Next in our series of interviews with some of Central Ohio’s finest jazz musicians is drummer, percussionist and educator Zach Compston. Compston is very active in the Columbus jazz scene, both through performing with area greats like Pete Mills and Kelly McLennan, but also in his role as Director of Education and Community Engagement for the Jazz Arts Group. Overseeing JAG’s various educational programs, he is central to their mission to educate area residents of all ages about jazz, and is now getting involved in directing groups. See below for a look into Compston’s background and interests, including insight into an exciting show at Bungalow Jazz on Friday, October 28th with the Zach Compston Quintet:
When and why did you start playing music and jazz?
Zach Compston (ZC): My parents were musicians who met in the Air Force, and more importantly they were improvisers and sang/played all over the house growing up. So, I started playing piano and drums by ear at 4 or 5 years old, then got into piano lessons and eventually started saxophone and drums in band. For me, I loved Led Zeppelin, Tower of Power, Blood Sweat and Tears and all of these rock/pop bands who were heavily influenced by jazz. But it wasn’t until I got to college that I really learned about the origins and lineage of the music that inspired those musicians.
Who are some of your main influences in your playing/performing?
ZC: My ear gravitates toward the melodic qualities of music, so it’s a real effort for me to hone in on the drums specifically when listening to jazz. So, I gravitate toward drummers who play with a real sense of melody in their playing. As far as drummers, it’s been Bill Stewart, Brian Blade and Jeff Hamilton most recently. I also love the sense of feeling that legends like Art Taylor, Jimmy Cobb and Mel Lewis play with. I also admire Brazilian and Afro-Cuban music, and try to think about phrasing and speaking rhythmically in that vein.
What is your fondest musical memory?
ZC: Seeing Maria Schneider’s Orchestra this past June at Birdland in NYC. Her recorded music is powerful, but the live performance was life changing!
What are you listening to today? What’s on your playlist?
ZC: I bounce between some jazz and non-jazz listening. I have to admit, it takes me forever to move on from album to album!
John Scofield – “Country for Old Men” and “This Meets That”
Ray Brown – “The Best of the Concord Years”
Maria Schneider – “The Thompson Fields”
The Wood Brothers – “Smoke Ring Halo” and “Live, Vol. 1 & 2”
Tedeschi Trucks Band – “Let Me Get By”
What inspires you about the Columbus Jazz scene?
ZC: There are so many musicians in this town who want to contribute. I can play a gig with younger musicians and be inspired to think creatively in new ways, then turn around and get my butt kicked by some Columbus legends the next night! I love to learn about the lineage of our city’s jazz scene, while seeing musicians young and old continue to push the envelope musically. Most of all, I love the enthusiasm across the board and hope to be a part of connecting musicians together through my own playing and my work at JAG.
What are you working on currently? Any new projects, exciting shows or releases?
ZC: I am doing a bit of writing, which has been a challenge but very fun. I just started directing one of our four Youth Jazz ensembles at JAG, and have been working with our Youth Jazz directors to reach more students in-school and out with jazz/improvisation, which I love! I’ll be putting a sextet together in February at Brothers Drake, and my hope is to write a bunch of original music for that.
Where can local audiences see you play in the near future?
ZC: I’ll be leading a quintet on Friday, October 28th at 7:30pm at Bungalow Jazz, featuring Pete Mills and the fantastic OSU trumpet professor Anthony Stanco, along with Erik Augis and John Allen. Pete and Anthony are such high-level improvisers, so I am looking forward to having their voices interpreting a few tunes of mine, originals by Pete and Anthony, and some classic jazz quintet tunes. Anthony is relatively new to the Columbus scene, and I’ll tell you what, he can do it all! Columbus is lucky to have such talented younger musicians pushing things forward. And of course, Erik and John are two of my favorite rhythm section players, always swinging and with big, open ears for the music and the moment.
Every Tuesday night, I’m in the house band for the Park Street Tavern Tuesday Jazz Jam, 8:30 – 11:30pm. Also, I’ll be playing with the birthday girl, Kelly McLennan at Dick’s Den on December 3rd.