Sitting In: Kassa Overall’s Sound of Seattle Playlist

Our ‘Sitting In’ series invites guest artists to curate playlists for JAZZIZ.com. Today’s featured artist is drummer and Seattle native Kassa Overall. To skip straight to the playlist, click here.

Seattle lays claim to a number of American cultural touchstones: grunge rock, Amazon, the coffee empire known as Starbucks. But what you might not know is that the city is also a hotbed of jazz, with a hungry, self-reliant young scene that has produced some of today’s most electrifying artists.

Drummer Kassa Overall is one of the more recent stars to emerge from the Emerald City. The 36-year-old Seattle native first made a name for himself as the rhythmic powerhouse behind Geri Allen’s Timeline band, but in the years since, he’s branched out into directions of R&B, indie-rock and avant-garde jazz. In the process, he’s become an integral collaborator to acts as diverse as Vijay Iyer and the rap group Das Racist. Now, his new album — the snarkily titled Go Get Ice Cream and Listen To Jazz — is poised to elevate him to the top rank of musicians operating at the intersection of jazz and hip-hop.

He owes his start to Seattle. Though far removed from the jazz orbit of the East Coast, Overall said the Seattle jazz environment was as active as any he’s encountered in the U.S. “There were kind of two prongs to the Seattle scene,” he said. “You had a scene with some real jazz legends, veteran cats like [former Herbie Hancock trombonist] Julian Priester and [saxophonist] Hadley Caliman who had been on the scene for a while and were now living in Seattle. But then you had these young high school kids who took jazz seriously and could really play. A lot of bands were half pro, half student.”

As Overall is quick to point out, Seattle has a reputation for producing jazz prodigies. But he won’t just chalk that up to something in the water. Instead, he points to the city’s jazz-education pipeline. The drummer is a graduate of Seattle’s Garfield High School and Washington Middle School, and he says he has distinct memories of teachers lighting his path forward. “The secret was my middle school band teacher, Robert Knatt,” said Overall. “He was an incredible teacher. For the kids who showed dedication, he made them believe they were going to go all the way.” 

Other memories from Overall’s early days in jazz are quintessentially Seattle: “Growing up, we used to play gigs in Starbucks coffee shops,” he said. “Huge ones, like with aquariums in them.” Another time, he recalls performing on stage with his band from Garfield High and having an out-of-body experience. Viewing himself from above, he received a supernatural confirmation that jazz was the road he was destined to take. “A voice told me that this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” he said.

Photo courtesy the artist/Pascal Bournier

Lucky for us, he’s been doing it — and doing it well — ever since. After attending Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio (where he studied with modern drum sage Billy Hart), he moved to his current home base in New York City and cut his teeth alongside veterans like Wallace Roney, Gary Bartz and Ravi Coltrane. More recently, he headlined a set at New York’s Winter Jazzfest alongside jazz-adjacent artists like DJ BigYuki and keyboardist Ray Angry. But as big as things are getting on the East Coast, he still makes time to remember his roots. “I didn’t realize how much I loved Seattle until I left Seattle,” he said. “Just the natural beauty of the place, the way you can step outside and be surrounded by air, space, trees, water. There’s an undertone of peacefulness here, and that’s reflected in the people, too”

For curious jazz fans looking to make the trek to Overall’s hometown, the drummer has some inside advice: If it’s music you’re after, he recommends checking out Tula’s (the city’s premiere jazz lounge) to catch marquee acts. For more intimate sets, he says it’s all about The Triple Door. “The Triple Door is actually where I had my first big show since moving back to Seattle,” he reminisced. “We almost sold it out; it was amazing.”

The interior of The Triple Door in Seattle, Washington.

As for food, Overall says there’s only one place to go: Ivar’s Seafood. “It’s the best fried fish in the world,” he said. “I’m vegan now, but sometimes when I go back I have to open up the diet a little bit. It’s that good.”

Overall’s playlist showcases contemporary artists who rep Seattle proudly. They may not all have been born there, and some may have moved away long ago, but for Overall, this is the sound of Seattle.

Feature image: Kassa Overall (Courtesy Pi Recordings/Zenith Richards)

P.S. If you’ll be in New York the next six months, Overall is currently overseeing Time Capsule, a seven-month residency at The Jazz Gallery which launched in December 2018 in a trio with pianist and Late Show with Stephen Colbert musical director Jon Batiste and former Roy Hargrove bassist Ameen Saleem. The series features a different guest each month starting. Upcoming guests include Jason Moran (January 18).

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Listen on: qobuz

“Are You… Can You… Were You? (Felt)”
Shabazz Palaces
Black Up

“Who’s on the Playlist (feat. Judi Jackson)”
Kassa Overall
Go Get Ice Cream and Listen to Jazz

“Tried It” 
Stas THEE Boss
S’women

“Home (feat. Vitamin D, C Note, Maine & Ish)” 
Jake One
White Van Music

“Sweetest Thing” 
Dave B.
Pearl

“Skyway Intro” 
Allison Miller & Carmen Staaf
Science Fair

“Do You (feat. Theo Croker)”
Kassa Overall
Go Get Ice Cream and Listen to Jazz

“Lost with You”
Isabella Du Graf
Love, Love? Love.

“Kid”
Aaron Parks
Little Big

“On Me (feat. Jon Bap)” 
Sango
In the Comfort Of

“Rustic Room (feat. Benny Green & Brandi Disterheft)”
Anne Drummond
Revolving

“Mark Sampson (Extended Mix)”
Kassa Overall
Go Get Ice Cream and Listen to Jazz

“Cc God”
Blinky Bill, Owuor Arunga & Sage
Cc God – Single

“Ready Steady”
Allison Miller & Carmen Staaf
Science Fair

“Signal 2”
Julian Priester & HBH Trio
Signals from the Mind (feat. David Bajda, Jorge Hernaez & David Haney)

“I Remember Sky”
Thomas Marriott
Romance Language

“HyperViolet Theme”
Johnny Butler
HyperViolet

“Pacifics” (From the Soundtrack to the Motion Picture “N.Y. Is Red Hot”)
Digable Planets
Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time & Space)

When Will They Learn (feat. Carmen Lundy) [Remix]
Kassa Overall
Go Get Ice Cream and Listen to Jazz

“All That Jazz”
Vitamin D
BornDay 3

“Flowery Distress”
Brittany Anjou Trio
Reciproka (EP)

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