For the past several years, Joel Ross has been refining an expression that’s true to his sound and his generation. In 2019, the vibraphonist-composer released his anticipated Blue Note debut KingMaker to eruptive critical acclaim. He’s topped the DownBeat Critics Poll Rising Star category for vibraphone and in 2017, he became one of the youngest artists to receive a coveted Residency Commission from The Jazz Gallery. With the release of Who Are You? (Blue Note, 2020), Ross shares the culmination of a year-long exercise in experimenting and risk-taking on and off the bandstand.
Inspired by mentor Stefon Harris’ empathetic, whole-self approach to articulation, Ross has adopted an entire ethos dependent on truthful, ongoing communication. Honesty persists throughout his sets. And with each release, he reaffirms a commitment to authentic discourse, particularly among the members of his band Good Vibes: Jeremy Corren, Immanuel Wilkins, Kanoa Mendenhall and Jeremy Dutton.
A steadfast improviser, Ross saturates live sets with a lyrical intuition that’s equally grounded in melody and phrasing. He plays the moment. Rather than impose energies on the music, he allows moods to set, linger and transform. In recent years, he’s engaged established artists of similarly tenacious voices, including Makaya McCraven (Universal Beings, 2018), Maria Grand, Kassa Overall, Nicole Mitchell, Gerald Clayton, Melissa Aldana (Visions, 2019), Walter Smith III (In Common, 2018), Georgia Anne Muldrow, Jure Pukl (Broken Circles, 2019), Rajna Swaminathan, Wynton Marsalis & the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Marquis Hill (Modern Flows Vol. 2, 2018), who penned liner notes for Who Are You?
Playing thoroughly in the broad, resonating tradition of Black music, Ross draws inspiration for his layered expression from vital, intersecting scenes of his native Chicago. Imbibing nuanced traditions from improvised music hubs to the church, he embraced a range of gestural possibilities he’d begin refining in New York. After graduating from University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, Ross pursued a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Jazz Studies from The New School in downtown Manhattan.
Now based in Brooklyn, he regularly performs across the country and around the world. As a leader, he’s appeared at such storied venues and iconic events as Smalls Jazz Club, Umbria Jazz Festival, The Jazz Gallery, Winter Jazz Fest, Newport Jazz Festival, Dizzy’s Club, BRIC Jazz Festival, The Blue Whale, North Sea Jazz Festival, The Brubeck Institute and Kuumbwa Jazz Festival, among others. A highly sought collaborator, he’s performed at Jazz at Lincoln Center, The Village Vanguard, SF Jazz, Duc des Lombards, Ronnie Scotts, Jazz Standard, Red Sea Jazz Festival, Yoshi’s Oakland and California Jazz Conservatory.
Folkloric resonance incubates Ross’ artistry. Improvising melodies or composing at the piano, he leaves space for a theme to emerge and evolve, always inviting creative response. Nimble, virtuosic lines approximate speech. He often transitions among the roles of storyteller, protagonist and supporting character. His sophomore release for Blue Note Who Are You? features Good Vibes at their most synchronous.