Drummer/composer Rudy Royston has just released his newest album PaNOptic on Greenleaf Music featuring a program of solo drum improvisations. I was really impressed and inspired by the imagination and creativity that Royston displays in this music.
I first heard Rudy play with Dave Douglas' Brass Ecstasy project at the Village Vanguard around 2011 or 2012 (?) and immediately became a fan of his drumming. I highly recommend his other albums 303, Flatbed Buggy and The Rise of Orion as well.
Check out his page at Greenleaf Music to learn more about this accomplished and dynamic artist.
Rudy was nice enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his new music:
Rudy Royston PaNOptic - Four on the Floor Interview June 2020
1) Tell us about your latest recording!
PaNOptic, is a solo drum record consisting of 23 tracks of music that resulted from a three hour session of free flowing music I tried to surrender to the freedom of just playing music, playing what I felt at the time, whatever flowed from my conscience during this session. I found myself being inspired by poems, music legends, scenes, memories, exploring the quiet, darkness of my mind while beams of inspirations would shine through. It really is a comprehensive view of the music that was at the forefront of my thinking and creative process during that period. When I listened later I found there was a few arching themes through the music: scenes, tributes, sacred, pop.
I didn’t want to just be playing drums and drum solos on the record. I wanted music complete with harmony and melody and emotion as well as rhythm. I wanted to play complete ideas, tell stories, paint pictures, express moods, explore feelings. I mean, exploring rhythm, textures and colors and even stories, these are things we can normally relate to the drum kit. But, to think of the drums as complete and comprehensive an instrument as piano or guitar, we don’t often think about drums in this light.
2) What inspired you to pursue an album of solo drum music?
I’ve always wanted to record a solo drum record. Ronald Shannon Jackson’s solo record, “Puttin on Dog,” was what inspired me mostly to make this record. At the time of this recording I was listening to so many different styles and genres of music, and I was exploring different approaches to my playing. I remember I was trying to capture an authentic, organic sound: trying to play the feeling of the moment, to illustrate an image in as unplanned and unforeseen a way as possible…just create the sonic expression straight away, however I could express it. I wanted to capture that adventure on record. I was listening to RSJ and the adventure of a solo drum record that was only using drums and cymbals…no loops or samples or overdubs, not even about grooving in the usual sense of the role was intriguing to me. I didn’t want any gadgets or gizmos on the heads. There is nothing wrong with these things, I just wanted the challenge and freedom of no help, and conveying a message on just drums and cymbals…and voice.
3) What are the musical challenges of programming an entire album of drum solos?
I don’t think of this as an album of drum solos. For me, it is a record of expression. I never felt like I was soloing; there was never a moment when it was my turn to shine: I was too into the pursuit of the feeling or emotion or image of the tune. It’s just music, on the drums. That was a challenge: expressing the “music” I was playing and not the drumming. This is connected to the larger challenge: style and pacing. The last thing I wanted was a barrage of continuous drum bashing. There had to be texture changes, style changes, tempo and volume variety. The elements were there since I was actually playing tunes and not soloing, but hoping they would work as an overall flow over the course of the record was a concern. I think it came out well: some tunes are dense with drums, some thin, some loud, some very soft, some fast, some slow. It is a good flowing record.
4) Was there a particular message you were trying to convey to the listener?
The message is just to enjoy the stories and feeling and emotions this music can evoke in you. Drums can be intimidating for some, and it might take a moment to adjust to the sound of solo drums. But, my message was forget that you are listening to solo drums, just enjoy the music, enjoy how it makes you feel or what it makes you see and think about. If you can listen this record like you would any other non-solo-drum record you like, I’m happy.
5) Who are your influences with regards to your overall style of writing and playing?
I think Ron Miles is my main influence for writing music and playing. There are so many others when it comes to writing; at times some more than others. That is the great part about bing a sideman, sometimes the people who I am playing with are giving me compositional inspiration. Playing?…Elvin Jones, Jack Dejohnette, Art Blakey, Paul Motion, Tain, Greg Hutchinson…some of the younger guys, Marcus Gilmore, Corey Fonville, so many more.
6) What are you practicing/studying/listening to/researching these days?
