Winning the Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Competition in 2012 established Jamison Ross as one of the nation's most talented young jazz drummers. It also generated opportunities to play with some of the giants of the genre, like Dr. John and Wynton Marsalis, and a coveted record contract.

But when it was time to record, Ross had a big surprise — at least to anyone who didn't know him as he grew up singing at his grandfather's church in Jacksonville, Florida.

Ross' ability on drums is featured on "Jamison," released last year, but the album also showcases the young New Orleans resident as vocalist.

"It literally took three years for me to decide what to do with this record," Ross said. "I said I wanted to sing. They said, 'You got this contract as a jazz drummer.' Anyway, they let me do it."

The label's trust in Ross paid off, as "Jamison" garnered a 2015 Grammy nomination in the Best Jazz Vocal Album category.

The success of the album has also started the evolution of Ross from sideman to frontman.

"I'm known as a drummer on the scene but this has been great for me," he said. "This is probably my first summer I've done my own thing as an artist. It's been a great success to be able to tour (on the album). It's definitely given me a lot of opportunities."

Not only did the album show off Ross' chops as a drummer and singer, but also his range.

He hits hard early, with the Muddy Waters blues tune "Deep Down in Florida," before diving into a run of more standard jazz fare.

The album closes with an emphatically soulful version of "Bye Bye Blues," a song that was part of his winning performance at the Thelonious Monk competition.
Ross said his decision to do both singing and drumming is a reflection of his musical interests.

"I saw it as having my own presentation of music with me singing and playing drums," he said. "It's been a very organic thing. I don't think we've seen it done much before. I was nervous to do it. Whenever you do something new, you don't want to seem like a gimmick."

While singing drummers are fairly rare, Ross said there are a number of musicians in New Orleans who have both skills in their tool belts.

"It's very traditional for the drummer to sing," he said. "They can sing, but they don't make a fuss out of it."

Ross studied jazz at Florida State and received a master's degree in the same emphasis once he relocated to New Orleans.

But his musical education, and his entrée into singing, started in church.

"Growing up in the church, I took that and it influenced me and I saw that it was possible," Ross said. "My voice doesn't have any jazz training. It isn't a strict barometer of the (jazz) genre. I think for me, music was just a part of life. It was a part of what you did."

Aside from singing, Ross began to learn about musical nuance in the ebbs and flows of the weekly services.

"In church, there was a different part for every part of the service," he said. "What I learned early, subconsciously, is that music has to have a feeling and a reason. There was a mood and a power that came with the music you play at that moment. In general, there's an emotion and feeling you want to achieve, I subconsciously started to connect the dots."

Ross is continuing to tour in support of the album, but will retain a number of gigs as a sideman and has plans to record a follow-up album, as well as a sort of jazz mixtape that includes unorthodox takes on American standards.

Jamison Ross

Anchorage
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Discovery Theatre at Alaska Center for the Performing Arts
Tickets: $40.25, $48, $54.75 at alaskapac.centertix.net

Fairbanks
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Palace Theatre
Tickets: fairbanksconcert.org