Whatever Lola wants

Ross Hammond on his daughter as inspiration and the state of the local jazz scene

Ross Hammond does things a little differently—such as not posing in front a <i>brick</i> wall.

Ross Hammond does things a little differently—such as not posing in front a brick wall.

Ross Hammond Quartet’s CD-release show, with Josh Fernandez and Shawn Hale, goes down Monday, February 27, at Luna’s Café & Juice Bar, 1414 16th Street, (916) 441-4931; 7:30 p.m.; $5-$10; www.rosshammond.com.

In Ross Hammond’s 15 years as a key player in the Sacramento jazz scene, he’s loaned his intricate and expressive guitar work to countless duos, experimental bands and musical-poetic collaborations. He’s played with musicians from around the world, but the person currently exerting the most influence on his musical style is not a musician at all. It’s his toddler daughter, Lola.

“Becoming a parent has changed everything in my life, and music is no exception,” Hammond said in a recent interview. He typed his answers to SN&R in a late-night email after he’d put his daughter to bed.

“Honestly, my life is filled with so much love with having a daughter and watching her grow up,” he wrote. “I am just trying to turn that into something musical.”

Adored, the new CD by the Ross Hammond Quartet, is proof of his efforts. The disc debuts in Sacramento this week, accompanied by a live performance at Hammond’s Nebraska Mondays jazz series at Luna’s Café & Juice Bar.

The record was recorded in a day in Los Angeles, with saxophonist Vinny Golia, drummer Alex Cline and bassist Steuart Liebig—all of whom Hammond describes as “musical heroes.” Though the album shifts from sauntering mellow passages into frenetic improvised cacophony and back, its overall mood is one of bright joy and contentment.

“Most of it is about [my daughter],” Hammond explained. “There are a couple of lullabies I sing to her that were arranged for a quartet, a song about Sesame Street, a song for my wife and one for my best friend.

“That’s how I’m rolling these days!”

The music is layered with sweetness, without being simple or saccharine. Improvisation on songs like the title track, when every musician charges ahead full-speed, feels like a crowded party with fascinating guests vying for attention. Lulling tracks like “She’s My Little Girl” and “Water Always Finds Its Way, Like the Soul” provide a contrasting calmness.

Calm is welcome, given the recent turbulence in the city’s jazz scene. Last August, the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee changed its name to the Sacramento Music Festival, distancing itself from the genre that was its focus. In January, Sacramento’s jazz station KXJZ adopted a 24-hour news format, moving all jazz programming to partner station KXPR.

Hammond posted an angry message to KXJZ on his Facebook wall last month, which inspired a three-day online public debate involving staff at Capital Public Radio and area musicians.

“I read the news and felt yet another pebble in a long line of frustration from CPR,” Hammond posted in the comment thread. “It’s a tough spot to be in to try to bring some good music and culture to the city and get little to no support from a station who claims to have the same target audience.”

A few weeks later, Hammond was more accepting of the changes. “At a local level, none of this really bothers me that much,” he said. “It bothers me on a philosophical level because it seems like jazz is being pushed into a corner.”

Hammond acknowledged that his projects—the new CD, Nebraska Mondays, and his annual In the Flow creative music festival—won’t be affected by the changes at CPR or the festival formerly known as the Jazz Jubilee. “The live scene has never been better,” he said. “I have a full schedule of gigs. Harley [White Jr.] has a full schedule of gigs. Nebraska Mondays has a crowd. The Naked Lounge has a jazz jam on Mondays. The audience is out there. …

“While the powers that have the money are abandoning jazz, for us in the trenches actually playing in Sacramento, it’s never been better.”