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Featured Musician - March 2009

Name : Jason Palmer

Jason Palmer

Instrument: drums and all classical percussion instruments: timpani, marimba, vibes, etc.

Early Years/Education: Growing up in Eugene, I was active in music in high school and middle school. I did a lot of classical percussion, competed in the state solo competitions, and played drum set in jazz groups and rock bands. My mom and dad and my older brother and sister all had a keen interest in music. When I was very young I remember specific moments when one of them would sit me down and say, hey listen to this record. Also seeing how important the punk rock and new wave movements were to my siblings sparked my interest in music. As far as percussion goes, I was always banging on stuff around the house ... coffee cans, my mom's wok. Actually, it was my sister who said, you should be a drummer! I had a really good all around percussion teacher in Eugene named Randy Larson whom I studied with in middle school and high school. He had me study music theory, he had me playing marimba, timpani and all the classical stuff. He definitely got me going with the idea that if you wanted to make a living as a musician, you had to be more than a Ringo Starr. He was always showing me how to demonstrate to others what I was learning from him, grooming me to be a teacher. My senior year I transferred to South Eugene High School for the music program there. It exposed me to jazz more. There's a strong connection between the U. of O. music department and South Eugene. A lot of great musicians came out of that high school. Many of the musicians who are still working around the area went there .. .like  saxophonist Tim Wilcox and Toby Koenigsberg (currently jazz piano professor at U. of  O.).

University Of Oregon: I double majored in classical percussion and jazz studies for my undergraduate degree. I took four years off after graduation just to perform and teach privately for a living. I wanted to play music for the sake of playing music. I had a lot of interests outside of jazz ... pop, rock, did a bit of touring on the West Coast in the Indie rock circuit. After that I went back to get my masters in jazz studies and met pianist Ben Darwish, who was getting his undergrad degree. When I moved up to Portland last year, we started playing again. I'm in his current trio. I used to think you had to be performing all the time or teaching all the time, I now know you can do a little of both.

Teaching: I'm doing a lot of teaching right now. This is my first year at Western Oregon University and my second at Umpqua Community College (near Roseberg). I'm teaching a lot of non-percussion subjects, especially at the community college ... ear training, theory, a jazz history and a rock history class. At Western I'm teaching the percussion studios, lessons, ensemble, and directing one of the jazz combos.

Bands: In Portland the main group I'm playing with is the Ben Darwish Trio. I also play a little bit with guitarist Chris Mosley. I'm working with a lot of people I met during my time in Eugene, namely Toby Koenigsberg, Idit Shner (the new saxophone instructor at the U. of O.) and Josh Deutsch. One of the things that excites me about what's happening in jazz and improvised music in general right now is so many musicians have a real mixed bag of backgrounds ... they've  played some jazz or classical music, some world music or pop, and they're trying to draw on all that background to just play music. I've also had several people say they can sometimes hear the classical percussion come through in some textural thing I might be doing; it does inform you differently. 

Musical Influences: The groove drummers of Motown, Stax and Chess records. Then there's Levon Helm, Ringo Starr, Matt Chamberlain, Earl Palmer, Zigaboo Modeliste of the Meters, Steve Drozd (from the Flaming Lips); big band drummers like Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Mel Lewis, Sonny Payne and 'Papa' Joe Jones; rock/studio drummers like John Bonham, Keith Moon, Jim Keltner, Russ Kunkle, Carlos Vega, and Steve Gadd; I've spent a lot of time checking out the classic sounds of Philly Joe Jones, Jimmy Cobb, Tony Williams, Elvin Jones and Jack De Johnette; music coming out of New York from Ben Monder and John Hollenbeck, and drummers like Jim Beck and Joey Baron; I also listen to a variety of world music, including Bulgarian, hip-hop, electronic/drum and bass, and alt rock and country.

Most Satisfying Experience: From a performance standpoint, the Ben Darwish shows at Jimmy Mak's have been really satisfying. He gets a big audience who aren't music nerds, just regular people. And to have that sense of playing really creative music with the audience sitting on the edge of their seats waiting to hear what comes next. Another satisfying time is that rare instance when I've composed something I like. Also, working on other people's album projects ... there's something about getting that set of original music in your hands, rehearsing with the band and helping the composer's vision come to fruition.

