Born in Champaign, IL on May 3, 1969 and raised in the South Suburbs of Chicago, Ted Sirota began playing the drums in 1980. Ted decided on a career in music after hearing Max Roach make a crappy drumset sound like an orchestra at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago in the mid-1980’s. Sirota went on to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1987. While in Boston Ted got the opportunity to hang out and jam frequently with many great young musicians – Josh Redman, Mark Turner, Antonio Hart, Roy Hargrove, Seamus Blake, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Jorge Rossy, Chris Cheek, Lalah Hathaway, Dwayne Burno and Jeff Parker to name a few. Sirota studied with legendary drummer/teacher Alan Dawson from 1988-1990 and with the lesser known, but also legendary Joe Hunt. Sirota graduated from Berklee in 1991and hung around Boston for another year playing gigs with Reggae and Soca bands, and the avant-jazz band The Last Kwartet.
Sirota eventually relocated to Chicago in the fall of 1992 with The Last Kwartet (Jeff Parker, Sara P. Smith, Chris Lopes) and quickly became active on the Chicago jazz scene. Since his move to Chicago, Sirota has performed with many of the city’s finest musicians including Von Freeman, Jodi Christian, Fred Hopkins, Lin Halliday, Rob Mazurek, Bobby Broom, Peven Everett and many others. Sirota has also toured with saxophonist Christopher Hollyday and guitar legend Phil Upchurch. Recently Sirota worked with Blue Note artist Greg Osby and trumpeter Ralph Allesi.
In 1993 Sirota began a two-year tenure with blues great Eddie Kirkland. With Eddie Kirkland’s Energy Band, Sirota traveled throughout the U.S. playing blues clubs and festivals. Ted has also performed with other fine blues musicians including pianist Pinetop Perkins, singer Johnny Adams, and guitarists Little Smokey Smothers and Dave Specter.
As a member of the Sabertooth Jazz Quartet, Sirota has been performing every Saturday night at Chicago’s most famous jazz club, the Green Mill, for nine years and counting. Sirota performed at the 2000 Chicago Jazz Fest with Sabertooth.
Ted formed his own band, Ted Sirota’s Rebel Souls, in 1996. Rebel Souls recorded their debut Rebel Roots for the British label Naim in June of ’96, and have received much critical acclaim since the CD’s release. Rebel Souls second recording for Naim, Propaganda, was released in May ’99, and was followed by Ted Sirota’s Rebel Souls vs. the Forces of Evil in March of 2001. The Delmark label released the Rebel Souls latest release, Breeding Resistance, in February 2004. The band’s lineup has included many fine musicians over the years including Jeff Parker, Kevin Kizer, Geof Bradfield, Rob Mazurek, Jeff Hill, Noel Kupersmith, Jeb Bishop and Josh Abrams. The current lineup of Bishop, Bradfield, Parker, and bassist Clark Sommers performed at the 2003 Chicago Jazz Festival.
Sirota’s latest work also includes a new CD release by the Geof Bradfield, Noel Kupersmith, Ted Sirota Trio entitled The Rule of Three on Liberated Zone Records. Ted’s studio production work can be heard on recent recordings by Chicago hip-hop MC’s Diverse and Longshot.
Have a question for Ted or a comment about his music? Please post it here.
This is Ted Sirota. Thanks to AAJ for inviting me to take part in the CUW extravaganza. I will try to use the best grammar that I possibly can, and to be on my best behavior. I've been asked to start this thread off with an interesting/provocative subject. So, here we go... do you think Paris Hilton likes Albert Ayler? No but seriously folks...
How 'bout this. The name of my band, Rebel Souls, came about as a result of the influence of such people throughout history as: Malcolm X, Charlie Parker, Harriet Tubman, Sitting Bull, Peter Tosh, Public Enemy, the Clash, Nina Simone, Steve Biko, John Brown, Charles Mingus and many many others. Some of them were musicians, some not, but all of them have helped me to maintain the desire to not only survive, but to continue to fight for and dream of a better world for all of humanity. To me, all of these people's tendency to fight and rebel against oppression and reactionaries was embedded in their souls. They couldn't "sell-out" even if they wanted to. In part, my band was started as a tribute to the spirit of these freedom fighters.