These days I am listening to more soundtracks and television show, theme music—probably because my attention has been drawn to television music since I have been quarantined and watching more television.
7) What other current and future projects do you have on the go at the moment?
I can never tell what I am doing in the beginning of a project: I can’t decipher in what direction I am going to go. I am taking advantage of this quarantine time to write a little. I know there is a project in the making, just not sure how it will manifest itself just yet. I would love to play with a vibist at some point, but the “blues” of Flatbed Buggy is still in my soul for now, I think. Either look for another Flatbed Buggy record or something with vibes and harmonica…in that sonic atmosphere.
8) How do the drums and your overall approach to rhythm factor into your compositions and concept?
Sometimes I compose music from the drums, not often. When I do write from the drums, it is usually from a place of feeling out the shape of the tune. How grooves or textures undulate from one part of the song to the next…where to build and where to release. I will start with something on the drums and begin to sing and search for the rest of the tune…then to the keyboard to write it down.
In my approach to rhythm, I like rhythms that are simply stated but open to much interpretation. There are tunes that are written with more precise rhythms and—depending on the composer’s wants—for me that often puts me in a tight space a bit because there can be such rhythmic complexity that there is no room for embellishment without creating a feeling of chaos. I try to write music that gives space for rhythmic interaction. Besides the melody of tunes, and the occasional rhythmic interaction, I don’t tend to write precise grooves for parts much. I like to leave rhythmic interpretations to the particular musician who is playing the part. I may give a reference rhythm, but it is only a suggestion.
9) What drummers (or other musicians) do you consider as influences?
Man…everything and everyone I like….many folks, from Prince to Dolly Parton to Coltrane to Mahalia Jackson to Nirvana to Cameo to Chicago to Jay-Z, Lady Gaga….everything I hear and like is an influence.
10) What advice do you have for younger, aspiring jazz drummers?
Get humble, stay humble; practice often; remember playing music is about the music, whether soloing or in a group; play without fear; always try to play something you can’t; laugh at/with yourself every time you play; play for passion of music, not success: the former will bring the latter; don’t worry; play for love.
- Todd Bishop over at Cruiseship Drummer has been busy these days. In particular he's painstakingly compiled a huge archive of creative practice loops to play-a-long with. Check these out here.
These are really clever and can offer an interesting element to your practice routine if you are working on a particular groove or feel. I showed these to Adam Nussbaum the other day and he lost his mind!
Here's a good one if you might be inclined to work on your slow tempos:
- Jerry Granelli featured in Jazz Profiles, speaking about his days playing with Mose Allison and Vince Guaraldi
- Canadian free jazz drummer Larry Dubin is a new name to me. Check out this 1979 CCMC performance.
- The 80/20 Drummer offers this episode on his practical approach to playing the brushes:
Kelly Jefferson also recently shared this great piece of wisdom via his Facebook page:
“It’s not about your music - it’s about what makes your music your music. You’ve got to have a feeling like that. You have to have a reason for your music. Have something besides the technical. Make it for something. Make it for kindness, make it for peace, whatever it is. You know what I mean?”
Further to last week's blog post, here's a few more items on the great Jimmy Cobb that I'd like to share with you today.
First, as a follow up to bassist Pat Collin's reflections on his own experience working with Jimmy Cobb, I asked Toronto pianist Mark Eisenman to do the same. Mark was kind enough to offer these words on playing and recording with Cobb back in 2003 (incidentally this is also posted on the new Four on the Floor YouTube channel!):
Thank you Mark!
Here's a few more links to check out:
- Rick Mattingly offers this memorial via the Percussive Arts Society website
- An older but great piece from WBGO, A Take Five Salute to Jimmy Cobb featuring many of his important recordings
- NPR recently published this obituary and also shared this 2013 performance of Cobb and his band, recorded live at New York's Village Vanguard:
- Bret Primack (aka "The Jazz Video Guy") offers this tribute to Jimmy Cobb, a 2006 trio performance with Mulgrew Miller and Buster Williams:
- And finally, here's a great clip of Jimmy Cobb in action with Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and John Coltrane:
The great Jimmy Cobb recently passed away at the age of 91. Jimmy has always been one of my favourites and, in fact, was one of the first jazz drummers I was ever exposed to. He's always been a huge influence on my own drumming.
