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Take Five With Clay Grossman

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Meet Clay Grossman:

Clay Grossman, a mainstay on the Chicago jazz scene for almost four decades, began his professional career at the age of the 19. He has been passing on his sage drum knowledge and wisdom to aspiring students of the drum- set over 20 years. He studied drums with Marshall Thompson and Ian Wallace.

Clay has performed with Yves Francois, Franz Jackson, Lin Halliday, and Burton Greene. In addition, he has performed at many venues in the Chicago area like the Hothouse and the Gateway Theatre. Clay has over 18 studio albums to his credit. His current group is Jazz Apocalypse. Clay is the host of the jazz radio show Classical and Beyond on WNUR 89.3 FM.

Instrument(s):

Drums, tabla.

Teachers and/or influences?

My teachers have included Jim Piekarczyk, Marshall Thompson, Dede Sampaio, Ian Wallace, Charlie Harrington, and Kalyan Pathak.

My biggest musical influences are John Bonham, Bill Bruford
Bill Bruford
Bill Bruford
b.1949
drums
, Brian Eno
Brian Eno
Brian Eno
b.1948
author
, Max Roach
Max Roach
Max Roach
1925 - 2007
drums
,Tony Williams
Tony Williams
Tony Williams
1945 - 1997
drums
, Art Blakey
Art Blakey
Art Blakey
1919 - 1990
drums
, Ed Blackwell
Ed Blackwell
Ed Blackwell
1929 - 1992
drums
, Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
1920 - 1955
sax, alto
, John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
, and my favorite all-time drummer, Papa Jo Jones
Jo Jones
Jo Jones
1911 - 1985
drums
.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

I knew I wanted to be a musician when as a six year old I did vocal duets with my mother. She played folk guitar. She started buying a lot of sheet music and I would spend hours looking at the "funny" dots and lines.

Your sound and approach to music:

I prefer the "old school" sound of calf skins and '50s/'60s classic cymbal sounds. I approach music from an organic approach. Drum machines have no soul just as a windup toy has no "feel" or spirit. Notes on a page are lifeless until you breathe life into them. My role in an ensemble is to breathe that life into the music and be supportive. Depending on the mood and tone, the respirations may be fast and shallow—or, perhaps, deep and more profound. Life is too short to play something the same way twice.

Your teaching approach:

Information is knowledge and knowledge is power. I want my students to be as powerful as they can be and to have the ability to adapt to any musical situation. I try to impart as much knowledge as I can without being overwhelming in each lesson. You're only as good as your last lesson and you have to read your students, as everyone is on a different rung of the drumming knowledge ladder. Quality and succinct didactics are not synonymous. We will cover something for as long as it takes, regardless of what the clock on the wall says. If someone wants a cookie-cutter "that's all we have time for today" approach in an instructor, then I'm probably not a good fit for them.

Your dream band:

I have to go with Fats Navarro
Fats Navarro
Fats Navarro
1923 - 1950
trumpet
on trumpet. He was such an innovator and had a strong stylistic influence on many other players. On bass, Percy Heath
Percy Heath
Percy Heath
1923 - 2005
bass, acoustic
is my choice. It would have been great to have garnered anything from him as a musician. Bud Powell
Bud Powell
Bud Powell
1924 - 1966
piano
gets the nod for piano. He is my idea of the perfect bebop pianist. Bird and/or Coltrane on the sax. Bird was the original genius of modern music. Coltrane was cut from the same cloth in that he had a seemingly endless supply of musical ideas. J.J. Johnson
J.J. Johnson
J.J. Johnson
1924 - 2001
trombone
made everything he created sound easy and smooth. He was the Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
1920 - 1955
sax, alto
of the trombone.

Road story: Your best or worst experience:

Best: I recently finished touring with an Indian Garba Band. It was one of the most refreshing and enjoyable experiences in my career. It was a mix of cross- cultural artistry where I heard and did things musically I had never done before. Worst: A Bar Mitzvah where the affluent children screamed obscenities loud enough for the man on the moon to hear. It was topped off with an hour-long food fight. I cleaned whipped cream out of cases and amps for a week. Ah, the gigs we take when our career is fledgling and economics overrides artistic integrity.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?

My latest, Jazz Apocalypse Vol 1. Artistically, I respectfully say it's the best thing I have ever done.

The first Jazz album I bought was:

Kenny Wheeler
Kenny Wheeler
Kenny Wheeler
1930 - 2014
trumpet
's Gnu High(ECM, 1976), with Jack DeJohnette
Jack DeJohnette
Jack DeJohnette
b.1942
drums
on drums.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

Ideas, color, energy. How about something along the lines of I feel stylistically, my ideas, while drawn upon the great masters (after all, you can't innovate until you assimilate), are original and unique. As a result, I view what I am trying to contribute as being a kaleidoscope of colors. In that respect, I feel as though I'm a painter creating and giving my impressionistic interpretation of a veritable plethora and cornucopia of musical colors.

Did you know...

There are three generations of boxers in my family. My dad was a fighter boxer as was his brother. They must have picked it up from their father who was a boxer too.

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