Jamison Ross and the incessant drumbeat of hope

by Jeff Koch
Posted 7/17/15, 02:20 pm

Drummer jokes have a long and storied tradition trading in stereotypes, such as those found on ProGuitarShop.com: “What’s the difference between a pizza and a drummer? The pizza can feed a family of four.” “What do you call a drummer in a three-piece suit? The defendant.”

Enter Jamison Ross who, with one stroke of his canny sticks, effortlessly and entirely demolishes the myth of the second-class musician. Ross is a jazz drumming prodigy first featured with his Jacksonville, Fla., high school band mates in the 2007 documentary Chops. He later went on to win the 2012 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Festival and land a record contract with Concord Jazz. Jamison is the delightful result—a sweet and soulful blues and jazz romp that shines with intelligence, creativity, and warm vision.  

While Jamison is filled with flickering, rhythmic fun, Ross ups the ante even further by taking the job of lead singer, which he discharges with aplomb. His pipes are a cross between Smokie Norful and Stevie Wonder, with a decidedly gospel flair. None of which is surprising given that Ross was a pastor’s kid who describes his voice as emerging from “the roots of a sanctified upbringing.”

Ross’ gospel background, combined with a mastery of jazz theory, creates a uniquely accessible sound right from the start. NPR named his opening track, “Deep Down In Florida,” one of the best songs of 2015 for good reason. Under Ross’ deft hand, this Muddy Waters classic is reborn as a shuffling, bluesy beast of the bayou.

Ross packs each measure with so many subtle beats he sounds like a team of drummers, providing funky counterpoint to a fat bass that dances through the song like a nimble Bigfoot. Sassy piano and guitar licks round out the sound to match carefree lyrics: “Deep down in Florida / where the sun shines every day. I’m going to take my woman to the beach / we’re going to sit down in the sand and play.”

“Sack Full Of Dreams” is a thought-provoking piece of whimsy, where a simple stroll through the city reveals “Great empty faces … and hands that try to hide all the loneliness / light a cigarette to blow the time away.” Lacking any practical means to alleviate urban isolation, Ross reaches into his sack of dreams. A piano adds lovely impressionistic runs as Ross imagines, “streets full of laughter and toy balloons / people with hearts that care / who listen for love.”

Two romantic ballads contain intimate language reminiscent of Song of Solomon. Since Ross gives a hearty shout-out to his wife in the liner notes, calling her his “Proverbs 31 woman,” we know who he has in mind when he conjures up a lover with “warm lips,” “mystic charms,” and “eyes that glow in the dark.”

Ross says goodbye to listeners with “Say Goodbye To The Blues.” A slide guitar quavers in the background mournfully, soon to be countered by the gospel-like optimism of a Hammond B-3 organ. The effect is complete when a choir begins chanting, “Bye-Bye” to set up Ross’ preacher-like exhortation, “It’s gonna be a brand new day / It’s gonna be a brand new way … Get ready, there’s a change coming … bye-bye blues.”

Jamison holds out the simple joys of life. Ross never preaches the gospel—not even close. But by crafting songs both complex and unabashedly cheerful, he reminds people that there is such a thing as hope, even in this world of misery and sin. And that’s something. Ross has a ministry of encouragement, preparing the way for another workman to pick up the thread and explain where true hope is found.

Jeff Koch

Jeff is a mortgage lender and graduate of the World Journalism Institute's mid-career course. He lives with his wife and their eight children in the Chicago area.

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