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. 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 1999 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.