Ted Sirota was born May 3, 1969 in Champaign, IL and grew up in South Suburban Chicago, in Flossmoor, IL. Ted began playing drums and percussion in 1980 at the age of 10. By age 15, after hearing the great Max Roach perform at The Jazz Showcase, Sirota decided (against all warnings!) to pursue a career in music. In high school Ted developed a love for both Reggae music and Jazz, and was inspired to play his instrument by drummers like Max Roach, Philly Joe Jones, Elvin Jones, Sly Dunbar, Carlton Barrett, and Style Scott.
After graduating from High School, Sirota left Chicago for Boston to attend Berklee College of Music in the fall of 1987. Shortly after arriving in Boston, Sirota began studying with the legendary Jazz drummer/teacher Alan Dawson at his home in Lexington, MA. Dawson’s methods and guidance had a profound and lasting impact on Sirota’s drumming style. Ted’s tenure at Berklee was a crucial period in his development as a young musician.
Along with studying with Dawson, Ted studied with Boston drumming legend Joe Hunt at Berklee. Hunt’s unique musical conception and teaching style, combined with Dawson’s emphasis on technique and musicality, helped to form a musical road map for Ted’s studies and development.
This was a fertile time for musicians at Berklee, and Ted absorbed as much as possible by playing with and learning from his peers and teachers. Ted met guitarist Jeff Parker in early 1988, and the two formed an enduring musical friendship that continues to this day. Sirota jammed frequently with other students/friends such as Lalah Hathaway, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Mark Turner, Seamus Blake, Dwayne Burno, Antonio Hart, Roy Hargrove, Danilo Perez, Geoff Keezer, Chris Cheek, Jorge Rossy, Joshua Redman, and many others.
Sirota began his professional career during this period playing occasional jazz gigs, but mostly working in local Blues and Reggae bands. Eventually, Sirota became a founding member of the Last Kwartet - a jazz collective with Jeff Parker on guitar, Chris Lopes on bass, and Sara P. Smith on trombone. Sirota graduated from Berklee in May of 1991 and continued to gig throughout New England before relocating back to Chicago, along with bassist Chris Lopes, in the fall of 1992.
In Chicago, Sirota and Lopes reunited with Parker and Smith to reform the Last Kwartet. The band performed regularly at clubs like the Hot House, the Bop Shop, the Get Me High Lounge, and the Deja Vu, and received critical acclaim from the local press. However, the group never released a recording and disbanded in 1994.
As a freelance drummer Sirota began working with the late/great tenor saxophonist Lin Halliday, and many other celebrated local musicians like Von Freeman, Jodie Christian, Rob Mazurek, Bobby Broom, Fred Hopkins, Patricia Barber, Dave Spector, Little Smokey Smothers, Pinetop Perkins, New Orleans vocalist Johnny Adams, and many others. It was also during this period that Sirota spent a two year stint touring the U.S. with Blues legend Eddie Kirkland. Travelling with, and learning from Kirkland was a very important part of Sirota’s development as a musician and person.
In late 1994, Sirota joined the jazz band Sabertooth, which performed every Saturday night from midnight-5:00am at Chicago’s most legendary Jazz club, the Green Mill. Sirota continues to hold down the drum chair with Sabertooth every Saturday at the Green Mill and is now in his nineteenth year (!) with the band. It is his presence with Sabertooth that Sirota might be most recognized by fellow Chicagoans.
Sirota’s tenure as a bandleader began in 1996 when he formed his own group, Ted Sirota’s Rebel Souls, which continued to feature Jeff Parker on guitar. Rebel Souls released their debut recording, “‘Rebel Roots” on the British label Naim in 1996 to critical acclaim, and Sirota started to become recognized as a drummer and bandleader on an international scale amongst jazz listeners. “Rebel Roots” was followed by “Propaganda” in 1998, and “Ted Sirota’s Rebel Souls vs. the Forces of Evil in 2000. The band then recorded “Breeding Resistance” for the legendary Chicago label Delmark in 2004, and finally once again with Naim for “Seize the Time” in 2008. The band appeared at the Chicago Jazz Festival in 2004 and once again in 2010. Rebel Souls toured in the U.S. and Europe. Aside from Parker, the band has included such stellar Chicago musicians as Rob Mazurek, Kevin Kizer, Geof Bradfield, Noel Kupersmith, Greg Ward II, Dave Miller, Clark Sommers, and Jake Vinsel. Rebel Souls continue to play and are carefully plotting their next move!
