Through musical self-expression, I aim to leave my comfort zone,where I can explore my inner voice, and experience emotional, artistic and spiritual growth.
For more than 35 years, Jonathan Ball has unwaveringly pursued musical excellence as a multi-reedman, composer and educator. Now, after 25 years of performing as a featured sideman with outstanding Latin Jazz ensembles, backing up some of popular music’s biggest names and providing guidance and wisdom to literally hundreds of young saxophonists, Jonathan is embarking on a new project of personal expression – co-leading his own ensemble with the remarkable guitarist Matthew Finck. Their first CD, It’s Not That Far - in the company of brilliant collaborators Jay Anderson, Adam Nussbaum and Randy Brecker - was released in July of 2013, launching an entirely new dimension to a career of highly fulfilling, but relatively understated excellence.
Jonathan’s influences and inspirations provide a strong indication of the level of his artistic vision and pursuit, citing Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Sonny Stitt, Jerry Bergonzi, Dave Liebman and Joe Henderson as his saxophone ideals; and composers Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea and Arnold Schoenberg as the models for his compositional endeavors. “I view Chick Corea as the role model for me on the whole – his abilities as a composer, improviser, and performer, in whatever setting; he is a key inspiration to me.”
Born and raised in Hartford, Connecticut, Jonathan began his studies on clarinet at the age of eight and gradually added flute, alto and finally the baritone in middle school. It wasn’t until his college years at Western Michigan University that he shifted his focus to the tenor sax, which remains his primary horn to this day. During his time at Western Michigan, Jonathan was exposed to some notable visiting artists like Rick Margitza, Jim Snidero and most importantly, Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach, with whom he also had the opportunity to perform. While in Michigan, he also performed as part of an orchestra in Kalamazoo that accompanied major touring artists, including Johnny Mathis and The Temptations. Here he also published Masters of the Alto Saxophone Play the Blues, (Corybant Productions, 1990), a book of transcriptions by Ball and Trent Kynaston of solos by such renowned alto legends as Cannonball Adderley, Jackie McLean, Sonny Stitt and Art Pepper.
Graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Music in 1992, Ball spent 1993 in Nashville and then paid some more dues, touring nationally for a number of months with International Broadway Tours presentations of Anything Goes, Brigadoon and Bye Bye, Birdie. Going home to Connecticut, he returned to school at Central Connecticut State University for his education degree, while performing locally with various jazz ensembles. He also began his business as a horn technician, which he continues to this day.
In 1995, Jonathan began his longstanding working relationship with vocalist Rob Zappulla, recording two big band albums that featured him on lead alto. Here he met arranger Lew Anderson in 2000, later appearing on two of Lew’s recordings and occasionally performing with his big band at Birdland.
Latin Jazz became a constant part of Jonathan’s activities in 1996. For a 10-year period he was a member of ensembles led by eminent Cuban artists Tony Perez and Grammy winners Charles Flores and Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez. Here he played alongside such renowned artists as Francisco Mela, Claudio Roditi, Daphnis Prieto and Giovanni Hidalgo, performing at major festivals all over the U.S. and Latin America. Since 2002 Ball has worked in casino orchestras, backing up popular entertainers such as Paul Anka, Bob Newhart and Joan Rivers, while also performing on a variety of commercial studio sessions for companies including Chevrolet, the Upjohn Company, MetroTransit, and Cellular One.
In addition to all of this musical activity, education and the development of young talent has always played a major part in Jonathan’s overall pursuits. Teaching for six years (2002-8) in grades K-8 in the Hartford school system, it’s in the private studies arena that Jonathan finds his greatest challenge and fulfillment. “As one teaches and the other learns, both experience failure and success. Through this struggle, both teacher and student learn about themselves. Failure breeds success.” Over the years, Jonathan has taught more than 500 private saxophone, clarinet and flute students in both classical and jazz - most of whom remain with him for several years.
But it was a fortuitous meeting at a wedding in 2005 where Jonathan and Matthew connected, and the idea of creating an ensemble together began to take root. It wasn’t until 2012 that they actually were able to devote their efforts to the new ensemble as their primary musical activity, and the group premiered in July at The Falcon Arts Concert Series in Marlboro, NY. One month later, they were in the studio recording with Randy, Jay and Adam. Touring plans are currently in progress and a new chapter in Jonathan Ball’s lifelong commitment is moving into place.