Drummer/percussionist Jeff Ballard was born in Southern California in 1963 and grew up in Santa Cruz, CA. He recalls lying in bed listening to the recorded music his father would play on weekends, including Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Oscar Peterson, Sergio Mendez, and Milton Nascimento. Ballard was originally influenced by Joe Morello, Sonny Payne, Mel Lewis, Ed Thigpen, Elvin Jones, and Ed Blackwell. He graduated from high school in 1981 and enrolled at Cabrillo Community College in Santa Cruz, studying music theory with Sue Brown and Lyle Cruz, playing in a big band, and gigging with small groups that played a variety of music. The drummer also attended a Jamey Aebersold band camp.
Moving to San Francisco in 1986, Ballard heard Tony Williams, and it changed the way he approached the drums. It also expanded his circle of heroes to include Max Roach, Art Blakey, Steve Gadd, Eddie Marshall, and Enrique Pla. He was also working with trumpeter Ray Brown (husband of Sue Brown), Smith Dobson, and Harvey Wainapel. At age 25, Ballard began playing with Ray Charles during eight-month stretches for three consecutive years. After that, he moved to New York City in 1990, where he communed with the contemporary neo-bop and progressive players living there. He also collaborated with veterans like Buddy Montgomery, Lou Donaldson, Eddie Harris, and Herman Foster. He joined Chick Corea in 1999 and has continued to play in his various projects.
Ballard is a member of the Sam Yahel and Brad Mehldau trios, the Metheny-Mehldau Quartet, and Joshua Redman's Elastic Band, and is a co-leader of Fly, a collective trio with Mark Turner and Larry Grenadier. In New York City, he has also become a prominent sideman and first-call drummer for and/or toured with Gary Burton, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Mark Turner, bassist Avishai Cohen, Ben Monder, Donny McCaslin, Frank Kimbrough, the Herbie Nichols Project, the Jazz Composers Collective, Dave Douglas, Ben Street, Maria Schneider, the Full Faith & Credit Big Band, Guillermo Klein's Los Guachos, Larry Grenadier, Ben Allison, Massimo Biolcati, Mike Stern, Michael Blake, Matthias Lupri, John Stetch, Steve Davis, Tim Ries' Rolling Stones Project, Steve Wilson, Adam Kolker, Joe Locke, Anthony Wilson, Horacio "El Negro" Hernández, Claudia Acuña, Matt Penman, Ed Calle, Tim Garland, Wolfgang Muthspiel, Jason Lindner, Reid Anderson, Danilo Perez, Magali Souriau, and Hafez Modirzadeh. ~ Michael G. Nastos