Boundary Beater: A Jazz Drummer and World Percussionist Finds a Universal Language in Rhythm.

By Robert Kaye, December, 1999

Sorry if I seem a little incoherent this morning; we just traveled eight hours by bus.” says Jamey Haddad. The “we” is significant. Haddad is currently touring with Paul Simon’s band, an integral pulse-maker in a cosmopolitan rhythm section that includes Steve Shehan on percussion and Steve Gadd on drums.

Hailing from Cleveland, Ohio, Haddad, of Lebanese descent, is equally comfortable playing drum set in a smoking jazz ensemble or hand percussion with exotic world music artists. His discography of over 100 albums includes projects with jazz saxophonists Dave Leibman and Joe Lovano, both of whom he’s played with for almost ten years. He’s produced albums for and recorded with the Paul Winter Consort. Haddad has also recorded with Brazilian guitarist Badi Assad, Irish vocalist Noirin Ni Riain, Palestinian violinist Simon Sheehan, pop diva Carly Simon and the jazz group New York Voices.

“I’m fortunate to be able to travel to many different places playing music,” says Haddad, who now calls New York home. “One of the single biggest eye-openers for me was performing in the world drumming events. Some of the

“The common light that runs through us all is central to the music experience. And with time, persistence, generosity of spirit and an open heart, a common link rises up.”

…events had over 250 percussionists from over 30 counties!”

On the road, along with his cases of instruments, Haddad brings an open mind and an attentive ear. “The experience of gaining insight into any culture outside your own can be extremely subtle and limited,” he says. “But one thing is certain: The common light that runs through us all is central to the music experience. And with time, persistence, generosity of spirit and an open heart, a common link rises up and acknowledges one to another as being of the same source.”

A self-styled “road scholar”, Haddad is no stranger to the academic world. He often teaches a course called Insights Into World Music at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and the New School in New York City. He received a Fulbright Fellowship to study classical Carnatic percussion in South India and was awarded four National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships for jazz performance and international music studies.

Haddad is also involved in instrument design, frequently developing his ideas in conjunction with other craftsmen. Collaborating with Udu maker Frank Giorgini, he created the clay “Hadgini” drum, whose u-like shape flares out at both ends, with apertures for changing timbre and pitch. “The Hadgini combines elements from different instruments,” he explains. “Tonally, it’s similar to the darburku, an Arabic drum, or the djembe from Mali. It focuses the pitch a lot more than the Indian ghatam [clay pot]. You can modulate it about an octave or more.” Some of Haddad’s other instruments include the Hadjira, Hadjenga and Koohabata drums.

For Haddad, percussive prowess is more than just a matter of technique. “With all this musical instrument and performance cross-pollination,” he says, “the single thought that stays with me is, ‘Am I playing from the soul? Do I have enough musical skills to interpret what’s happening and internalize it, to be able to be harmonious with it, to always remember that what really counts is not what you do, it’s how you make people feel?’ The intensity and color of your vibration is what remains in the cosmic language of music.”

In addition to his other projects, Haddad is working on an instructional book-video set titled Global Standard Time. “It deals with various aspects of rhythm and how to understand it,” he says. “For example, is the rhythm vertical? Are there horizontal aspects to it? Is it polyrhythmic? What do you focus on regarding your position in the rhythm? Is there a ‘one’? Is there one central point, or does it constantly mutate as it’s going?

“There are all sorts of rhythmic vehicles that are used in different cultures,” he continues. “For instance, there’s the Bulgarian aspect of playing odd times, lining up small sets of numbers like 1-2/1-2/1-2-3/1-2/1-2 to make a measure of 11/16. And then there’s the South Indian version, which basically puts all that into a common time and actually calculates how it cadences to one of a cycle. So it takes that kind of knowledge. If you can actually be a good enough observer of what’s happening, you can really listen and offer some of your own ideas and not be threatened by your ignorance.”

Haddad’s passion for different cultures’ music is tempered by his high ideals. “I think the world music scene has a lot of charlatans,” he asserts. “I could even be considered one of them. People ask me to do projects for them all the time, and sometimes I feel inadequate to a point and will decline. I know it’s almost impossible to know all the world’s music as well as I’d like. Knowing any one thing at a deep level is my goal. Being in an intense, focused state translates over the gaps in knowledge.

“There’s so much music out there,” Haddad concludes. “I’ve been blessed to have been in so many different places and to have played with so many musicians from various cultures. I just always try to do my best, because I’m in love with this world’s music.”