Musician - July 2008
: Ken Ollis
Instrument: drum set/percussion
Early Years/Education: Growing
up, my family was singing all the time. When I was nine or ten I
started playing on pots and pans. My Dad was in musicals for fun. He
still does theater and sound design for the theater. My first really
touching musical experience happened when I was five or six, when my
parents were singing a song together on stage. My Dad was supposed to
be going off to war and my Mom played his wife. There I was in the
first row crying; it was a turning point in my life. My parents didn't
really listen to jazz, but they listened to a lot of other stuff ...
like The Oakridge Boys, Dolly Parton, Lionel Richie, also Bach and
Beethoven as well as Broadway musicals and Gilbert and Sullivan.
Growing up exposed to all of this was great for me. Even now I'm not a
guy that gets stylistically burdened, and a lot of it has to do with
the fact that it was never an issue for my parents.
My first drum teacher was Jeff Cumston, an ideal first teacher. He got
me excited about all kinds of music. I did percussion in concert band,
which helped my reading. Did the solo competitions, etc., and did
pretty well and had fun doing it. In the seventh grade I started taking
lessons with Tim Rapp, who was another Cumston student. I studied with
him until I was sixteen, then I started with Alan Jones. I'm very
fortunate to have had the three best teachers in the area. Cumston was
the task master, threatening to “fire” me if I didn't start
practicing. Rapp was the most mellow of the three. We worked a lot on
reading and he introduced me to lots of players; he made tapes for me.
He and Jones stressed transcribing, so I did transcriptions of
Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, everybody. They both encouraged me to go to
the jams. I started going to Ron Steen's jams while I was in high
school. I graduated from Aloha High, attended Mt. Hood Community
College and then PSU. In 2000 I got into the International Banff Jazz
Festival workshop in Canada. Kenny Werner was the musical director; it
was a great learning experience for me. I received my MA in “Jazz
Performance” in 2003 from PSU and started teaching right away.
Currently, I'm an adjunct professor of drum set at PSU and at George
Fox University I help out with the jazz band by working with their
rhythm section. Starting next year I'll be doing the percussion
ensemble there, too.
recorded with Lars Campbell (trombone), Tim Jensen (woodwinds), Dave
Fleschner (keyboards) and Willie Blair (bass). We're called “The
Associates” or “Ollis and Associates.” I think you
make music best with people you like to hang out with. There's a lot of
give and take and a lot of forgiveness. You can get to more places
musically with people you like than with people you're struggling with.
I'm also in the “Portland Jazz Orchestra.” This was the
brainchild of Lars Campbell and Charley Gray from PSU. Basically Lars
just wanted to have a band with all the guys he likes playing with
where the guys get paid and play whatever music they want. He's turned
it into a non-profit, so anyone who wants to donate can write it off.
We play Mingus Big Band, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis tunes, Charley Gray
arrangements, etc. For Cathedral Park Jazz Festival we'll play
selections from the entire repertoire we've done so far. It's fun and
can get pretty visceral. I'm also in the Willie Matheis Band, Pepe and
the Bottle Blonds, Paxselin, Dominique Eade (a vocalist from Boston)'s
band, and I do casuals with a group called A New Groove.
Paul Motion, Bob Dylan, The Pogues, Sonic Youth, Bill Frisell, Danny
Carey, Elvin Jones, Jack de Johnette, Tony Williams, Shostakovich, Jim
Keltner, Ben Folds, Han Bennink, Bjork, Clyde Stubblefield, Primus,
Billy Mintz, Tom Waits, Lutoslawski, Joey Baron, etc.
Most Satisfying Experience:
Anytime you can find yourself in a situation where the music can really
go wherever it needs to go; where everyone is not judging each other
and experiences that feeling of acceptance and journey as a team. That
doesn't happen every night.
Sonny Rollins, “East Broadway Rundown”; Bill Frisell,
Kermit Driscoll and Joey Baron, “Live”; Tool,
“Lateralus”; Dave Douglas, “Tiny Bell Trio Live in
Europe”; Keith Jarrett, “Survivor's Suite”; Sonic
Youth, “Dirty”; Tony Malaby, “Adobe”; Paul
Motion Trio, “At the Village Vanguard”; Tom Waits,
“Mule Variations”; Miles Davis, “Nefertiti.”
Discography: I have
my first CD coming out later this year. We don't have a title yet, it's
all original material and features Lars Campbell (trombone), Tim Jensen
(woodwinds), Dave Fleschner (keyboards) and Willie Blair (bass). I'm
also w/Paxselin on “Hollow Earth”; w/Pepe and the Bottle
Blonds, “Pambrosia”; “Miriam’s Well”
(self-titled); w/Jane Wright, “Southern Songs and Ballads”;
w/Dave Fleschner, “At Home,” “Live at Mc
Peet's” and “Just Like You”; w/The Michael Vlatkovich
Tritet, “Queen Dynamo”; and w/The Tom Mc Nalley Trio
Gigs: July 11
Wilf's w/Ben Fowler and Marcus Reynolds; July 20 Cathedral Park
Festival w/The Portland Jazz Orchestra; July 27 The Someday Lounge
w/Paxselin Quartet; July 31 Esther Short Park in Vancouver, WA, 6 to 8
pm; August 15 The Cave w/Willie Matheis; August 27 The Oregon
Courtyard Square w/Pepe and the Bottles Blonds, noon to 1 pm.
Future Plans: I
want to get my new CD out. And there's another recording I want to do
with Jed Wilson (piano) and Bill Athens (bass) when Dominique Eade
comes here to perform from Boston. That'll be in November, we'll be
playing Portland with her. I would also like to do a trio CD with Jed
and Bill sometime in the future.
Other: I think my
playing is more personal than it was, say, five years ago. I think
there is something different here: Portland players have a more
earthy-organic sound. The way the melodies move, it's darker and
cloudier...the colors are kind of smeared together.
Portland is exploding with talented young players and Ken Ollis is one
of the most sought-after time-keepers. From funk to free, Ollis can
pilot you there.
-- by Rita Rega