Drummer Rudy Royston is one of the busiest musicians on the jazz scene. Whether playing in groups led by Ben Allison, Don Byron, Ravi Coltrane, Dave Douglas, Bill Frisell, David Gilmore, Branford Marsalis, Jason Moran, and Greg Osby, or leading his own bands, his creative command of the drum set lifts everyone around him. His debut album as a leader, 303, was released on Greenleaf Music in 2014 to wide critical acclaim.
Next week, Royston will take his ‘303’ band into New York’s Village Vanguard for a week-long run.
Here Rudy discusses what to expect at the Vanguard, his upcoming album and life beyond music.
GLM: Playing with all sorts of musicians and ensembles as a sideman, what is it like to be playing such a broad range of music?
It is perfect for me, because I have all sorts of music ideas constantly invading my playing. But, I love having the opportunity to play all of that music in my heart. The music challenges me to play the drum set differently for each band, not necessarily in glaringly different ways, but to find new ways of sonically presenting different music and grooves. I really want to try and blend with the character and writing style of each composer – to sound like a drummer in the band instead of with the band.
GLM: Guitarist Bill Frisell has included you in a number of his ensembles. What has that experience been like?
I’ve read some people who think of me as a powerhouse drummer, probably because I often play kind of strong, and I have been on some hard-hitting records. Playing with Bill has been the foil to that for me. Playing with Bill is not hard-hitting it’s hard-moment-ing. What I love about playing with Bill is the music is everything at once – grooves, textures, styles, colors, genres – but at all times an intimate, attentive, sharing conversation. It is playing in that moment, and the exploration of every sonic approach you can to create the landscapes and experiences of the music. Just like the previous question, it’s a real opportunity to play all the music in my heart. But that is the heart of Bill’s music. Still, I feel an effortlessness though when playing with Bill (Actually, I don’t think he has ever told me how or what to play on his tunes. I haven’t even seen sheet music for most of his tunes I play). I want to grow to be that way in my music and performance: light, no pressure, no rush, no fear – just music.
GLM: You’re returning to the Village Vanguard with the group that performs on your 2014 release, 303. Can you give us a preview of what to expect?
We will play some of the music from the record, and we have some new tunes to try out as well. I am sort or in another sonic mindset currently, but the spirit of 303 will remain: fun, hitting, grooving, adventurous music.
GLM: You’re working on a new album. What can you tell us about this new record?
I have a trio record called Rise of Orion coming in the fall. I have Jon Irabagon on saxophones and Yasushi Nakamura on bass. I love these guys both personally and as musicians because I hear in them a myriad of music and sounds like those in me…eclecticism and a drive to include it. I’ve heard people say you compose where you are in your life at the time…I’m finding that true. I am in a time where I am sensitive to there being a surface Rudy and then there are the translucent layers of life beneath that surface. This music attempts to touch on those layers. My challenge was how to achieve that in a trio setting. 303 is a record of sound and melodic layers: there are eight sources of sound. But with the trio, I wanted to use the entirety of the record to express those layers. The music is adventurous and thematic, groovy and sometimes a raucous, but overall accessible…a little something for everyone. Ultimately the message of the CD as a whole is Love.
GLM: You’ve been based on the East Coast for ten years now, since moving from Colorado in 2006. Do you feel settled? Do you feel like a New Yorker yet?
I think I need a little more time! I do feel more settled in the pace and rhythm of life in NY. But, I am still not totally sure what it feels like to be a New Yorker since I have lived in New Jersey my whole time on the east coast. I do feel like a New Jerseyan, though. My kids are Jersey kids; my wife has a Jersey style now. Jersey feels a little more settled than New York to me, but New Yorkers have an unbelievably consistent, daily focus. I can say that without reservation I call New York home now. I almost understand alternate-side-of-the-street parking rules! But, no matter from where in the world I am arriving, I get excited now looking out of the airplane window and seeing the Manhattan facade to one side and the Newark facade on the other. That wasn’t always true when I got here ten years ago – it just looked like a hard life out the window…LOL.
GLM: As a dedicated father, you’re known for planning your travel around family soccer games and recitals. How do you achieve a balance between your work and family?
It is not easy to maintain. I could work much more at times, but it boils down to scheduling as tight as possible around my wife and kid’s lives or just flat out turning down work sometimes. I get lots of videotaped games and recitals on the road. But, I need to see and touch them often or I start to get the jimjams. The good thing is when I am home, I am home. I send the kids to school in the morning and greet them when they get home in the afternoon. We eat together as a family, talk, play, love, hug, laugh A LOT. I help with every project and make every activity they have because we know there will come a time when I will be out for a long period of time. We as a family have learned how to handle those times.
GLM: Do you have any plans for the summer? Are there any upcoming projects that you’re particularly excited about?
I am looking forward to 303 at the Vanguard for one. I am also looking forward to John Patitucci and Chris Potter in Mexico. Rudresh Manhanthappa‘s Bird Calls is going out in July for a couple weeks; I am teaching and playing with Luis Perdomo in Langnau at the Langnau Jazz Nights Festival; a George Colligan trio recording project with Boris Koslov; Chicago Jazz Festival with JD Allen Trio.
Rudy’s ‘303’ band will play the Village Vanguard June 28th to July 3rd. The group will feature Jon Irabagon on saxophone, Nadje Noordhuis on trumpet, Sam Harris on piano, Nir Felder on guitar, and Mimi Jones and Yasushi Nakamura on bass. Reservations can be made here.
Check out 303 on Bandcamp, as well as his upcoming tour dates and his website.