Throughout the years, Sirota has continued to broaden his base as a drummer, performing with artists such as Lalah Hathaway, Greg Osby, Ted Nash, Frank Kimbrough, Ben Allison, Ralph Alessi, Drew Gress, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Phil Upchurch, Fareed Haque and many others.
In January 2013, Sirota returned to his first musical love, Reggae music and formed Ted Sirota’s Heavyweight Dub. As the name suggests, the band concentrates on the instrumental and Dub Reggae pioneered by artists such as King Tubby, Scientist, Lee Perry, Roots Radics, The Revolutionaries, Tommy McCook, Johnny Osbourne, Hugh Mundell, and others, while continuing to showcase Sirota’s talents as a composer. The band features fellow Green Mill employee/ soundman K-rAd (AKA Chris Grabowski) working the mixing board and dubbing out in the tradition of the Jamaican masters mentioned above. Other members include:
Matthew Lux – Bass (Iron & Wine, Isotope 217 etc)
Dan Bitney – Percussion (Tortoise)
Tom Vaitsas – Keys
Taima Sirota – Guitar
Adam Thornburg – Trombone
Cameron Pfiffner – Saxophone (Sabertooth)
Yanira Marin – Vocals
Ted Sirota’s Heavyweight Dub looks forward to playing, recording, touring, and building their fan base in 2013.
Along with performing, Ted has been dedicated to teaching the drums for nearly 25 years. He continues to teach a steady roster of students, both young and old, out of his home teaching studio in the Rogers Park neighborhood in Chicago, where he has lived for the past eighteen years. Ted has two daughters, Taima and Safiya, (19 & 14 yrs. old), and currently lives with his fiance, Yanira Marin, and her 10 year old son Alejandro.
All Music Guide Bio – by Alex Henderson
In Chicago’s jazz scene, drummer/composer/producer Ted Sirota is perhaps best known for his extensive work with guitarist Jeff Parker and for leading his avant-garde/post-bop band the Rebel Souls. The politically outspoken Sirota is not the sort of avant-garde improviser who plays atonal music exclusively-far from it. Sirota has favored an inside/outside approach, and while he can be abstract, intellectual, angular, or cerebral, the Midwesterner can also be quite musical and melodic. Compositionally, Sirota brings a long list of influences to his recordings-a list that includes, among others, Ornette Coleman, Charlie Haden, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, reggae icon Bob Marley, and the late Nigerian star Fela Kuti (who was greatly influenced by modal jazz). And as a drummer, Sirota has been affected by explorers who range from Ed Blackwell, Andrew Cyrille, and Rashied Ali to Elvin Jones and Max Roach. Although jazz-oriented, Sirota is far from an elitist jazz snob. He has gladly acknowledged the influence of reggae, calypso, soca, and African music, and the drummer spent two years backing veteran blues singer Eddie Kirkland; also, he has done studio work for Chicago-based rappers Longshot and Diverse.Sirota was born in Champaign, IL, on May 3, 1969, but spent most of his pre-adult years in the Chicago suburbs. He began studying the drums when he was 11 in 1980, and at 18 Sirota moved to Boston to attend the well-known Berklee College of Music. The drummer spent half a decade in Boston, where he graduated from Berklee in 1991 and was a member of an avant-garde jazz group called the Last Kwartet (which also included trombonist Sara P. Smith, bassist Chris Lopes, and frequent companion Jeff Parker). Sirota didn’t play jazz exclusively in Boston; he also played in various soca and reggae bands in that New England city. Although Boston has long had a healthy and attractive music scene, Sirota opted to move back to Chicago in 1992-and the other members of the Last Kwartet moved there with him (Parker and Smith in ’91, Lopes in ’92). Sirota’s two-year association with Eddie Kirkland began in 1993, and in 1995, he became a member of a Chicago-based outfit called the Sabertooth Jazz Quartet (which frequently appeared at the Green Mill, one of the Windy City’s best known jazz clubs).
It was in 1996 that Sirota formed his group Ted Sirota’s Rebel Souls, which sounds like the name of a reggae band but specializes in instrumental avant-garde and post-bop jazz. The band has had different lineups along the way; the members have included Parker, tenor saxophonist Geof Bradfield, cornetist Rob Mazurek, trombonist Jeb Bishop, and bassists Noel Kupersmith, Josh Abrams, and Clark Sommers. Sirota’s first album with his Rebel Souls, Rebel Roots, was recorded for the British Naim label in 1996; that CD was followed by Propaganda (a 1998 release on Naim) and Ted Sirota’s Rebel Souls vs. the Forces of Evil (a 2001 release). In 2003, Sirota and the Rebel Souls recorded Breeding Resistance for Chicago’s long-lasting Delmark label.