TALENT SCOUT - Dennis Hamm

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Dennis Hamm is one tough keyboardist. From ripping slinky synth solos and Rhodes-encrusted grooves with the bassist, singer and songwriter Thundercat, to acclaimed collaborations with artists like Chris Cornell and Allan Holdsworth, Hamm has proved he is a formidable musical force. That’s why he’s our TALENT SCOUT Artist of the Week.

NAME: Dennis Hamm

HOMETOWN: I’m originally from Bakersfield, California, but I’ve lived in Los Angeles for the last 14 years.

MUSICAL TRAINING: I attendedCSUB for Piano Performance and Composition. As a kid starting at age 4 and up through college, I probably went through 10 to 15 private piano teachers. Because I was so self-motivated to practice, (even if it wasn’t what I was supposed to be practicing), if I wasn’t that inspired by a teacher, my parents would let me quit and start up with another. I got a variety of training from classical, to pop, to improv at a relatively young age. I also studied drums through school for 15 years.

FIRST GIGS: Jazz, Latin Jazz, Reggae, Salsa, and Ska with Mento Buru. Country music with The Smokin’ Armadillos, Buck Owens’ Buckaroos, Monty Byrom (Big House). Original project Mother Funk Conspiracy, jazz meets funk, with LA saxophonist Zane Musa. Joined Crosby Loggins’ band (son of Kenny) with MFC’s rhythm section, Jarred Pope (drums), Forrestt Williams (bass). I moved to Los Angeles in 2004 and started playing local gigs with Jimmy Branly, Carlitos del Puerto, Katisse Buckingham, Jimmy Haslip, Will Kennedy, Rufus Philpot, Greg Howe, John Densmore (The Doors), and Tony Royster Jr.

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with Thundercat at the Independent San Francisco. Photo by Colin Hoefle @choefs

MUSICAL INFLUENCES: John Williams, Bruce Hornsby, Kenny Loggins, Chick Corea, Yellowjackets, Kenny Garrett, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Brad Mehldau, Jacky Terrasson, Branford Marsalis, Charlie Hunter, Toad The Wet Sprocket, Placebo, Death Cab For Cutie, My Vitriol, The Postal Service, Imogen Heap, Soulive, Björk, Koop, Idlewild, Sneaker Pimps, Brotherly, Mew, Alpine.

WHAT I’M LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW: Knxwledge, Sam Gellaitry, Louis Cole, Tigran Hamasyan.

MY BIG BREAK: It’s been a gradual forward motion rather than one shining moment. Of course, there were some standouts like a duo gig with Chris Cornell at the Troubadour, learning Babyface’s 90 minute set in 48 hours for a fill-in gig in New Orleans (phew!), some short runs with Allan Holdsworth who I met playing with Virgil Donati, and recording with India Arie, Kenny Loggins, and Janelle Monáe. But when I started touring regularly about five years ago with Larry Carlton, Jonathon Butler, and Thundercat, it felt like my career was in full motion. Now most of my time is touring and recording with Thundercat, and I fill in the holes with Louis Cole’s group Knower, singer phenom Alice Smith, drummer Ronald Bruner Jr (Thundercat’s brother), and occasionally filling in with the group Rhye.

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with Chris Cornell at the Troubadour

LATEST ALBUM: I wrote and played on the last two Thundercat albums, Drunk and Where the Giants Roam and also on Alice Smith’s upcoming album. I also played on Simon Phillips’ upcoming album Protocol 4. I’m working on my first album now.

FAVORITE KEYBOARDS AND WHY? Because I grew up playing acoustic piano I have a Mason & Hamlin 7-foot grand at home that I’m in love with. It sounds like a 1960s Bill Evans record. The richest, warmest cluster chords… Ahhhh! For touring, I’ve become familiar with Yamaha’s Motifs. They have good sampled sounds, pianos, Rhodes, some synth and B3, and they are consistently available to be backlined. Lately I’ve been using Dave Smith’s Prophet 12 and 8 (Rev 02) in the studio. I also own three Fender Rhodes. My Stage Rhodes I bought from a friend for $25 in junior high school before I knew what it was. I thought it was broken. It sat in my childhood bedroom for years until I realized Chick Corea played a Rhodes and thought to open it up and change the preamp 9-volt battery. It was still in tune! I still tour with that one sometimes. Since I’ve always loved the feel and sound of real acoustic and electric pianos, I was an early adopter of Muse Research’s Receptor. It was a rack mounted PC that ran software plug-ins like Ivory and Native Instruments B4 and Kontakt with Scarbee’s Rhodes, Wurli and Clav samples, the best available samples at the time. I’d lug that around to gigs in LA to play top sounds with very little latency, something laptops 10 years ago couldn’t do. Now laptops are faster and Spectrasonics’ Keyscape is killing the sampled sounds game. My current live rig with Thundercat is a Suitcase Fender Rhodes with an Electro-Harmonix Memory Toy delay pedal, a Dave Smith Prophet 12, and a Yamaha Motif XF8 and XF7.

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Photo by Carl Fisk @ Twin Cities Live Electronic Music

WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU? Heavy touring with Thundercat, some dates with Alice Smith, and some with Knower opening for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I'm also writing and recording my first album.

ADVICE TO THE NEXT GENERATION: You lucky little twerps! You have every piece of music ever written and recorded at your fingertips, in your pocket, on your smart phone, and thousands of hours of free tutorials and music lessons. Use it all. If you want to perform music for a living, it’s not a bad career choice especially considering robots are gonna take most people’s jobs in the coming years :/ But use that immense resource called the internet to absorb and study any music you fancy. Experiment and record yourself often to develop your own sound. Skip music college if you want (with some exceptions, it mostly feeds its own academic self), but move to a town with lots of musical peers who will challenge and inspire you. And in the beginning stages of your career, it’s ok to say yes to everything if you have the energy, stamina, and patience for it. Your skill set will grow more diverse and pro. Some musicians spend all of their time at home practicing and they become masterful soloists on their axe but when it comes to playing with and supporting a band and others' music they fall short. Do both if you want a rich life playing all sorts of glorious music. I don’t regret taking those Country music gigs back in Bakersfield for a second.

For more info visit www.dennishamm.com