Clarinetist Bob Draga is arguably one of the most popular and talented jazz musicians in the country. A consummate entertainer, he has mastered the art of pleasing an audience with his classy appearance, his seemingly unending list of jokes, and his superb musical talent. He intuitively understands what an audience wants to hear and provides it, whether hard and driving or exquisitely beautiful and soulful. In addition, Bob is a friend to young jazz musicians everywhere, taking time to coach and encourage whenever asked. In fact, the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society Foundation recently established a scholarship fund in his name that presents cash awards each year to top high school clarinetists.
A true jazz clarinetist, Bob’s musical style is equally at home with both traditional jazz and Swing. He even sounds great with a zydeco band! All of which easily explains why he has become a staple at jazz festivals and cruises everywhere. He can handle any musical situation, from top all-star combos to up-and-coming youth bands. He is a veteran of several wildly popular jazz bands, including Garden Avenue 7, which he co-led with vocalist Paulette Pepper, the Draga-Vax Connection, and most recently, the Titan Hot 7. Currently he represents one-third of We 3 and appears frequently with his own quartet. And at many festivals and events, his skills are tested in Guest Artist appearances with a wide variety of bands.
Bob relishes the challenge of adapting to the varied style and personality of these groups. When asked how he approaches playing with so many different bands, Bob said, “The first thing I think about is, how will I make music with this band? What can we do together that will please the audience? I listen to what they do. As a guest artist, I have to tailor what I do to their book. I have to make it work. That’s my job.”
Since 2006, Bob has been a standing clinician at the Traditional Jazz Youth Band Festival, an annual one-day educational event held by the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society in conjunction with Sacramento State University, at which middle school through college level traditional jazz bands perform for feedback and coaching. Bob has proven to be an inspirational influence on these kids, whether in formal clinics or open jam sessions. “Working with young players is perhaps the most selfish part of my career,” says Bob. “By that I mean, someday when I can no longer play, I want to be able to see and hear jazz performed.”
Fortunately for his fans, that day is a long way off. Bob Draga continues to perform, entertain, and record his wonderful music. Why? “Because I love an audience,” he says. “These people come to see us, and we musicians owe them every bit of talent and time that we can give them.”