Student Profile: Jazz Robertson
Jazz Robertson got her induction into the music scene at the tender age of 5, when she took in her first live concert: Eric Clapton. "I was blown away," she recalls. But it wasn't Clapton's guitar chops that made her jaw drop; it was Steve Gadd's killer drumming. Years later, Robertson got her first drum set, and by age 16, thanks to her mother's chaperoning, she was playing gigs at clubs around Pittsburgh, sitting in with whoever would let her. "It's more of a school of hard knocks. You learn what to play and how to play," she says. Still, she was prepared to give up all that and follow her aspirations to become a lawyer. But at the last minute, she declined her acceptance into a pre-law program to pursue music instead. "Music is one of those things that you never want to regret not doing," she says. After coming to Berklee and spending a semester abroad at Philippos Nakas Conservatory in Athens, where she's immersing herself in all things Greek, Robertson is confident she made the right choice.
Tell me about your experience living on your own in another country.
I think it's really furthering my growth. I'm gaining life experience. I don't even really notice I'm in a foreign country anymore, because I'm so used to being here. I'm used to hearing people speak Greek and replying back. It's also been helpful to hang out with the Nakas students and staff. I ask people to talk to me in Greek, because we're in Greece. I listen to their conversations and try to join in as much as possible. While most of what I'm saying is in English, I'm starting to understand a lot more of what they're saying. The Modern Greek Language class has been awesome; it helps you try to make sense of basic sentence structure so you don't sound like an idiot when you try to order a cup of coffee.
How has this experience informed your music?
Like anything else, you'll always get something in hindsight, when you have time to reflect over things. I'm definitely getting an enhancement to my musical experience already; just in musical ideas I'm thinking about and using whenever I play, especially from the [Mediterranean Percussion Lab] class with Petros [Kourtis]. He uses odd meters and approaches music with different ideas. If you play something in 4/4, it doesn't have to sound like it's in 4/4; if you play in different groupings, then it sounds like the time's just crazy and weird, but it's actually still in 4/4. I can definitely bring that back. There are certain instruments that I've found to be cool sounding and different musical phrasing they use not only here in Greece but in the Mediterranean. It's all music. I don't see why East and West should be so separated.
It's been said before that music is the soundtrack of our lives. I think that's very true, because you listen to the music from all these different areas [of Greece] and it definitely expresses what these people go through on a day-to-day basis. An example of this is in Epirus, a region in the mountains where it's very harsh and cold and people have had a hard life. Their music reflects that. You still feel that in the atmosphere.
What advice would you give to a Berklee student coming to study in Athens?
I think there are three very important things. Number one: You're going to a foreign country. Don't try to compare it to America at all. There is no comparison. In so many great ways, it's different. Number two: When you're here, take advantage of every opportunity you have to take a piece of the culture with you, even if you have a hard time with the language. Just try. If you even show some interest in the language, people will help you. They'll get excited about teaching you Greek. Try to travel a little bit. Try to get to know people. Don't just stay in your little group of people. Hang out with the Nakas students. Number three: Don't forget the reason you're here. You really need to have a good understanding as to what your purpose is here. You're not only representing yourself; you're representing Berklee and you're also representing your country. In a way, you're an ambassador.
Jazz's Top Five Drummers
- Steve Gadd
- Vinnie Colaiuta
- Elvin Jones
- Brian Blade
- Jeff Hamilton