FOUR ON THE FLOOR: Rudy Royston PaNOptic

Written by on June 25, 2020


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. 

Rudy was nice enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his new music:

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.



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