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Generation Next: A young drummer with a great vibe

By Edward Anderson
Nola Art House Music

Every once in a while you meet the sort of young person who gives you hope that all will not be lost to the culture of video games and fast food.  When Jasmine “Jaz” Butler, now 20, first walked into the Dillard University band room to audition for music scholarship, one thing was immediately evident: She was a confident young woman. Over the next several years, her academic excellence and her immersion into music demonstrated that, for her, failure is not an option.  She was hungry for knowledge and determined that she would get her to her ultimate goal of being a skillful and respected professional musician.

Her official introduction to the drums began as a freshman at St Mary’s Academy, under the direction of Carl Baham, who also happens to be a drummer. She explains that it was there that she established her work ethic, being the first to arrive for practice, the one to work the hardest, and the last to leave. During her senior year, her grandmother gave her the money to buy her first drum set, sealing her commitment to music as a profession.

Beyond the drums, Jasmine is a triple threat: attractive, exceptionally smart, and (the trait I admire the most) courageous. She’s respectful, but definitely no pushover. She was the student who earned her own key to the practice room, because she could be trusted and she was always practicing.

But even beyond her musical talent and hard work, it is Jaz’s overall “vibe” that has opened invaluable doors to her professional ambitions. Vibe is a word often used in the musician’s vernacular, to lump together those tangible and intangible qualities of personality, intellect, intent and presence that make a person who he or she is. It can either draw people to a person or make people flee for cover. In the relatively short time since her introduction as a musician and her serious pursuit of jazz, Jaz’s vibe has created solid mentor relationships with three of the “baddest’ (bad meaning GREAT) drummers today: Nikki Glastie, Kim Thompson, (both tour with Beyoncé) and New Orleans funk master Russell Batiste.

You’ve done pretty well for yourself in securing some great personal consultants. Anybody who knows anything about New Orleans drummers knows that Russell is one of the funkiest drummers in the world.  How did you connect with him?

I met Big Sam during a performance at The Republic, where I got a chance to sit in with him.  He started inviting me to his shows and I met Russell Batiste. He invited me to his gigs at the Maple Leaf. He would give me advice over Facebook and eventually put me on some of his gigs at the Maple Leaf.

There are a lot of drummers who will be envious to hear about that. So what did you learn from him? 

Mainly to play.  Don’t over think. If you aren’t enjoying the experience of playing, then the audience won’t.

So what else have you learned from that experience? 

Not to categorize the music. You can bring a bunch of influences into each style. It was kinda crazy that I actually learned the Russell’s shuffle from Nikki, not him.

OK, that’s interesting.  Now we’re talking about Nikki Glastie, who tours with Beyoncé. You are saying she is a fan of Russell’s. 

Yes, that’s how we met. She was in town and came to Maple Leaf and played with Russell on the gig. After the gig, Russell introduced us and I got her number and Facebook info. I called her and we became friends. She is so cool and down to earth! When she was in town on another occasion, I spent the day with her talking about drums and music and even went to a gig in Mississippi with her on some riverboat, where I did the gig with her. She showed me Russell’s shuffle, which is based on the Mardi Gras Indians’ grooves.

What else did she teach you?

The most important lesson was to think of playing drums like pouring water. It can change form and be as calm and soothing or powerful and destructive at any given time. (Jasmine is too young to know, but I have a feeling Nikki might possibly be a Bruce Lee fan, and may have adopted some of his mastery of kung Fu philosophy to the drums… )

I understand that her all-girl band auditioned hundreds of women for the spots in the band and she couldn’t decide between the two drummers, so she chose two for the tour who play together.  And you got access to both.

Geoff Clapp (past drum teacher at Dillard) is friends with Kim Thompson. He told me how to contact her, so I Facebooked her until she responded. Then when she found out I knew people she knew, we began to talk. She is actually a jazz drummer by training, so I have learned a lot regarding jazz from her. It was also cool that when Essence Fest came last year, we hung out and I met the rest of the band. One of the best lessons I’ve had was her sitting with me on the tour bus and teaching me how to meditate and breathe. She told me I should do this every time before I play, at both practice and especially on gigs. It has worked wonders in helping me to shake the jitters and get a level of focus on gigs.

And you still keep in touch.

Oh yeah…  I just text them or Facebook them from time to time if I need some pointers or advice. Every now and then I’ll call them to see what’s up.

Cool.  So what about you?  What are you doing gig wise these days?

I’ve been staying busy playing with a few groups. It’s pretty cool because each group is different, so I am constantly challenged in different ways. Greg Banks & The Crooners is a six-piece R&B/soul band. Our live instrumentation is reminiscent of what R&B used to be. We do original songs and some covers. Ashton Hines & The Big Easy Brawlers is a combination of funk, second line and rock. And then there is Nasimiyu Murumba, also known as “Simi.” Her music sounds like a mixture of Janelle Monaé, Amy Winehouse, Ray Charles and James Brown. Very soulful/jazzy sound, and original songs.

Generation Next is a series on young jazz musicians to watch


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