Featured Musician - November 2010
Name : Ward GriffithsInstrument: drums
Early Life/Education: I grew up in Tenafly, New Jersey, where I started taking private drum lessons in third grade. I just was always fascinated by drums. I remember seeing drummers in a parade downtown and afterwards marching around our house playing a shoe box with pencils. I suspect my parents thought my interest would be short-lived, and this experience would serve as a "careful what you wish for" kind of thing, one of those "teachable moments" of childhood. It didn't quite work out that way. I started out with an orange practice pad and got a blue sparkle drum set for my eighth birthday a few months later. I was first taught basic rudiments and reading by Joe Garry, then in middle school and high school, I studied jazz drumming with Sonny Igoe, with a lot of emphasis on big band drumming and sight reading. At the same time I studied classical percussion with Walter Rosenberger, who was Principal Percussionist with the New York Philharmonic. I got my first paying gig in 6th grade, playing with a group of high school kids, "The Sultans of Swing." I made five bucks! I played in a youth orchestra all through high school and also participated in New Jersey Regional and All-State Jazz bands. McDonald's sponsored a state wide jazz band when I was a junior. They'd stuff us with Big Macs and French fries, and we'd perform at shopping malls — it was a pretty great gig for a teenager. They also had bands in New York and Connecticut, and took kids from all three for the McDonald's Tri-State Jazz Band. I got in as the alternate drummer, and fortunately got to play quite a bit. That's where I first met (saxophonist) Rob Scheps. We got to play the Merv Griffin show with Dizzy Gillespie. For college I went to Wesleyan University, where I received a BA in Music.
Portland: I came down to Portland in 1999 after 10 years in Seattle, where I did a lot of bike racing but no music. Seattle had gotten really busy and really expensive — the long term goal of buying a house in the city was not really an option. And I was interested in playing music again, but definitely was pretty intimidated to start from scratch up there; I didn't know any musicians and couldn't find any open jam sessions. When I came down here, I found all the weekly jazz and blues jam sessions, and they were pretty casual and laid back— Ron Steen was always very encouraging— and they were a good way for me to get back into it. After I played a gig with Theresa Demarest at Pioneer Courthouse Square, Rob Scheps recognized my name in the Musician's Union roster and contacted me. I met a lot of folks in town directly or indirectly through Rob. Shortly after that, I started playing regularly with the Gary Small Band (Santana-inspired blues rock), so that helped me get introduced to musicians outside of the jazz scene. My current bands include: The Quadraphonnes, Fred Stickley & King Bata, Toque Libre, and the Rob Scheps Big Band.
Musical Influences: Jon Christiansen, Bob Moses, Paul Motian, Billy Higgins, Jack de Johnette, Adam Nussbaum, Jeff Ballard, Steve Gadd, Harvey Mason and Rick Marotta. I listen to the radio a lot and am influenced by what I hear on KBOO and KMHD.
Most Satisfying Experience: I've played a lot of gigs where nobody was listening, but they were great gigs because we had such a connection on the bandstand. I've also played some great gigs where you close your eyes for a second and there's a sea of happy people dancing. That's a wonderful moment we're all a part of! One gig that stands out was the CD release party for Mike Doolin and David Martin. (I did a CD with them a couple of years ago that was recorded in Mike's house. I was in the guest bedroom reading the charts and didn't have any visual cues from either of them. David was in the hallway and Mike was in another room recording us on his computer, with his amp located in the bathroom. Check out the sound on "Reflection," it's awesome.)
Favorite Recordings: "Later That Evening" - Eberhard Weber (with great drumming by Michael Di Pasqua). "Bright Size Life," "80/81" - Pat Metheny. And all the things he did with Joni Mitchell. "Black Market" - Weather Report. "Tehillim" - Steve Reich. "Aja" - Steely Dan. "Hejira" - Joni Mitchell. "A Love Supreme," "My Favorite Things" - John Coltrane. "V.S.O.P." - The Quintet. "Native Dancer" and anything else by Wayne Shorter; I love his conversational way of playing. Earth, Wind & Fire - "Best of, Vol. I". Early Steely Dan, including "Katy Lied" and "The Royal Scam." Anything by Kenny Garrett or the Dave Holland Quintet, or drummers Jeff Ballard and Stanton Moore.
Discography: I'm on Mike Doolin and David Martin's "Reflection" (2008); on Frank Tribble's "Quite Frankly" (2009); on Fred Stickley's "King Beta" (2009); on Michael "Shoehorn" Conley's "Cafe Cirque" (2008); will be on Toque Libre's new CD.
Gigs: I play cajon the second Thursday of each month at Andina with guitarists Greg Wolf and Nat Hulskamp. November 6 with The Quadraphonnes at the Alberta Rose Theater. We'll be doing a collection of original works by local composers. On December 17 with Fred Stickley and King Beta at O'Connors Vault.
Future Plans: Just keep doing what I'm doing.
Other: I think of myself as a musician, not just a jazz musician. I play a variety of different types of music. I love playing fully improvised stuff as well as charts. Big band is really fun. The drummer is the driver of the bus, a very powerful position; that and the first trumpet. I love it, especially modern big band charts. It's been a great experience playing in Sheps' big band, he brings in wonderful charts.
Quote (Rob Scheps): "I have known Ward since the early '80s, when she was a high school phenom in New Jersey. She is a slamming drummer, traversing all manners of grooves with great chops, finesse and soul, She is the uber-musical engine of my Big Band — indispensable."
-- by Rita Rega