As a child, Jeff Ballard would lie in bed and listen to the music his father would play: Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Sérgio Mendes, Oscar Peterson, and Milton Nascimento. “I remember feeling the power of a Basie big band shout chorus, which would then suddenly disappear into some quiet dancing riff,” said Ballard, a native of Santa Cruz, California. “It was the swing in it that excited me the most. I also remember how it felt traveling through sounds of the jungle in a Milton Nascimento record. The drums, percussion, and voice would sound as if they either came from the earth or were made of water. And I was so happy to hear the joy of Ella and Louis singing and playing together. I think that early exposure has made me part of what I am today, especially in regard to my love for sound.”
At the age of 25, Ballard began an educational journey no college could match. He went on the road for eight months annually from 1988 to 1990 with Ray Charles, backing one of music’s biggest stars, perfecting his time feels and tempos from playing with Charles nightly on the bandstand. In 1990, Ballard moved to New York and jumped into the transformative scene that was developing there at the time. He began collaborating with Kurt Rosenwinkel, Brad Mehldau, Mark Turner, Joshua Redman, and Ben Allison, among others—artists who were mixing jazz tradition with their own influences, ranging from Middle Eastern rhythms to electronica and modern hip hop.
Ballard also has performed and toured with Eddie Harris, Bobby Hutcherson, Buddy Montgomery, Lou Donaldson, Mike Stern, Joshua Redman, Pat Metheny, and Danilo Pérez. He joined Chick Corea in 1999 and continued to play with the legendary keyboardist up until his death in 2021. His present work continues with the Brad Mehldau Trio, as co-leader of collective group Fly (featuring Mark Turner, Ballard, and Larry Grenadier) and with his own groups, the Jeff Ballard Trio and Jeff Ballard Fairgrounds. On January 25th, 2019, Jeff Ballard Fairgrounds released its debut album, Fairgrounds, on Edition Records. The music is filled with wide-open improvisations and originals touching on the blues, rock and roll, electronica, and RB. It can have the funkiest grooves or a meditative minimalistic space, or it can go all the way over and outside to the unexpected world of free jazz, thus confirming Ballard as one of the most stylistically diverse drummers on the contemporary scene.