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Rudy Royston: A Trusted Sideman Turns Bandleader

"Be what you feel," says the drummer

Rudy Royston performing with J.D. Allen at 2010 CareFusion Newport Jazz Festival
Rudy Royston

The thing that I have the hardest time doing is playing drums,” says Rudy Royston, explaining his approach to improvisation. “It’s so hard for me because I’m not hearing the drums when I’m playing; I’m hearing melodies or textures. I’m hearing everything but a drum groove.”

That’s not to suggest the 43-year-old can’t bump a mean groove. His splendid debut disc, 303 (Greenleaf), exhibits his gift for shuffling pulses derived from modern bop, funk, rock, R&B and hip-hop. But he references all of those idioms without sacrificing the cogency of his improvisations or obscuring a song’s melodic pull. He also demonstrates an incredible sense of dynamics, something long evident in his sideman work, from his quiet, textural playing alongside guitarist Bill Frisell to the combustive velocity he supplied for saxophonist JD Allen’s trio. “My approach to drums is always based on supporting some kind of event that’s happening in the song,” Royston says. “I’ll play quick little melodies or responses on the drums, or I’ll set up quick little scenes or textures. I always want to bring some life to the music.”

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