Janet Cramer Australian born, Kansas raised and current self-proclaimed Chicagoan
Chicago, is where you find this versatile drummer/percussionist residing. Janet’s well-rounded musical knowledge and experience is seen in her ability to play in any style or genre. I’m equally comfortable behind a drum set, a set of congas, playing auxiliary percussion or a melody on a steel drum. Her vast knowledge of music lends to her comfortability as a teacher, conducting a workshop/clinic to a group or a private lesson to one. Her entrance into music began early as her mother, Carol, was a music teacher and quickly noticed Janet's natural musical ability. At age eight, Janet took piano lessons and could coax her mother on showing her a few chords on a guitar. At age eleven, Janet began playing percussion in the fifth-grade band and consequently was a percussionist all through high school. As a sophomore, Janet began taking private lessons from professional drummers in Kansas City, including John Cushon, drummer/husband of Oleta Adams.
Upon HS graduation, Janet received a music scholarship from Wichita State University. She began her Classical Percussion studies there beginning in 1990 under the tutelage of Dr. J.C. Combs. During her undergraduate studies, Janet began teaching private lessons at Senseney Music in Wichita as well as working as a freelance percussionist and a member of a professional steel drum band, Pandora’s Box. In 1993, Janet met Michael Spiro (notable Bay Area Afro-Cuban and Brazilian percussionist master) and immediately was bitten by the Afro-Cuban bug. It took her less than a minute to decide to expand her knowledge and have Michael Spiro become her mentor into the Afro-Cuban world of drumming.
During her study under Michael Spiro, Janet gained interest in the world of Bata drums, a double-headed drum shaped like an hourglass with one end larger than the other. The percussion instrument is used primarily for religious or semi-religious purposes from the native culture of Yoruba, located in Nigeria. Played in a set of 3 with some of the most intricate rhythmic and polyrhythmic liturgies of music, they are also the sacred drums for Santeria, and thus, are restricted to being played only by men in a religious setting. Although a predominantly male community, within the last 30 years there has been an emergence of women bata players and Janet is honored to be part of this growing community. She credits her teachers, Michael Spiro, the late greats, Regino Jimenez, Jesus Alphonso, and Enrique Mesa for opening the pathways for her into this art form. Janet continues to pay homage to them in her continued studies.
After graduating with a Bachelors of Music in 1995, Janet took a year off from formal studies to dedicate time to attended several independent study programs. She began with Afrocubanismo!, an Afro-Cuban music and dance conference held in Banff, Alberta, Canada. In 1996, Janet attended a 10-day workshop program in Matanzas, Cuba, through the now defunct, Caribbean Music and Dance. There, she studied bata with Jesus Alphonso (Los Muñequitos de Matanzas) and performed and studied Matancero rumba forms alongside Grupo Afrocuba de Matanzas.
Influenced by her Cuban studies, Janet co-founded a 13 piece salsa band, Arieto! The band had some moderate success on the music scene in Wichita, KS. Eventually, the band scaled back to a 5-7 piece band and changed its name to Dos Tres, who recorded an exceptional EP in 1998. (3 for Ignacio)
Beginning in the fall of 1997, Ms. Cramer was given a Graduate Teaching Assistantship at Wichita State University. This allowed her to get her Masters in Music, which she completed in the Fall of 2000. As part of her GTA, Janet was the director of La Banda Hispanica, a University World Music Ensemble focusing on Latin American folk music and styles. During her tenure as director, Janet sanctioned an original composition, Vamos a la Playa, and an arrangement of an Afro-Cuban song, entitled Elegua for La Banda Hispanica.
In 2000, upon her completion of her Masters in Music Performance from Wichita State University, she knew it was time to test her skills as a gigging musician and moved to Chicago. Within a couple of months, she quickly became an integral player in Chicago’s Blues scene. She graced the stage with some of Chicago's most notable Blues artist such as Chico Banks, Big Time Sarah, Rodney "Hotrod" Brown, Liz Mandeville, Lindsey "Hoochie Man" Alexander and Nellie Tiger Travis.
Along with the Blues scene, Ms. Cramer has also been part of the city’s Rock, Pop, Latin and Americana scenes performing in numerous venues and street festivals with bands/artists such as Jenny Dragon, Neil & Janet de los EEUU, Girlband, Roy Vombrack Orchestra, Sandra Antongiorgi, Congress of Starlings, Grupo Cha Cha, and Jodi Jean Band.
Since 2009 she has served as an adjunct instructor at St. Xavier University and Trinity Christian College. She still serves as an interim private lesson instructor on a need be basis.
In 2010 she became a member of Rhythm Unity, a lecture/demonstration group that travels Chicago and Suburbs schools to teach the history of percussion music from around the world. She is still a current member and you can learn more at about this trio at www.rhythmunity.com
In 2012 I was asked to become a founding member of Toque Chicago. The group showcased the depth and beauty of Afro-Cuban music that focused on lecture and demos primarily focusing on Bata rhythms and songs, as well as Cuban Rumba.
In 2014, I became a teacher in the After School Matters Community, a non-profit organization for teens to become paid apprentices or club members in arts, sports, technology, and communications programs. Ms. Cramer was involved with a program called, “The Beat” which focused on applying Caribbean rhythms and instruments to American Popular music.
I remain an active member of the Chicagoland music scene as a performer, teacher, and clinician. Hopefully you can catch me playing sometime and if you do take a moment to say hi.
I am available as work for hire musician, studio work and also teach and provide private lessons.