To one extent or another, I believe that all art is "political" - yes, even jazz music. On my latest CD, "Breeding Resistance" (Delmark), I chose to seize the time and to try to make a statement about the environment that we are living in today. Many people that I know, some of them "well-known" musicians, are very depressed, scared and angry about the direction that the rulers of this country are taking us. I wish I had a dime for every time I've heard someone say, "if Bush wins in November I'm going to move to ______ (fill in name of country)" The concept behind "Breeding Resistance" is the idea that "oppression breeds resistance." The more that the "powers that be" come down on us, the more resistance there is going to be in reaction to that. This is a positive thing in my mind. Instead of being scared and running away, I believe that people need to organize and resist.
I'm a musician. I get ideas and messages out to people through my music. Sometimes those ideas are abstract or less overtly "political", and sometimes they are more literal and overtly political. I realize that a lot of people are turned off by anything overtly political in the music. But for me that's always drawn me closer to the music or the artitst if the music or art is done well. I like Picasso more, not less, as a result of "Guernica". I like Bob Marley better as a result of "Burnin' and Lootin". And I like Charles Mingus better as a result of "Fables of Faubus". How 'bout you people? How do you see the relation between art, or if you like in this case - jazz and politics. Should musicians be trying to deal with what's going on around them through their art, or should they leave that to the "experts" like Rush Limbaugh and Hannity and Colmes?
I've heard some of your music and I very much like what I heard. There is a growing wave of politically-charged jazz today, which includes you, Don Byron, and Dave Douglas. Music is not created in a vacuum, it inevitably reflects the context of its creation. This would inevitably include the political context. Never give up, and don't stop creating. And welcome to AAJ.
Ted, I don’t yet have Breeding Resistance, but I’ve got to tell you I’m a big Jeb Bishop fan. Somehow, and I don’t really know why, Jeb kind of reminds me of Jimmy Knepper. Maybe it’s because they’re both so damned expressive?
It’s a funny thing about “Fables of Faubus.” I remember a critic saying the wordless version on Ah Um was superior to the that on Presents Charles Mingus. It had something to do with a lack of polished lyrics and their amateurish delivery… Good grief (he says rolling his eyes to heaven with trembling upturned hands), he attacked the very thing that made it work so well and stand out!
Correct me if I’m wrong –I’ve nearly refined being wrong into an art form– but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of politically motivated music these days. Is that changing? Since big labels largely turned their backs to jazz, independent labels seem the only viable option. And here’s where it could get interesting; just as Columbia more or less censored “Faubus” all those years ago, it was an independent that allowed Mingus to speak his mind. Are we ripe for something similar now?
Clifton, thanks for the kind words.
Shawn, yea I kind of prefer the "Fables of Faubus" with the vocals, even though I love the version on "Ah Um" as well. There's a rawness to the Candid recording that I always related to. Plus, it has one of my all-time favorite lyrics: "Boo Nazi Fascist Supremist!" "Why are they so sick and ridiculous" is still very relevant today as well.
Before I put this record out I didn't think there was a lot of music coming out, especially jazz, that was sort of taking on and exposing those who are in power now. But as I started checking around a little bit more in the underground I realized that there was a lot more going on than I had assumed. I was happy to see my friends in the Chicago Underground Trio come out and take a stance against U.S. Imperialism with "Slon". I've also heard some interesting stuff about some of Dave Douglas' stuff and Vijay Iyer with Mike Ladd as well, but I haven't actually checked out the records yet.
I think overall there are a lot more musicians taking on the system then we tend to believe, it's just that they're not usually promoted by the major labels or played on mainstream radio. Every once in a while you'll get a Rage Against the Machine that somehow breaks through on a major label despite their message. I think the bottom line for record companies is the bottom line. If you're going to make them a boat load of money then they don't really care what you say. Until you stop making them money, then you'd better watch what you say!
I have to commend Delmark on the freedom they gave me to make this record. I thought I was going to get censored because my previous record label wouldn't let me say anything "political" in my music or liner notes. Delmark pretty much let me do whatever I wanted to do with my music and my liner notes. I don't think one of the major labels would have allowed me to put out the liner notes that I wrote, or my composition "Chairman Fred", which samples the voice of Fred Hampton, who was the chairman of the Black Panther Party in Illinois before he was murdered in his sleep by the Chicago Police Dept. with help from the FBI.