When I was about 15 years old my jazz band director at the Regina Lions Band, Brenda McAlpine, made a mix tape for me (remember those mystical sonic devices we used to call "tapes" or "cassette tapes"?) with three albums on it: Kenny Clarke Meets the Detroit Jazzmen, McCoy Tyner's Just Feelin' and Art Pepper's Gettin' Together. The drummers on those records (who I still listen to and study today!) were Clarke, Louis Hayes and...Jimmy Cobb.
Not long after that introduction came listening to his work with Miles Davis on Kind of Blue and In Person at the Blackhawk. However, one real attention grabber for me was when drummer Kevin Dempsey played me Joe Henderson's Four! recorded live with Jimmy Cobb, Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers. Cobb's solo on the title track still floors me today (Go check that one out!)
I was also fortunate to finally hear Jimmy Cobb play in person at the Calgary Jazz Festival in 2009 with his Kind of Blue tribute band. I managed to sneak backstage afterwards and had him sign my favourite old 19" A Zildjian cymbal ("Don't sell it on eBay!" he said to me afterwards...)
Last summer my good friend and Canadian bassist Pat Collins told me some stories about a memorable trio session he recorded with Toronto pianist Mark Eisenman and Jimmy Cobb entitled Sweet & Lovely (Cornerstone Records).
Pat was nice enough to take some time to share what it was like to play with Cobb:
"Some Thoughts On Jimmy Cobb" by Pat Collins
In January 2003, my friend Mark Eisenman asked me to play with him on a recording with legendary drummer, Jimmy Cobb. This recording is now available on the Cornerstone Records label, under Mark’s name, and is entitled, “Sweet and Lovely”. A few things stand out about the session that I am happy to have the opportunity to share.
The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about that session was the fact that the first couple of takes, from my perspective, didn’t feel as good as I thought they would have. I was playing tentatively and took the approach of trying to “follow” Jimmy. After a while, Barry Elmes, who was acting as producer of the session, told me to just play like I play and from that point on, things felt fantastic! It was a real lesson for me, that no matter who you’re playing with, you can’t be a follower, rhythmically. Once I committed to playing with a bit more conviction, things lined up with Jimmy and it and felt great! It was a truly memorable session.
One of the tunes we recorded for the album was, “Someday My Prince Will Come”. Mark decided we play a similar arrangement to what Miles did on his album of the same name. The intro starts with Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb playing a quarter note pedal on an “F”, with Wynton Kelly sneaking in after a few four bars or so. When Mark and I were playing this arrangement with Jimmy, at one point we looked at each other and each of us had this goofy smile on our face, the look of astonishment that here we are, playing with Jimmy freaking Cobb!
One of the things that most impressed me about Jimmy during the session, was how seriously he took things. It would have been very easy for him to come to the session, collect his cheque and get out of there with there as quickly as possible. At the point in the session when it felt like things were winding down, Jimmy said to us, “If you guys want to do some more, I’m up for it”. I’ll never forget that, and whenever I’m tired on a session or gig, I draw on those words from Jimmy as inspiration as well as a kick in the pants to myself.
Jimmy’s commitment to the music was also exhibited with us a year later. The trio did a six-night gig at Toronto’s, “Top O’ The Senator” club. It was such an incredible experience to be part of this gig. Every night people would come in with their vinyl copies of the iconic albums Jimmy played on and ask him to sign them. He was always gracious and often took time to have conversations with the people requesting the autograph. For the last tune of each night, Mark would call, “I’ll Remember April”. Mark would let Jimmy set the tempo each night, and it seemed like each night Jimmy would start the tune a little bit faster. Mark and I got used to buckling our seatbelts for this and by the end of the week, the tempo was burning!
It was such an honour, education and thrill to have the opportunity to play with Jimmy Cobb and something that I will never forget. RIP Jimmy.
