Jeff Ballard’s musical inspiration and drive was sparked by listening to musical legends ranging from Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald and Antonio Carlos Jobim, to the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. His exposure to multiple genres of music and the types of playing required for each enabled him to develop his foundation and understanding of music and planted the seeds from which his own varied approach to playing grew.
Ballard began playing drums at the age of 14, and while attending community college, he began the journey of being a musician, playing in college ensembles and gigs around Santa Cruz and the northern California region. While making the rounds as a working drummer, he delved deep into the modern jazz catalog, soaking up the language of classic innovative jazz groups. Listening to Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman added to his own toolkit the sonic palettes created by the drum legends in these groups: Tony Williams, Elvin Jones and Billy Higgins.
At the age of 25, Ballard began an educational journey no college could match. He went on the road for eight months annually from 1988 to 1990 with Ray Charles, backing one of music’s biggest stars, perfecting his time feels and tempos from playing with Charles nightly for three years.
In 1990, Ballard moved to New York and jumped into the transformative scene that was developing there at the time. He began collaborating with Kurt Rosenwinkel, Brad Mehldau, Mark Turner, Joshua Redman and Ben Allison, among others, who were mixing jazz tradition with their own influences, ranging from Middle Eastern rhythms to electronica and modern hip hop.
Ballard’s past and present recording sessions and touring associates read like a who’s who of jazz. To name a select few: Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Joshua Redman, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Brad Mehldau. His present work continues with the Brad Mehldau Trio, as co-leader of collective group FLY (featuring Mark Turner and Larry Grenadier) and with his own groups The Jeff Ballard Trio and Jeff Ballard Fairgrounds. In 2014, the Jeff Ballard Trio with Lionel Loueke and Miguel Zenon released its debut album, “Time’s Tales, on Sony/OKeh Records.
In 2019, the group Jeff Ballard Fairgrounds released its debut album titled Fairgrounds on Edition Records. This album presents music recorded and selected from a tour in March 2015. The music is filled with wide-open improvisations and originals touching on the blues, rock, electronica and R&B. It can have the funkiest grooves or a meditative minimalistic space, or it can go all the way over and outside to the unexpected world of free jazz, thus confirming Ballard as one of the most stylistically diverse drummers on the scene.
Please note: Biographies are based on information provided to the CSO by the artists or their representatives. More current information may be available on websites of the artists or their management.