exceptional as a band leader. While clearly the creative motor, he allowed the other musicians to flourish and never took much attention. As an emcee he excelled as well, addressing the audience in an incredibly relaxed manner, discussing himself, his music, and his band.
Later in the concert, Ross took the time to discuss with the audience his inspiration for the album, and how he wanted to make sure that it was genuine, honest, and very much apart of himself. This certainly come across, and the audience reflected that vibe back; Ross would actually comment that he loves Rochester because he got that “warm feeling,” like he was with his family around a fireplace.
Musically, Ross combines his roots of R&B, soul, and gospel into a meld that is formed and played through the lens of jazz. His set ranged from the virtually wordless (outside of a quote from the “Cheer” theme song “Where Everybody Knows Your Name”) “Epiphany,” to sweet ballads, a song of strength, a song imagining the world was a better place, in “The These You Are To Me,” “Emotion,” and “Sack Full of Dreams.”
The Jazz Fest of audience participation continued as the quartet played a cooker of tune, combining the Kansas City blues, four chord soul, and jazz in interplaying sections. The guitar feature felt so good, and went for so long, that Ross didn’t want to leave it, and had the audience sing the main blues riff, while they played another chorus. He ended the superb concert with the opening track of his album, “Deep Down in Florida.”
Ross has shown that he is an excellent drummer, a gifted vocalist, and a superior band leader and stage presence who has tremendously bright career ahead of him.