by Gus Marshall
New York based jazz veteran Pete Zimmer, is an extraordinarily versatile and successful drummer, composer, bandleader, sideman, educator and record label entrepreneur, who will be making his Seattle debut Monday night at the Royal Room.
Hailing from Waukesha, Wisconsin, Zimmer is a rhythmic force, considered one of the elite, top-call jazz drummers of the straight-ahead New York hard-bop crowds ever since he arrived in on the scene in 2001.
Zimmer’s compositions have a late fifties, early sixties, cool and mellow hipness, reminiscent of Miles Davis or Wes Montgomery. His original numbers are minimal but textured, flowing freely, and drifting purposefully, creating an abundance of space for limitless soloist expression
This one-night-only performance by the Pete Zimmer Quartet is expected to be well worth the time and money, the 2017 Earshot Jazz Golden Ear Award Nominee for Instrumentalist of the Year Tim Kennedy will be accompanying Zimmer on piano, joined by the legendary Hans Tueber on saxophone, and the rugged genius of Geoff Harper on bass.
Zimmer spoke with The South Seattle Emerald about his musical background and how he got into the record business while he was on the road touring in Colorado.
Gus Marshall: What was your experience like growing up in the Midwest?
Pete Zimmer: It’s a good place to grow up, I felt it was a good place to get an education. It’s pretty grounded. I went to a couple years at Northern Illinois University, then I finished up my undergrad at The New England Conservatory in Boston, and I have been out on the East Coast ever since. I moved out to Boston in ’98, finished up in 2001 and moved to New York. I felt coming from Wisconsin I got a really
good education, and I was lucky to have some good music teachers and a good band director. I went to public schools in Waukesha and had a pretty good experience I was involved in the Wisconsin State Honors Jazz Ensemble for a couple years which is where I met some other people that were as passionate about music as me. Once I got into that honors program, I figured out this is what I wanted to do. When I was junior or senior in high school, I made the decision to pursue music professionally, I was by far the most into it, more than anyone else in my high school.
GM: How do you compose your pieces?
PZ: I used to play all the percussion instruments, I was actually an orchestral percussion major at Northern Illinois University before I went to Boston, and then I focused more on Jazz, as Jazz Performance Major. So, you know, I used to play all the mallet instruments and I have some piano background. So, when I compose, I usually do it behind the piano, and I am not by any means an actual pianist or piano player, but I can play some basic harmony and some single-note melodic lines, and what-not. I think that everybody, whether you’re a drummer or whatever instrument you play, I think everyone has their own style of composing. I would say my style is try to write very lyrically, which might be a little unique for drummers because a lot of time drummers think more rhythmically, and not as much melodically. Most of my compositions I try to make very lyrical, and to be honest some of my compositions are actually pretty simple, the melodies, but I tend to think they are pretty catchy and memorable. Even if you are not a jazz connoisseur, I think a lot of my songs can interest different demographics and gravitate them towards jazz. I have five CD’s of my own that I have produced and that feature most of my own original compositions. It’s all instrumental at this point, and some point I might want to do something with a vocalist. I’ve had a number of singers come up to me and be like ‘I would love to write lyrics to some of music’ so maybe at some point, I’ll do that. I try to write very lyrically and very melodic, melodies that tell a story and make sense, and that are pleasing to the ear.
GM: What is your favorite type of music to play as well as listen to?
PZ: As you know there are tons of different styles of jazz under the umbrella of the jazz genre. But I guess I tend to gravitate to mostly towards more straight-ahead bebop and hard bop from the fifties and sixties. Some of my major influences for drummers would be Max Roach, Philly Joe Jones, Jimmy Cobb, Roy Haynes, Elvin Jones and Art Blakey. As far as bands, I obviously love Miles Davis, both of his quintets, the one from the fifties with Philly Joe and Coltrane, and then the other one in the sixties with Tony Williams, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter. So, Miles and John Coltrane and his bands, Dexter Gordon, Hank Mobley, a lot of the straight-ahead jazz, I like it really swinging. My record label is called Tippin’ Records, and tippin’ is a term a lot of jazz musicians use a lot of the time, when the music is really swinging. It’s another word for swing, you know? They’ll be like ‘Oh that drummer, he’s really tippin’, he’s swinging hard’. So, I like to tip and I like to swing it hard. So, I thought that would be an appropriate name for my record label.
GM: How did you decide to start a record label?
ZP: I’m a drummer, a musician, a composer, I never initially set out to become an entrepreneur and start my own record label. I recorded my first album in 2003, Common Man, and then I shopped it around to other established, mostly independent record labels, and I got a lot of really positive feedback, and number of them were interested in it, but they were like ‘At this time we are kind of booked with our release schedule so check back in six months or a year, and maybe we can do something in the next couple of years’. So, I kind of got this run around for a while and I didn’t want to wait another year. So, I bought a book off of Amazon, How To Start Your Own Record Label, and I read a good portion of it. Then I did it, I released my first album on Tippin’ Records in 2004. We sent it out to the radio’s and the press, and got a lot of good reviews, people were playing it all over, even internationally, we sent a couple over to Europe and got some good radio play over there. They still play my stuff quite a bit actually.
What: Pete Zimmer Quartet
Where: The Royal Room. 5000 Rainier Ave S
When: Monday, April 9, 2018. 8pm
Featured image courtesy of the artist