Joe Farnsworth has also recently produced yet another amazing YouTube video, this time offering his tribute to Jimmy Cobb, featuring an all-star cast of drummers and well-wishers:
I was watching and really enjoyed a wonderful Facebook Live broadcast last Friday evening from Jazz House Kids hosted by bassist Christian McBride with special guests Eric Harland, Carl Allen and Cindy Blackman (with appearances by Chick Corea, David Sanborn, Dianne Reeves and Roy Haynes!) It was a very entertaining and informative session and I will surely return for more. However, in particular, their discussion on the legacy of Jack DeJohnette really got my mind thinking and prompted me towards a late-night DeJohnette-inspired internet and YouTube binge.
I was really inspired by these two pieces from Jack DeJohnette in particular, for two related reasons:
Furthermore, here's a wonderful clip of Jack improvising on an instrument I know only as a Handpan or a Hang drum (?)
While we know DeJohnette as a drummer and accomplished pianist, his imagination and musicality knows no bounds. I am always inspired by musicians when they play another instrument (or engage in any other creative endeavour) and, as in this case, their profound musicality and message always comes across clear as day.
This is a blog about jazz, jazz drumming and all things unrelated. Thanks for stopping by!
A Bit About Me...
Jonathan McCaslin was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba and raised in Regina, Saskatchewan. Jonathan began playing the drums at the age of nine. He progressed through the Regina Lions Junior Band and the music program at his high school, Campbell Collegiate, soon developing a passion for playing the drums and jazz. Ultimately, Jon's interest in music led him to enroll in the Jazz Studies program at McGill University, graduating with distinction in 1999.
While at McGill Jon had the opportunity to study with some of the finest jazz educators in the country including Gordon Foote, Kevin Dean, Jan Jarcyzk, Chris McCann, Andre White, Michel Lambert and Dave Laing. He also attended the prestigious summer jazz workshop presented by the Banff Centre for the Arts in 1997, where he performed with Canadian jazz greats Hugh Fraser, Don Thompson and Kenny Wheeler.
Jon has also been fortunate to have performed with many of Canada's jazz elite including Charlie Biddle, Brian Hurley, Louise Rose, Alaister Kay, Mart Kinny, Gary Guthman, Mike Rud, Hadley Caliman, Greg Clayton, Chase Sanborn, Andre White, Tilden Webb, John LaBelle, Kevin Dean, Dave Turner, Ralph Bowen, Don Thompson, Dionne Taylor, Jim Vivian, Kelly Jefferson, Ian McDougall, Brad Turner, Jim Brenan, The McGill Jazz Orchestra, Jeff Johnston, Lorraine Desmerais, Steve Amirault, Hugh Fraser, Chucho Valdes, Kieran Overs, The Altsys Jazz Orchestra, Pat LaBarbera, The Regina Symphony Orchestra and The Montreal Jazz Big Band.
In the spring of 2002 McCaslin completed his Master's in Jazz Studies at McGill University where he studied jazz drumming, improvisation and composition.
In January 2003 Jon released his debut CD, “McCallum’s Island”. Featuring his quintet, the CD contains an exciting collection of McCaslin’s original compositions, featuring himself and his band. The release of this CD was followed by a twenty-day tour of Western Canada, performing to enthusiastic, capacity audiences. During March of 2003 Jonathan was the recipient of a fellowship from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and attended the “Betty Carter Jazz Ahead” residency in Washington, D.C. Along with twenty other distinguished young jazz artists, McCaslin was featured with such jazz icons as Terence Blanchard, Carmen Lundy, Winard Harper, Curtis Fuller and John Clayton.
McCaslin’s quintet performed at the 2003 edition of the Montreal International Jazz Festival and was nominated for the General Motors Grand Prix du Festival (awarded to the most outstanding Canadian group). From 2004 until 2006, Jon toured North America, Asia and Europe with the high-energy, critically acclaimed music production troupe “Barrage”. Featuring a cast of seven world-class fiddlers and a four-piece band, this dynamic show featured high-energy music and fiddle traditions from around the world set to upbeat choreography and movement.
In 2015, Dr. McCaslin received his Doctorate through the University of Toronto and completed his dissertation on the conceptualization of contemporary melodic jazz drumming. He is currently based in Calgary, Alberta where he maintains a busy performing and teaching schedule across Canada.