Jazz interview with jazz drummer Rudy Royston. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Rudy Royston: – I was born in Ft. Worth, Texas. I grew up in Denver, Colorado. My father James Irvin Royston was a manager of a shipping department for percussion instruments. He would bring home all of the defected percussion instruments that the company would not ship. So as long as I can remember I have been surrounded by percussion instruments. So, it was very easy for me to get involved in to playing drums and music. And, I have always been a lover of melodies. These things created a natural entrance into music for me.
JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the drums? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the drums?
RR: – As I mentioned in the last answer, drums and percussion instruments were all around me when I was growing up. Even after my parents divorced my father would send me instruments in the mail. Though I have never formally taken lessons, there were teachers along the way who would coach me on drums. Dayna Singleton and Scott Springer were my public school coaches in Denver, also (Iaje). Ed Soph and Duffy Jackson coached me a the two jazz camps I attended while in high school. Ted Small taught me classical percussion during undergraduate school at University of Denver. Victor Lewis taught me in graduate school at Rutgers University. Mainly, I learned through practicing on my own: marching cadences, snare drum concertos, studying audio and video recordings of the great drummers of Jazz and other genres of music.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
RR: – Over time my sound has evolved into more articulate and thoughtful playing…from thinking about the drums set as percussion to thinking of drums more as melodic, textures, colors. So, I don’t think of drums as rhythmic only, but also melodic/harmonic. I applied ways of accomplishing this through my technique and approach to striking the instruments; I began shaping my playing with the melodies and lyrics of tunes, looking for more ways to contribute musically to the music, defining textures, using extreme dynamics, etc …. constantly interpreting the rhythm and shape of those qualities into the outflow of the music.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
RR: – I practice rudiments and marching drum exercises on my drum pad while watching sporting events on television. It sounds strange but the intensity of the moment and the fun of watching the game all help me to enjoy more the banality of practicing rudiments and formal pieces over and over again. I take breaks by playing along with commercials: whether that is drumming the speaking lines or playing along with the melodies. After the game is over, or if there is no game, I practice the drum set for about forty mins of a formal exercise I have been working on, before going into practicing tunes and music for upcoming gigs for about two and a half hours. Here is where I make sure to implement the rudimental things I had been working out on with the drum pad. I’m not working out of any book at the moment.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now? You’re playing is very sensitive, deft, it’s smooth, and I’d say you drift more toward harmony than dissonance. There is some dissonance there, but you use it judiciously. Is that a conscious decision or again, is it just an output of what goes in?
RR: – As I was saying before, that is a very conscious decision in reference to my style and how my playing has evolved. I am actually drifting more towards melody, but also harmony. The smoothness of my playing comes from the technique of playing melodically on a drum pad, classical training in technique and marching band techniques.
JBN.S: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
For me there is no such thing as disparate influences … it’s all information that can be used in what you are producing.
JBN.S: – What do you love most about your new album 2018: <Flatbed Buggy>, how it was formed and what you are working on today.
RR: – I love the maturity of the new record. The music is unhurried, groovy, spacious. The musicians and musicianship are unparalleled: John, Joe, Hank and Gary really played well. And, I didn’t want to have anything to prove on this record … just good music … like it or not. Personally, that is a sign of growth/maturity that I am happy about. This music was formed over about a year. Again, I didn’t want to feel obligated to use any instrument set up, I just wanted to use instruments I liked the sound of, and these particular instruments together bring dust and earth and time and movement through time to my senses. Today I am fresh off Flatbed Buggy, so my mind is there. But I feel something else coming on: more open tunes, less composed, different instruments. I want texture and color and quality more than sound.
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
RR: – I don’t think there is one: you can’t “intellect” yourself into soul and you can’t “soul” your way into intellectualism. Spend your time researching, learning and exploring your thoughts and craft; and play what you play in truth and sincerity – don’t be pretensions and rid yourself of fear to be authentically you.
JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
RR: – Of course. For me the relationship goes beyond them and me as two separate entities. We exist as one within the art. Art is bigger than either of us. So I just want to exist within the sphere of art: I unavoidably play music, for me, the people, the art itself, God. And in turn, art exists and people will internalize it. So I am not thinking about giving people what they want, I am just giving them the music I can offer. If they like it or not. But, I also am conscious of the practicality of people paying their money to see a show, and I am conscious of the joy of a memorable experience, the unforgettable impact of a great concert. I want people to have that. I just serve music and the people.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
RR: – Music seems to be on a path of sole individualism, which I think is great. But I think we as a people of this artform would do well to remember that the point of music is music itself: not mainly what you can achieve, or what music can bring to you. The point is play the standards because they are beautiful pieces of art; play the standards because yes, they will most authentically provide you with a platform to learn the language of this genre, but also because it is immensely satisfying to develop the skills to create beautiful music, for the art and for the world. That’s the point. Not attention or fame or followers or money or acclaim. Play jazz because all of your human quality and your value as a human being can be found in creating art. There ain’t no money and fame in jazz anymore; with technology as it is today, all the arts have had to adjust to the influx of EVERYONE’S artistic voice. So, just appreciate music for what it is.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan