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At 70, Cleveland’s Jamey Haddad Keeps The Music On Its Feet

At 70, you would think drummer and percussionist Jamey Haddad would be ready to slow down. After all, he’s toured the world with artists such as Paul Simon, Sting and Yo-Yo Ma. Yet he’s equally excited to play this weekend’s pair of gigs at Bop Stop with a trio of accomplished Ohioans. To Haddad, only the music matters.

“I was touring with Paul Simon, and we landed somewhere in Sweden,” Haddad said. “Private jet, roadies taking care of every detail. The very next day started a tour with [Snarky Puppy mastermind Michael League’s new band] Bokanté, and I had two cases that I carried, a backpack and I boarded the plane. And it was awesome because everything about the hang before and after the gig was really together with a bunch of people who can really, really, really dig each other and dig the movement. It’s like a garage band gone wild.”

Haddad’s two sets at Bop Stop this weekend won’t be as wild as League’s rhythm-driven band, but as anyone who heard Haddad with this group at Bop Stop in December can tell you, they might groove just as hard.

That band featured Eli Naragon on bass, but with the bassist gone to Pittsburgh, the bottom will be in the capable hands of Aidan Plank. Cincinnatians Ben Tweedt on piano and Brandon Coleman on guitar will reprise their roles from last December and Haddad is happy to have them back.

“I took a chance to have them come, having never played with them,” he said of his southwest Ohio colleagues. “We met two hours before the gig, [but] they just played the hell out of the music. It wasn’t easy music and they hardly had to read it. I thought that was pretty impressive.”

Both are attentive ensemble players and adroit soloists, fully conversant with the contemporary musical language. More importantly, they remain surefooted in the compound meters and Latin grooves that Haddad favors. “I played a lot of very rhythmic music that was kind of like wailing Brazilian overtones, or some kind of contemporary jazz,” Haddad said of the December 2021 gig. “And I had a lot of fun too. Playing in a smaller band there’s a lot more oxygen, usable air space to have the sounds take on a shape of their own.”

That shape will be determined, as it often is in jazz, from the drum throne, where Haddad plays decisively and with surging energy. It’s ironic that a man who is internationally famous as a hand percussionist might be best known here at home as a kit drummer. Yet Haddad is quick to point out how playing a variety of percussion instruments has brought new colors and techniques to the way he plays and even assembles his drum kit.

“I definitely have an alternate setup that I use,” Haddad said. “There’s so many drums and cymbals and crushers and ways to mount things, and when you set up differently, your coordination changes. You really go for it on the gig, and you start to realize how important it is to learn about [your] own coordination and limitations because of the standardized setup,” Haddad said. “I’ve really expanded my ability to play the drum set in an unusual way that I wouldn’t have ever looked at it without having all these setups for a nontraditional drum kit.”

Former Cleveland Orchestra music director Christoph von Dohnanyi once said that music is at its best when it’s on its feet. In a jazz context, the drummer keeps the music on its feet. So I asked Haddad if, like many jazz drummers before him, he was a good dancer.

“I am,” he said matter-of-factly without exaggeration or false modesty. “I grew up being one. I danced in class, and in my classes at Oberlin, we all dance. Sometimes people have a hard time physically relating to the music, because they’re afraid to be judged, but we make it easy for everyone to be foolish and have some fun in a classroom setting without use of drugs or alcohol.”

At 70, Jamey Haddad is not done having fun.

Jamey Haddad Quartet, Friday, Dec. 2, 7 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 3, 8 p.m. at Bop Stop at the Music Settlement, 2920 Detroit Ave., Cleveland. $20 available for Friday here and Saturday here. $25. Both concerts will be livestreamed at Bop Stop’s Facebook page. Accessing the stream is free but donations are encouraged and appreciated here.

Trading Fours

Four musical events in the coming week that you might want to check out.

Howie Smith solo
Thursday, Dec. 1, 7 p.m.
BOP STOP at The Music Settlement, 2920 Detroit Ave., Cleveland (tickets)

Attending a performance by the promethean saxophonist and educator Howie Smith is like opening Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. You never know what you might get, but it will be invariably tasty and often chewy. This set finds Smith alone on the Bop Stop stage, but in his hands one saxophone, sometimes augmented with electronics, makes enough music for a full orchestra.

Book Signing for “Holy Ghost: The Life And Death Of Free Jazz Pioneer Albert Ayler”
Friday, Dec. 2, 6 p.m.
Visible Voice Books, 2258 Professor Ave., Cleveland (free)

No one would argue with placing Albert Ayler on Cleveland’s jazz Mt. Rushmore. Yet for all his acknowledged importance, the details of his life receive less attention than the circumstances of his mysterious death. Attorney and musicologist Richard Koloda has some some deep digging, revealing some surprises (who knew Ayler was an avid and low-handicap golfer?) for his new biography. Buy a copy and he’ll sign it at this free event.

Anthony Taddeo solo
Friday, Dec. 2, 7 p.m.
Cleveland Rocks Shop at Music Saves, 15801 S Waterloo Rd, Cleveland (free)

Every day is a giving day at Waterloo Makes Music (WMM), a free concert series, programmed by the nonprofit artist-support organization Cleveland Rocks: Past, Present, Future. Friday’s offering features Cleveland drummer percussionist and NEO’s foremost exponent of the tamburello Anthony Taddeo. Though his solo set begins at 7 p.m., the fun begins at 5 p.m. including a raffle to support WWM. Lavish spending is encouraged.

Matt Evans
Friday, Dec. 2, 8 p.m.
Convivium 33, 1433 E. 33rd St., Cleveland (tickets at door)

Drummer and producer Matt Evans is a citizen of the borderlands where improvised and notated acoustic and electronic music freely roam and interact, sometimes in surprising ways. Fans of jazz-adjacent music might recognize him as the percussive half of the duo Neti-Neti with vocalist Amirtha Kidambi, best known for her work with Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl. Local fans will be sure to recognize his co-conspirators: saxophonist Alex Henry and guitarist Mike Sopko. Also on the bill in this Cleveland Uncommon Sound Project presentation is movement and sound-based performance artist Marcia Custer.

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