Hamir Atwal is an up-and-coming American drummer/composer based near Berkeley, CA.
Drummer/Percussionist Hamir Atwal is a Berklee College of Music graduate who has taught at Music Academy International, Stanford University, the Stanford Jazz Workshop, the JazzSchool, CSU-Stanislaus, and Santa Rosa Junior College. Hamir is an active endorser of DREAM Cymbals.
He has performed with such acts as the Glimpse Trio, tUneyArDs, Michael Coleman, the Ben Goldberg School, and was a part of his own percussion group entitled CavityFang. He has played in such notable venues such as the Hollywood Bowl, the Village Vanguard, Nancy Jazz Pulsations, and the Monterey Jazz Festival. He can regularly be heard throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
Hamir has played and/or recorded with saxophonists Joe Lovano, Greg Osby, and Patrick Wolff; Bassist/Producer Bill Laswell; and clarinetist Ben Goldberg.
Contact Hamir at email@example.com
Clarinetist Ben Goldberg, pianist Michael Coleman, and drummer Hamir Atwal have each been illuminating and upholding important aspects of the Bay Area musical world for many years. This trio, may also be known as Invisible Guy.
As a trio, Ben, Michael, and Hamir are in strict pursuit of beautiful melody. Michael Coleman says: “I think for each of us, melody comes first. In the musical tradition to which we belong, melody is the knife that cuts through to truth. Then there is the importance of breath, and personal expression.”
The group’s material includes original compositions by each of the musicians.
My mother played the clarinet through college. When I was little it was pretty much kept in a drawer, but I would ask her to take it out and play for me. It was an old Noblet. I liked how it looked in the case, and the smell of old wood and cork grease, and I liked the sound. In fourth grade when Dr. Willie Hill came around and asked who wanted to play an instrument, the Noblet became mine. (Mr. Hill wasn't a doctor then; he was travelling to six or seven elementary schools every week to teach band. We were lucky to have him.)
So growing up in Denver I played clarinet in the public schools -- band, orchestra, and jazz band, and various city-wide and state-wide groups.
My musical life was a dichotomy: I played jazz on the saxophone and classical music on the clarinet.
While getting a B.A. in music from the University of California at Santa Cruz I studied clarinet with Rosario Mazzeo, the dean of twentieth century clarinet teachers. I started playing and studying klezmer music, which has a virtuosic clarinet tradition. I began to think about how to use the clarinet in jazz and improvised music.
Once the task had been defined I looked for help. Steve Lacy provided a good example. He had devoted himself solely to the soprano saxophone and his music really touched me. I was playing in The Klezmorim and for some reason there were a bunch of tours in France that included hanging out for a week or two in Paris between gigs. I used to go down to the Sunset to listen to Steve and ask him for a lesson. Finally he relented and said come over tomorrow. He spent an afternoon with me and showed me specific methods of studying the fundamentals of intervals, harmony, and melody. I worked on these exercises for the next five years and began to gain access to the basic materials of music.
I was playing a lot of klezmer music, but getting tired of the search for “authenticity” through note-for-note reconstructions of old recordings. In Sweden I met Ziya Aytekin, (www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZ-kozZgkiQ), a traditional zurna player from the Caucasus. I heard how much his music had in common with, for example, the late work of John Coltrane. I wondered if I could use klezmer music to explore this connection between the traditional and the "avant-garde."
One day I got together with Dan Seamans and Kenny Wollesen, with whom I had often played traditional klezmer music. I suggested we take a familiar tune and cut loose on it to see where it might go. The result was exhilarating and had a powerful, lasting effect on me. It was my first taste of music as a transformative, liberating force.
This group became New Klezmer Trio. Playing new versions of traditional tunes and my own compositions, we toured between 1990 and 1995 and recorded three CDs, Masks and Faces, Melt Zonk Rewire, and Short for Something (all available on the Tzadik label). The group has recently reconvened with Greg Cohen on bass to play concerts in the US and Europe, and in 2009 we recorded a CD of my new compositions on Jewish themes, Speech Communication, a work in memory of my father, who had recently passed away.
Joe Lovano said that Mel Lewis could play a downbeat that was so strong it would last for eight bars. Perhaps there are some downbeats that keep ringing for the rest of your life. For me, New Klezmer Trio was this downbeat, a moment when the ingredients I had worked hard to prepare first came together in an experience that continues to illuminate the depth and range of musical possibility in this world. This was the beginning of my creative musical path; in the years since then, I have continued to work with and cultivate the musical forces that were present at that time – research, education, musical fundamentals, diligence, attention to detail, and a relentless pursuit of truth.
My musical life has branched out in considerable ways since the time of New Klezmer Trio. One thing that has remained consistent is the way projects arise in the service of inquiry. New compositions, the development of my improvisational resources, important performances, educational efforts, and the creation of recordings all result from my efforts to understand something better or answer a question or problem that won’t let go of me.
For a discussion of the various projects that have arisen in this way that are significant to my work and my development as a composer and musician, please have a look at the Projects page on my website.