Utility Player: Jonathan Hammonds performs and books all kinds of music at Ziggy's in Ypsi and beyond
Classical, jazz, R&B, music of the Arab world—this range of musical styles could be a description of the diverse concert offerings one expects in southeast Michigan.
But it is actually a summary of genres Ann Arbor-based bassist Jonathan Hammonds has played in his career.
“I’ve always been interested and pursued different genres of music,” the 33-year-old Huron High School grad says about his eclectic skill set.
Born and raised in Ann Arbor, Hammonds earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in classical bass performance from the University of Michigan and Yale University, respectively, before returning to Washtenaw County in 2014 to gig and teach private lessons.
Currently, Hammonds performs as a member of the Ann Arbor Symphony and an extra player for the Toledo Symphony. He also gigs throughout the region with his jazz trio and has been part of Dearborn’s National Arab Orchestra since it was formed in 2009.
“I also play with a pop/R&B band out in Flint” called Feimstro and the Farts, he adds.
“I had a classical focus, that’s where I started,” Hammonds recalls of his musical origins, “and, my great-grandfather was a fiddle player, so some of that got passed down in my family.”
This early comfort with various musical styles is now a cornerstone of Hammonds’ musicianship.
“I think as a bass player,” he says, “most of us are pretty versatile, and if you’re interested in different kinds of music, you just say ‘yes’ when it comes your way.”
Attending the University of Michigan made an indelible impact on Hammonds’ present range of musical activity.
“I studied classical bass, but I also had a toe in the jazz department,” he says, “most of the people I’ve kept up with over the years are people I knew from the jazz department.”
This is also when he became involved with what would become the internationally celebrated National Arab Orchestra, founded by Michael Ibrahim.
“I was sort of in the right place at the right time, with the right interest,” Hammonds says. "When I started playing with the group it was a student thing, and, by my senior year, Michael had made it into a nonprofit and it was a professional group.”
Most recently, the depth of Hammond’s experience with the local live music scene and his openness to various styles have culminated in him helping book talent at Ziggy's, the Ypsilanti bar whose concert calendar is just as diverse as Hammonds' musical tastes.
“My first experience at Ziggy’s was as an audience member,” Hammonds says. “I remember going there because a lot of my friends were playing there because it is a space that is open to having a lot of avant-garde music.”
Hammonds handles the Tuesday-night bookings at Ziggy's, along with some fill-in dates here and there, with the bar's staff handling the rest of the dates.
The bassist ended up working with Ziggy's as an artist first.
"There was a stage set up on North Washington Street during the summer of 2020 for live music and Ziggy’s was doing some of the programming," Hammonds says. "In August I asked the owners of Ziggy’s if I could get a spot playing on that stage before the end of the summer. I was too late. They told me that the stage was about to be taken down for the end of the summer but what would I think about playing in the back alley. I played with a jazz trio in the alley and then they had the idea to turn it into a regular series, so I contacted some friends that I thought would be interested and booked as many nights as I could. It ended up being quite successful so we kept that going until it got too cold to be playing music outside. We started the alley shows again the following summer, and when Ziggy’s was able to open indoors again—I think fall of ‘21—I kept booking one night a week."
Now, Ziggy’s has concerts almost every night that present musicians from around the region who offer jazz, free improvisation, hip-hop, EDM and electronica, experimental classical music, and indie rock.
Hammonds and Ziggy’s staff remain committed to facilitating compelling performances at the venue because it stands out so much against other spaces in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti that host concerts.
“A lot of the other places in the area where I’ve played jazz don’t do live music anymore,” Hammonds says. “Ziggy’s is a place that is about the music, and being a bar is secondary to the music.”
Garrett Schumann is a composer and music scholar who teaches in the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Sciences & the Arts. His other writings have been published in The New York Times, Grove Music, and VAN Magazine.
Bands interested in playing at Ziggy's should email email@example.com.