Favorite Recordings: Miles Davis: “Four and More,” “My Funny Valentine” and “Friday and Saturday Night at the Blackhawk.”  Frank Sinatra: “At the Sands” (with the Basie Band). John Scofield: “En Route” (Bill Stewart on drums). The Band's  self-titled album with Levon Helm playing great Americana grooves. “Live at the Village Vanguard” w/Mel Lewis, Bob Brookmeyer, and The Village Vanguard Orchestra. Keith Jarrett Trio: “Standards I and II”; Daniel Lanois’ “Shine” (here he uses Brian Blade playing rock). Elliot Smith, self-titled (much better guitarist and drummer than you'd think). Dave Holland: “Prime Directive” (group has taken playing time and odd-meters to a really high level). The Police: “Message in a Bottle” (a how-to of punk, new-wave and ska/reggae drumming and songwriting). Mongo Santamaria: “Afro-Roots.”

Discography: “Kids on the Street” 1996, Sub Par Records; Untitled, Hashem Assadullahi Quintet, for release spring '09;  “Live at Jimmy Mak's,” Ben Darwish Trio, February 2009; Don Latarski’s “Rue D’Acoustic” and “Rue,” 2007, “Eden Hall Sessions,” 2001, “Eugene Blues Anthology,” 2000, “Rue Two,” 1998 and “Deep Play,” 1996 all on Crescent; “Sense,” Toby Koenigsberg Trio, 2006, Origin Records; Spirit Session, self-titled/produced  2006; Natural Progression, self-titled/produced 2006 (Hip Hop);  “You Shall Know Our Velocity,” Seven Minus, 2004, self-produced;  “Fly Away”  Paul Wright, 2003, Gotee Records (Hip Hop); “At Last,” Marilyn Keller, 2002, Sachi Kurachi Records; “Salome’s Dance,” Glen Griffith and the Paradox Jazz Octet, 2002, self-produced; “Journeys,” Geoffrey Mayes, 2002, Toya Music; “December Sessions,” Jared Burrows Trio, 2001, self-produced; “Orange Live,” Orange, 2001, self-produced; “Passion Flowers,” Angela LeCompte, 2001, Passion Jam Music; “Tribes II”( a video game sound track) by Score Music and Sound Design, 2000; “Jazz Piano Trio,” 2001, “Three” 2000 w/Sanders & Niemiec, self-produced; Jim Olsen and the Oregon Jazz Workshop, “Fragments,” 1997, Phlogiston Records.

Gigs: Ben Darwish Trio: March 7 Joe Ferderigo's, Eugene; March 21, Egan's Ballard Jam House, Seattle; Josh Deutsch Quartet: March 13, Joe Federigo's, March 30, Composition Recital, U. of Oregon, Eugene, April 11 The Cave, Portland; Idit Schner Quartet, April 2, Cosmic Pizza, Eugene; Hashem Assadullahi Quintet: April 10, Joe Federigo's, April 22, Sam Bond's Garage, Eugene, and May 1, The Cave, Portland, May 2, The Jazz Station, Eugene.

Future Plans: Honestly, my immediate goal is to find a balance between teaching and satisfying performance options. I'd love to do some international touring. I'm intrigued with the future of improvised music, it seems the audience is getting smaller and smaller. To look at something like Ben Darwish's music, he has a lot of popularity around Portland, his audience wants to see an exciting show. It's intriguing to think about trying to get a whole generation hooked on improvised music.

Other Comments: If you say you're a drummer and a professional musician, people expect you can do everything from sounding like Jack De Johnette to playing a Broadway show to playing a marching snare drum or teaching a great conga lesson. That's a lot of information. Currently, I sub with the Eugene Symphony and occasionally do some chamber music things. Primarily, for the past five years my performance venue has been drum set playing. It's sometimes difficult to go back and forth between the classical percussion and jazz. For one you want to get lost in the music, and for the other you better not get lost!

-- by Rita Rega


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