Joel Ross ‘Good Vibes’

“The vibraphonist Joel Ross is already widely known as contemporary jazz’s top prospect. Kingmaker, his major-label debut, out now on Blue Note, shows that he has what it takes to build something vital”
– The New York Times

“The 23-year-old vibraphonist shines on his debut album, with an approach that feels sly and mysterious... KingMaker is a marvel... one of the most promising albums to have emerged from the jazz world this year, but it’s clear that Ross is just getting started.”
– Pitchfork

“[Ross is a] bright young vibraphonist on his own rocket-like trajectory,...he’s somebody I’ll keep my eye on in the coming months.”
– Nate Chinen, The New York Times

“I never had a doubt that I was going to do music,” says Joel Ross, the most thrilling new vibraphonist in America. “My whole life it was just about finding a way to do it.” In the past few years, keeping up with all of those ways has, for aficionados, turned into a virtuosic practice unto itself. The Chicago-born, Brooklyn-based player and composer has a way of being everywhere interesting at once: from deeply innovative albums (Makaya McCraven’s Universal Beings, Walter Smith III & Matthew Stevens’ In Common) to reliably revolutionary combos (Marquis Hill’s Blacktet, Peter Evans’ Being & Becoming) to the buzzing debut of Blue Note’s 2018 breakout star James Francies (Flight). Even with his own bands—which include quartets and a large ensemble dedicated to the works of and in-the-style-of Ornette Coleman and Keith Jarrett’s American Quartet—Ross is basically a living blur of mallets and talent and ideas. But 2019 is his year to be the star as he joins the Blue Note Records roster and adds his name to an illustrious jazz vibraphone legacy on the label that extends from Milt Jackson and Bobby Hutcherson to Stefon Harris and now Ross. 

Ross grew up in a harmonious home with three older sisters and police officers for parents in a quiet South Side neighborhood. By 3, he and his twin had spent enough time beating on things around the house that it was deemed wisest to buy them separate toddler-sized drum sets. Before long they were taking turns sitting in at church, where dad was choir director at one point. They joined the school band as soon as they could, age 10, and since Joel was the younger twin, he was consigned to xylophone while his brother hit skins. They auditioned for the multi-school All City concert and jazz bands too. 

“To be fair my brother was the better drummer,” Ross admits. “We both made the cut and since I already played mallets they said, ‘Why don’t you try vibraphone?’ I was like, ‘I don’t know what a vibraphone is. I don’t want to do this.’” But he did, and found it the most natural way to express himself. He practiced and played constantly through numerous opportunities from the Jazz Institute of Chicago, and later became one of the first students at the city’s first public arts high school, Chicago High School for the Arts. Through ChiArts’ partnership with the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, Ross got to meet kindred spirits at other high schools around the country, jam with Herbie Hancock (his class of 2013 keynote speaker), and learn from special guest Gerald Clayton, a gateway to the beguiling music of Akinmusire, in particular the trumpeter’s own Blue Note debut When the Heart Emerges Glistening, which Ross didn’t immediately understand, so, naturally he became keenly devoted to unpacking every note. 

Still, he’d never had a dedicated vibraphone teacher. Enter Stefon Harris, who after meeting Ross at a festival, invited him to try out for his Brubeck Institute Jazz Quintet at University of the Pacific in North Cal. Ross won it, and for two intense years worked to tear down and rebuild his approach to the instrument. “Stefon completely revamped my technique,” says Ross. “We were also learning his [now-famous] ear-training method, applying emotions to chords and hearing harmony in new ways. I figured out how I wanted to sound.” Ross soon transferred to the New School and formed his band Good Vibes featuring his favorite players he met at camps, contests, and gigs along the way. 

Tour Dates & Avails

Joel Ross 'Good Vibes' 'Kingmaker' Release Tour

August 3, 2019 Newport Jazz Festival
Newport, RI, USA
August 30, 2019 Chicago Jazz Festival
Chicago, IL, USA
September 13, 2019 White Plains Jazz Festival
White Plains, NY, USA
October 17, 2019 Kummbwa Jazz Center
Santa Cruz, CA, USA
October 18, 2019 Vashon Center for the Arts
Vashon, WA, USA
October 19, 2019 Earshot Jazz Festival
Seattle, WA, USA
October 20, 2019 Holocene
Portland, OR, USA
October 21, 2019 Brubeck Institute
Stockton, CA, USA
October 25, 2019 BRIC Jazz Festival
Brooklyn, NY, USA
November 21, 2019 Annenberg Center
Philadelphia, PA, USA
December 29, 2019 – January 1, 2020 Umbria Winter Jazz Festival
Umbria, Italy

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