If people are interested in the notes that I wrote for the CD, I could post them here. Or better yet they could purchase the CD! Right now I'm hearing a lot of crickets, but maybe I could post them if there is some interest.
Ted: I think anyone who records, distributes, and markets their own music is by definition making a political statement. Chicago has always been a hotbed of musician activism, at least since the AACM. I'm glad Delmark lets you make the statement you want to make, in defiance of the hegemony of giant media corporations. Doesn't part of the solution lie in getting the music heard by a wider audience?
Hi Ted - wonder if I could ask how the connection with the Naim label and the late Julian Vereker came about? I particularly like the 'Propaganda' CD and the big, open group sound that was achieved on this session.
My connection with Naim came about like this... I did some work with a pianist named Patrick Noland and through him I met Ken Christianson, who does most of the recording for Naim on his Nagra tape machine. I had just put Rebel Souls together and was preparing to make my first CD, which I was planning on releasing myself. Ken agreed to help me out and record my band in Goodspeed Hall at the University of Chicago, which he had rented out for the Patrick Noland session (which never got released by the way). Ken left for England right after that session and took the tapes of my session with him. He played the session for Julian and he really dug it I guess because he let me know that they wanted to put it out on Naim. So, I didn't end up having to release it myself.
"Propaganda" was recorded at Union Church in Hinsdale, IL, also by Ken Christianson. The big open sound is the result of the acoustics of the church and Ken's ability to capture that sound with two AKG mics and his Nagra. I think "vs. the Forces of Evil" actually sounds a little better than "Propaganda" because Ken had more experience with that space by the time we recorded that one. This method of recording definitely has its advantages, but it has its disadvantages as well.
"Propaganda" was promoted more by Naim then my other two releases for them, and that tends to be the record that most people mention to me. "Vs. the Forces" wasn't promoted as well and unfortunately didn't get out as widely, which is upsetting to me because I think that's our best Naim record.
I did get the chance to meet personally with Julian before he passed away. He was really a great guy and he is sorely missed. He really followed his heart when it came to music.
Thanks for the response Ted - fascinating to hear about the background to those two sessions and the way they were recorded. 'Propaganda' seemed to have received the most profile here in the UK - a track ('Geronimo's Free') was also included as lead track on a Naim sampler which was the first time I heard your group. Listening to that album again recently I could sense a definite Mingus influence - some of the slower numbers reminded me of the general vibe on 'Self Portrait In Three Colours' off the 'Ah Um' album mentioned above. Very nice stuff !
Julian Vereker's loss was indeed catastrophic to Naim. I swear by their hi-fi equipment and the incredible attention to audio quality and sound realism is evident in everything I've ever bought from them. Never actually met Mr Vereker unfortunately but I have visited the Naim HQ on several occasions. They are about 20 miles from my home, over in Salisbury, Wiltshire - a small but incredibly tight-knit operation, great customer service. Sort of like the hi-fi equivalent of Mosaic Records I guess ! I really hope they are able to re-group OK after the loss of their founder and maintain the quality previously achieved.
Hi Ted...I'm looking forward to checking out your record, I'm definitely into bringing some more politics back to jazz when necessary (my local store apparently sold the copies they had and re-ordered it btw). I also love Jeff Parker's playing with Tortoise and Brian Blade.
Do you still play at the Green Mill on Saturdays, then? My band plays there a few Fridays per year, so I'd love to be able to check it out sometime (last time Dave Douglas was there on Saturday).
Yes I do still play at the Green Mill every Saturday, unless I'm out of town or something. That is with Sabertooth though, not Rebel Souls. I've been there for 9 years now. The Green Mill is my home away from home. You must play in Mama Dig Down's Brass Band?
There are definitely a lot of Jeff Parker fans out there, including myself. From what he tells me, Jeff's favorite Rebel Souls records for his playing are Rebel Roots, vs. The Forces of Evil, and the new one.
Heh, I am indeed in Mama Digdown's (one of the drummers). Next time we're down there I'll have to try and catch you for sure.
Btw, I don't suppose you've ever heard the Soul Rebels Brass Band? :>
Why drums, Ted, why drums? Was that an accident or is it something about you? And did your choice of instrument lead you to jazz in particular and to the other kinds of music you play? Did your world outlook influence your genre choice?
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