Local jazz drummer explores music's African heritage

Andrea Daniel
Special to The Detroit News

For a shy, young quiet guy, the drums might seem a bit overpowering. But for jazz drummer Jesse Kramer, it was just the opposite.

"I think I was attracted to the energy and the power and the volume compared to how shy I was," says the Ann Arbor native, who has been playing drums since he was five.

Kramer recently released his debut CD "Acacia," and will bring its mix of classic jazz and African, Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian sounds to Cliff Bell's Friday.

For the CD, the drummer pulled together all the influences he loves — the sounds of contemporary artists like Kenny Garret and Herbie Hancock, rhythmic Afro-Cuban and Brazilian beats, classic jazz textures with horns performed by Kris Johnson on trumpet and Marcus Elliot on saxophone, bass line from Damon Warmack, and keys by Glenn Tucker — to offer up a project rich with groove, melody and backbeat.

There are several layers to the story behind the CD's six tracks, Kramer adds.

"One of the things that I find interesting about American music," he says, "is pretty much all American music is really rooted in African culture that was brought over through unfortunately horrible circumstances, through slavery.

"But the interesting thing is that the white slave owners did as much as possible to strip the Africans of their culture. You know, the language, and their music… they tried to take everything. But it still stayed, and it spread and influenced all of American culture and around the world, really."

The CD title and title track, Kramer offers, come from the Acacia tree, which is most prominent in the Sahel region that spreads from west to east Africa.

There are two tracks on the album that pay tribute to the Sahel region – "Sahel Trance," which opens with a rolling drum solo, before it transitions to a News Orleans vibe with keys and trumpet.

"I was thinking of the transfer from Africa to New Orleans, with the melody and the call-and-response aspect of that song," he says.

And then there's "Sahel Dance," which swings with Afro-Cuban beats.

"I wanted to emphasize some of those elements of African, and Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian music to celebrate that Africanism and how that stayed in the music."

The 2011 University of Michigan graduate gained his jazz sensibilities from his mother, who would often take the young Kramer to jazz concerts.

From those moments, he said he loved seeing musicians on stage collaborating in the moment.

" 'Cause a lot of things just happened without planning," Kramer says. "It's totally improvised, and I really think some of the most beautiful moments in jazz happen spontaneously."

While still in college, Kramer studied under some greats in the industry, such as saxophonist Vincent York, fellow drummer Sean Dobbins, bassist Paul Keller, and the late pianist Claude Black.

Jesse Kramer's 'Acacia'

9 p.m. Friday

Cliff Bell's

2030 Park, Detroit

Tickets, $10

(313) 961-2543