Word that a break in Associate Professor Jamey Haddad's touring schedule with Paul Simon would allow for his participation in Berklee's World Percussion Festival in August was welcome news to both festival organizers and participants. Haddad's deep understanding of the rhythmic underpinnings of American jazz and music of far-flung cultures has placed him in demand at Berklee, in the studios, on the scoring stage, and elsewhere for over two decades. Haddad regularly works with four diverse acts: Paul Simon, Dave Liebman, the Paul Winter Consort, and Broadway actress and singer Betty Buckley. He might also be found on any of the world's seven continents playing or recording with such folks as violinist and oud player Simon Shaheen, the Assad Brothers (Brazilian guitar duo), South Indian master drummer Trichy Sankaran, French percussionist/composer Steve Shehan, or oud player/composer Rabih Abou Khalil.
Haddad lives in New York and for six years has made the weekly commute to Berklee for two full days of private teaching, world percussion classes, and frame drumming ensembles. As his musical horizons have become more global over the years, so have his opportunities. A family man, he says one of the hardest things about his current high-profile gig with Paul Simon has been the time spent away from his wife Mary and their daughter Georgia. Ironically, it was through six-year-old Georgia that he made the connection with Simon.
One of Georgia's playmates at a Washington Heights playground is the son of Jim Corona, Simon's soundman. After the two dads became acquainted, Haddad gave Corona his demo CD containing some grooves that revealed his eclectic musical nature and showcased the percussion instruments he has developed. At a subsequent Simon rehearsal, Corona popped the CD into the player to test out the speakers. It caught the legendary songwriter's attention and Simon told Corona he wanted to meet Haddad.
"Paul had worked very hard with his band to get the right feel for one of his songs," said Haddad. "When he heard one groove on the CD, he was able to play the song to it. He had Jim invite me to the rehearsal studio to play." Haddad brought an array of unusual percussion instruments and a Jam Man device that allows him to overdub various instruments in real time to create a groove. Simon was impressed, and the next day, he was working one-on-one with Haddad on grooves. Since November of 1998, Haddad has been working with Simon's 12-piece band and recording tracks for his upcoming album. The Paul Simon/Bob Dylan double bill was one of the summer's most celebrated tour attractions and included stops at places like Madison Square Garden and the Hollywood Bowl.
Haddad began to play music at age four. "Growing up in Cleveland and being of Lebanese ancestry, I started playing the Arabic dumbec and a drum kit at the same time," he recalled. "The music I played with my relatives at parties was folkloric. Seeking to become integrated into American society, I wanted to play Motown music and Stevie Wonder tunes." In his teen years, Haddad became friends with fellow Cleveland musician and saxophonist Joe Lovano, a player Haddad credits with shaping his playing and teaching him much about the jazz tradition.
After studies at Berklee, Haddad played with many different jazz musicians and continued to expand his horizons in other directions. He studied South Indian music with Ramnad Raghavan for five years, and then received a Fulbright Fellowship to study percussion in South India for another year. He has also received four National Endowment for the Arts fellowships to pursue jazz and international studies and collaborations.
Playing with Paul Simon is an unusual situation for Haddad who has never sought out a pop music gig. "Paul is someone who can appreciate where I am coming from," he said. "I don't think there is anyone who rivals him at integrating musicians and flavors from around the world with popular music forms. He really knows what works for him. We have rehearsed for two hours before every concert and talked about details in the music. Working like that, you learn a lot about what textures work and what ones don't, what beats elevate and those that don't. Paul understands what happens when you get that part of it right--you get 20,000 people having a great time and dancing in the aisles."
Haddad wonders if he had gotten a gig like this early on, would he have put the demands on himself that he has or would his talents have matured as they have from playing so many different kinds of music?
"It could be a bit deceiving for a young musician to play on a gig like this with two percussionists and a drummer like Steve Gadd--the groove is really happening and the music is so recognizable that people just love it. You might start thinking that the job is to make people happy. If you think the job in music is just to do whatever it takes to make the people happy, you could become a musical prostitute. To me, the job is to become the best human being that you can be, and music is your tool. As a by-product, you make people happy by doing what you do. Music is an inner trip that helps your growth as a person and as an artist."