Clevelander Haddad Picks Up the Beat For Simon

Plain Dealer: Art News, July 5, 2001
By John Soeder

Jamey Haddad marches to the beat of a different drum – dozens of different drums, actually, including several of his own design. His musical studies and sought-after skills as a percussionist have taken this self-described “Lebanese kid from Cleveland” to Africa, Asia, South America and other far-flung locales. Now he’s on the road with Paul Simon, who headlines Gund Arena tomorrow night. Haddad, who grew up in South Euclid and graduated from Cathedral Latin School in 1970, expects to have a fan club of family members in the audience. “They’ve always been very supportive,” he said by phone before a concert in Detroit.

A strong background in jazz and world music makes him eminently qualified to provide the intricate polyrhythms and globe-trotting grooves that propel the multicultural rock ‘n’ roll embraced by Simon, who is touring with an 11-piece band. Besides Haddad, the rhythm section includes Steve Gadd on drums and Steve Shehan on additional percussion. Haddad said he has a “corral” of 100 percussion instruments onstage, including four drums custom-made to his own specifications. He praised Simon for making “pop music with integrity” and for introducing elements of world music to pop audiences. “I’ve lived in India, Brazil and North Africa. Playing music in all those places has made my life a lot richer,” said Haddad, who now calls New York home. His wife, Mary, is associate dean of admissions at the Juilliard School. They have an 8-year-old daughter, Georgia.

Haddad, 49, is prominently featured on Simon’s latest album, the Grammy Award-nominated “You’re the One.” The two musicians first hooked up four years ago after a mutual friend played a demo CD of rhythm tracks by Haddad at one of Simon’s rehearsals. “Paul is a poet who finds stories everywhere. He feels that if he has a great rhythm track, he can make a great song,” said Haddad. He also has worked with Carly Simon, Judy Collins and jazz singer Bob Dorough, among others. Many of the tunes on “You’re the One” were roughed out and refined in jam sessions where Simon would bounce ideas off Haddad, Gadd and Shehan. Haddad is especially fond of “The Teacher,” a ballad in 11/4 time. “People don’t even notice the fact that it’s in an odd time signature because it has such a trancelike feeling,” he said. He performed with Simon at the Grammy Awards in February and at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in March. Haddad got to accompany Paul McCartney, too, when the former Beatle joined Simon onstage last month in Los Angeles at a benefit concert for the Adopt-a-Minefield campaign to eliminate land mines.

As a child, Haddad was raised on a steady diet of Middle-Eastern music at home. “I started playing drums when I was very young, 3 or 4 years old,” he said. No stranger to the local music scene in the late ’60s and early ’70s, Haddad drummed for the North River Street Rock Collection, a popular local rock outfit. He also played alongside Joe Lovano, the sax star from Euclid, in the jazz trio Inner Urge. “I always thought Cleveland was a real soulful town, musically,” said Haddad.

Between gigs, he teaches at the New School University in New York and Boston’s Berklee College of Music. He’s writing a book about “the polyrhythmical aspects of playing rhythm in the flavor of a groove,” he said. “I believe that rhythms sit in a playing field of time,” he said. “They’re not just written notes somewhere that you can execute.” For Haddad, music provides a vehicle for exploring, not only other cultures, but other states of mind. “It’s a passport to another zone,” he said. “What you hope for is a chance to sink so far into yourself that the perception of any moment gets richer.”