10 Questions with
Taking a look over drummer Jon Deitemyer’s upcoming performance schedule you will notice that it’s full and includes many different groups and performance situations. Since arriving back in Chicago following college, Deitemyer quickly gained momentum thanks to his strong feel and dynamic approach to music, which allows him to cross musical genres seamlessly while being creative in his own voice. We caught up with Deitemyer to talk about his background, and living and performing in Chicago, his years as a member of the Patricia Barber group and his new recording Tall Tales.
Photo by Bryan Sansom
Where did you grow up and were your parents musicians?
I grew up in Lemont. My father was a high school band and orchestra director for many years in Oak Lawn and Aurora, and my mother studied vocal performance in college before changing career paths. There was definitely a constant flow of music on the stereo—a lot of classical music/wind-ensemble recordings mixed in with a smattering on jazz, Motown, etc.
Did you participate in band in elementary school and high school? Is this where you were first introduced to percussion?
My school music experience was likely very typical. I started in fifth grade band playing the rented snare drum/glockenspiel kit and began private lessons around the same time. At some point, the drum set entered the equation and it became my primary focus in high school. In general, I look back fondly at my school band experience. Practicing, rehearsing and listening to music simply evolved into my daily experience.
Was there a specific event or experience that influenced you and introduced you to jazz?
I was fortunate to have an incredible drum teacher as a teenager. Jerry Steinhilber was living in Chicago back in the late ‘90s—he has a couple recordings with George Garzone, Rudresh Mahanthappa—and has since moved to Nashville. His love for jazz was so sincere and contagious I quickly grew to appreciate the depth of this music, despite being so naive. The first recording that really hooked me, The Oscar Peterson Trio’s We get Requests was introduced to me by Jerry and remains one of my favorite albums.
After high school, you attended the University of North Texas, which is known for its extensive jazz and percussion programs. How did you decide on UNT and whom did you study with? How did that experience help prepare for becoming a professional musician?
I became aware of UNT while attending the Jamey Aebersold Jazz Camp one summer in high school. Ed Soph was the drum set instructor and encouraged me to audition down in Texas when the time came for college. Ed gave me everything I ever need to grow as a musician. He taught me how to self-diagnose my own shortcomings, how to listen critically, how to thoughtfully practice and how to play music with the people around you. I can’t say enough about his profound influence on me. His list of students making great music in the world is testament enough to his pedagogy. In addition to the actual lessons, UNT was a great place to meet wonderful musicians. I was in the first incarnation of the band Snarky Puppy while we were all students there and I played in the lab bands, repertory ensemble, etc. The great bassist Lynn Seaton also took me under his wing, graciously inviting me into his trio my last few years before graduating.
You probably could have gone to any number of cities to start your career. What was it about Chicago that made you want to call it your home?
I met a few Chicago musicians at the Banff Centre for the Arts only a few months before deciding where to move after collegenamely Zach Brock and Jordan Baskin. They were great players and became wonderful friends and both spoke highly of the scene in Chicago. The very first gig I played in Chicago was with Matt Ulery and I’ve been so fortunate to continue making music with him to this day.
In addition to the different groups you perform with, you are also regularly performing with Concord recording artist Patricia Barber. When did you first meet her and how did you begin performing with her?
I started playing regularly with Patricia four years ago. She was experimenting with different combinations of musicians after her longtime band dissolved. She invited me to play at the Green Mill. Since then, we’ve done a few recordings and a good deal of touring—in addition to regular Mondays at the Mill—and I’ve grown to appreciate the experience more and more as time passes. Playing with Patricia is demanding in the sense that there is an enormous dynamic range. Some things need to be full of energy but whisper-quiet while other compositions require a bashing sort of recklessness. She also truly changes things from gig to gig, whether it’s the vibe of a tune, the energy of her own delivery or the arc of the performance overall. The reward for me is that I feel so much more flexible as a drummer—a sense of nimbleness that can be lost when music becomes too predictable or dynamically stagnant.
In addition to playing you are also composing your own music and leading your own group. Have you always been composing or is this something that you began doing recently?
I spent a great deal of my early years in Chicago trying to develop my career as a sideman. All musicians go through this process—you arrive on a scene and slowly build a playing career by taking gigs with an ever-widening pool of colleagues. At some point I felt as though I had enough experience and musical conviction to begin writing from a personal place.
You released your second recording, Tall Tales, on eyes&ears records. How did the recording come about and what is the significance of the title?
The title is a reference to the fact that I wrote lyrics for the album. I love instrumental music, but I wanted to challenge myself to be more overt in my expression. Drummers can convey a great deal behind our kits, but we tend to speak in musical generalities: energy, time, dynamics, colors, etc. I wanted to write some music that was very deliberate in its meaning. Tall Tales evokes a sort of story time, which is hopefully something that comes across in the music.
Tell us about the other musicians that are featured on Tall Tales and how you put the band together?
Rob Clearfield and Matt Ulery are some of my absolute favorite musicians and closest friends. We play together a lot—in Matt’s bands, in Grazyna Auguscik’s band and in a vast array of other settings. It was never a question that they’d be part of this album. Leslie Beukelman is a singer that I have respected and loved hearing since arriving in Chicago. Her musical flexibility is so impressive. I can’t imagine this music being created without her. The wonderful vibraphonist Justin Thomas completes the quintet. He has since moved to Los Angeles, but brings an amazing dynamic to this album. The fantastic guitarist Matt Gold has stepped in for Justin since then and I’m excited to continue writing and playing with such a great band!
What do you have coming up in the next few months and where can our readers see you perform?
My quintet will be performing for John Moulder’s Chi-Town Jazz Festival on March 11 at the Green Mill. I’ll also be playing with Matt Ulery’s Loom at Constellation on January 20, and every Monday night at the Green Mill with Patricia Barber. My schedule is on my website at jondeitemyer.com.