Jamison Ross on becoming a better musician — and a better man

Jamison Ross is an incredibly talented vocalist, drummer, composer and producer. Over the past decade, he’s been charting his own path by blending R&B, gospel and blues into music that’s uniquely his own.

Breaking onto the scene in 2012 after he won the Thelonious Monk Institute’s International Drums Competition, Ross has since released two studio albums — 2015’s Jamison and 2018’s All for One — and has earned a Grammy Award nomination while also working in various roles on Grammy-winning projects.

Ross joined us to talk about his new single Tell Me You Love Me, and how his artistry has helped him become a better musician and a better person.

This new single is the first music you’ve released since your second recording All for One in 2017. It’s been a while. Tell us about what happened in between and how this came to be.

First, I’ll state the obvious: the pandemic. But I think for me, the pandemic was a time to spend time with family and reboot. Honestly, I had toured so much and had so much success from my first two albums and had a lot of opportunities — not to mention my career as a sideman and my production projects — that it was a very busy time for me pre-pandemic. So, the pandemic was a chance to slow down. I already was feeling a shift artistically, and the pandemic gave me a chance to go from scratch. I left my label and ended up branching out with my business partner David S. Hargrett, and this new song Tell Me You Love Me is the first release of mine on Affective Music. So, I’m excited.

It seems that as much chaos and disruption the pandemic brought us, you found a reset and some positives.

I did, I did. I found a lot of positives. I taught my daughter all year long for her first-grade year, which was amazing. I was responsible for her education. I took some time to write songs about things that I never had a chance to talk about. Tell Me You Love Me is the song that explores this vulnerable side of Jamison, the man. I think a lot of my music on the first two albums was about Jamison, the musician. This album is more so [about] giving you who I am — 100-per-cent raw, unedited.

You say about this tune that not only do men need love, but we also need to hear it. When you say something like that, where are you coming from?

Something I learned from being married for 11 years and being with one woman for a large portion of my life is that the love that we always are taught or asked to give to our mates, our partners, as a man, I really want and need that love as well — and I need to hear it. Hearing someone special to you tell you that they love you is something really, really, really powerful. It frees you. It taps you into a perspective of male vulnerability. By doing that, you actually become stronger. So, the whole song is about tapping into my vulnerable side. It’s about putting it all on the line. I’m not hiding anything from you. I’ve realized that this is actually when I’m at my strongest, when I’m at my most vulnerable — especially with the people that you love.

Especially with men who are less inclined to ask for that because they’ve been programmed to be “manly” — to actually ask for the same thing that we all want and be verbal about it, what could be more important?

I love what you said. Somewhere along the road, we were taught that we’re not supposed to want to have a feeling of love. Long story short, man, it’s about being open and honest. It’s not even a complicated thing. Let’s open up our minds, open up our feelings, open up our words. When we’re available like that, it opens up how honest we can really be with each other.

Is this a one-off single or is it going to be part of an album?

I’ll tell you this: I’m an album guy. I don’t ever want to get it twisted. I think this single is definitely a song that’s going to be on an album that is coming. Everybody wants to do singles, it’s a thing. But for me, I think the album is still very important. I’ve put a lot of time in on a lot of music that I cannot wait to share with you all.

There was a lot of surprise around your debut recording, which featured not just your drumming but your vocals and your compositions. I wonder if you personally were excited to surprise everyone with an album that was going to defy the expectations of what that album was going to be.

Most of my career, I’d prepared, studied, went to college and learned as a drummer. But my vocal ability that was kind of god-given. It was always there. I remember when I got a chance to record my album, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to just play drums. A good friend of mine Jon Batiste, we went on the road and he told me, “Man, you have to sing.” To be honest with you, it was a natural, organic process. But it took me three years from when I won the Thelonious Monk competition in 2012 to put out a record. When I finally decided what I wanted to record, it ended up being 10 songs with vocals and two instrumentals. That, to me, launched a completely different path for my career. All of a sudden, I’d added the “singer” title. Now, with this new wave that I’m in with Tell Me You Love Me, I don’t want to say I’m dropping the drummer title, but what I’m really doing is focusing more on what I’m trying to say as an artist. [As a drummer,] I’ve played and toured with some of the greatest artists, but now it’s time to really make sure that I tell my story.

When you play with Snarky Puppy, is it nice to put the drumming into one little box and not have to worry about wearing all of those hats? Does it make it less complicated?

That’s exactly what has happened. I think I’ve become a better drummer because I’ve put that in its own house. When you hear my new album that comes out, you don’t think about the drummer — you think about the singer, the solo artist. It has made me a better drummer, because I have what I call the perfect level of perspective on what my role is. When it’s time to play with Snarky Puppy, that’s a big chair to get in. I’m very focused on that. But when it’s time for Jamison to sing, it’s also a very beautiful focus that takes place. I think the duality of my career has made me better as an overall artist.

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This interview has been edited and condensed.