Jeff Hamilton and the most nervous/excited I have ever been. (Reflections one year later.)

Almost a year ago I was presented with one of the most frightening proposals I have ever been persuaded to consider. The famous, and around these parts infamous, Jeff Hamilton was coming to play at MSU-B and wasn’t really looking for a couple of musicians to play with him. Jeff normally plays solo or with his own trio, but our wonderful friends Matt Devitt and Luke Kestner asked if he would play with a couple of local guys. It was an honor to be considered for the gig, but even more so to have Jeff come see Alex Nauman and me play and have him graciously accept us. What I gained from the experience was un-imaginable. Alex and I were fortunate enough to have a rehearsal with Jeff before the gig, which was like our very own personal combo clinic at our studio, and needless to say, we got schooled. We put a set list together of the tunes we knew, and eventually set on five solid tunes for a 20 minute set plus one solo piece (he did say we needed more tunes memorized…he was right). Over coming the nerves was almost a gig in itself, and when you are playing with someone of that caliber, I felt like my entire life was on the line; ultimately nerves help me and I can hyper focus on the goal that I am trying to produce. I think I learned how to harness that by playing pin-ball (during multi-ball). I didn’t know how to harness it in music until I was playing a big blues festival in my early twenties and all the sudden, it just all clicked and I lit up hotter than a bottle-rocket in mid July (I recently heard Bo Jackson use that term). Sometimes before the show, when it is bigger and people are watching, I get nervous and feel like I am going to fail or forget my parts–it can be frustrating but I have come to learn that it is necessary. The gig went swimmingly and far too quickly. I remember in slow motion being able to watch Jeff’s brush work up-close-and-personal– it was an experience inside of an experience. There was a point when he was playing a solo with brushes that was so beautiful and deep that I started tearing up, you wouldn’t normally expect that from the drums. Jeff Hamilton is a great personality, performer and teacher. I learned a bit about Ray Brown, learning more tunes and the importance of playing “acoustically”, which makes the groove and music sooo much deeper. First thing Jeff said in rehearsal was, “we are going to play no louder than the level of the acoustic drums, so you aren’t going to need to turn up very loud.” I don’t think I have ever heard a drummer say that before! Playing at that volume was an experience I will never forget.

After the gig we went down to Walkers and had dinner and drinks with Jeff. He shared stories from the road and cool things he has done. He talked and hung with us like we were friends. I appreciated that even more than playing with him. It has taken me a year to ponder this experience, feeling inadequate, adequate, proud, and humbled, all at the same time. I wouldn’t change anything and I hope that more of these experiences come my way through the years. It is amazing the things that music has let me do over the years. And, I got him to sign my Bosphorus Jeff Hamilton Ride (he said I picked out a good one)!

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Alex, Jeff Hamilton, and I after the show.

Alex, Jeff Hamilton, and I after the show.

Listen to Jeff with his trio, solo, and with the great Ray Brown.

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