Full name: Jessica M. Nelson
Where were you born: New York
Where do you live now: New York
Bands you are drumming in currently: Freelance drummer for hire in the jazz / musical theater / church gig scenes, currently with Brooklyn theater company ‘Gallery Players‘ in Park Slope.
Bands you were drumming for in the past: Giant Steps (jazz fusion quartet), Picantheorus Erectus (group playing the music of Charles Mingus), Cosmic Jazz, Rob Popescu Trio, Jessie Nelson Trio, Ahead of a Girl, Anti Organic.
What you do for a living: Drum (jazz/theater/church gigs), teach drum lessons privately, freelance writer.
Something outstanding about you: I always seem to have what it takes to make my dreams reality.
Tom Tom Magazine: When did you start playing the drums? Jessie Nelson: I started playing the drums at the age of 13.
Reason that you started playing the drums? I heard Kim Gordon (sonic youth bassist) ‘s song “Goo” about a girl playing drums.
How long did it take til you felt like a “real” and legit drummer? Probably about 9 years, that’s just starting to happen now as I get more and more comfortable because well, I’m playing all the timeJ
What is your favorite set-up for your kit? Why? The smaller the better, five or four piece kits are great, I find I don’t need tons of drums to do what I do. I’ve played jazz gigs with just a hi-hat, ride cymbal and snare.
What do you do to get better at the drums? I go into practicing with a plan, regardless of how much time I have. Currently, I’m back to using Ted Reed’s “Syncopation” book and working on my hi-hat syncopation chops as well as doing snare/bass drum comping at 180-200 bpms. I also use the third John Riley book to check out advanced coordination techniques / odd time signature work. I’ve also made playing along to music a steady part of my practice routine, specifically to develop my funk / hip hop chops.
What is your favorite drum warm up? Now, something that one of my favorite teachers Allison Miller taught me a few months ago: playing single strokes / double strokes and paradiddles over bossa nova/samba style foot patterns. It’s very meditative and such a great warm up. I am also a fan of stretching.
What do you think the role of the drummer is? (In a band) To play in service to the song. Whatever the music needs is what the drummer should be playing.
Do you play any other instruments? If so … how does that effect your drumming? I double on vibraphone and latin percussion. As of recent, I find myself attempting to play the drums the way I would express myself on vibes, as melodically as possible.
What do you consider to be the most challenging thing about the drums? Learning to practice everything slow because that’s the only way it will get into your muscle memory.
What’s your favorite part about playing drums? I just love to groove, regardless of the genre.
Have you experienced any setbacks as a female drummer? Yes. My first few years of college and out on the gigging scene, I spent having to prove myself to everyone, getting fired once or twice, getting patronized at jam sessions / gigs. Mentally I had to gather some serious strength to keep going.
Who are your favorite drummers? Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Al Foster, Daren Hahn, Allison Miller, Janet Weiss, Patty Schemel.
Do you do anything else drum related besides playing in a band? (i.e. teach drums one on one, rock camp, drum circles, etc …) I teach drums privately and have taught at Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls in New York.
Where do you shop for your drum gear? It depends. I have gotten things from various places. I traded in a rock kit I had to Guitar Center and got my Gretsch Catalina jazz kit with cases there. My hardware comes from the mapex rock kit I used to have. My ride cymbal I bought from a dear percussionist friend of mine. My crash cymbal I bought from someone at a gig. My mapex jazz kit I just bought I bought used off craigslist.
What would you recommend to a new drummer starting off / advice for new drummers? Find a private teacher and take lessons if you can, even if it’s just once a month for awhile. Also, learn to practice things slowly and gradually speed them up with a metronome, five clicks at a time. It will make the learning process go much faster and get the grooves into your body, regardless of what genre of music you are learning (rock grooves, etc).
What are some of your other hobbies? Reading, Cooking, Hip Hop Dance, going to museums.
Who are some of your favorite lady drummers right now? Janet Weiss, Allison Miller, Melissa York, Kim Thompson, Sherrie Maricle, Cindy Blackman, Kate Schellenbach (Luscious Jackson).
Who are some of your favorite bands right now? I think I’ve got a mix of bands and singers here: Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Carmen McRae, The Roots, Tribe Called Quest, Cat Power, Wayne Shorter, Carmen McRae, Sonic Youth, Portishead, Amel Larrieux, Meshell Ndegeocello, Tony Williams Lifetime.
xo – Tom Tom & Jessie
Jessie Nelson is a good friend and regular contributor to Tom Tom Magazine. Read her Jazz Drumming Technique column in the issue 3.