The Horace Silver Quintet drummer Roger Humphries reflects on his storied life in jazz

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Young Roger Humphries by photographer Teenie Harris. Courtesy of Roger Humphries.

 

A signed, framed photograph of “California Soul” singer Marlena Shaw hangs from the basement wall. There’s also a photo of a tan bass-drum head, with a hand-painted portrait of Ray Charles’ visage on it. Below Ray’s image, it reads, in black-ink hand-lettering, “Roger’s drum,” and there’s a large hole punched in it. There’s a classic black-and-white photo by Pittsburgh Courier photographer Teenie Harris of a very young boy named Roger Humphries playing a drum kit in the 1940s. The white bass-drum cylinder is as big as the boy, and the kid’s hands are wielding drumsticks, the left blurred in motion at the snare, the right stick striking a vibrating ride cymbal. The now veteran drummer extraordinaire Roger Humphries was kind enough to invite me to his home in the North Side of Pittsburgh to talk on a toasty August day, then later on a mild December day in 2017. We sit at a table in his finished basement that serves as part game room, part practice spot, and part office. I notice another photo, this one of a tuxedo-clad Humphries with Oprah, from the time he played her show backing Nancy Wilson, the same show he met the members of Destiny’s Child in 2001. On another wall, there’s a water-color collage of jazz luminaries who were either born in or lived in the Pittsburgh area—Earl “Fatha” Hines, Billy “Mr. B” Eckstine, Mary Lou Williams, Roy Eldridge, Art Blakey, Kenny “Klook” Clarke, Stanley Turrentine, George Benson, Billy Strayhorn, Ahmad Jamal, Ray Brown, Joe Harris, Nathan Davis, among others, and, of course, the drummer in question. Though he’s not as well known nationally as he should be. A sharp-dressed Renaissance man who possesses a calm confidence, a gentle kindness, and a sense of humor, Roger “Dad” Humphries has played drums professionally for decades, taught at Pittsburgh’s Creative and Performing Arts magnet school (CAPA) for over twenty-five years, acts as a mentor to aspiring and established drummers, owns real estate, and is, above all, a family man with his wife, Regina, four kids, and grandchildren to boot.

Born into a large musical family in the North Side of Pittsburgh in 1944, Roger Lee Humphries, the youngest of ten, started playing drums as a poppin’ fresh young sapling around the age of three and a half or four. Soon thereafter, his uncle Frank sent Roger—at the advanced age of five—to sit in with Tab Smith’s band at the New Granada Theater in the Hill District. “I was very young going in,” Roger recalls, “and sitting [in] with people. My nerves would bother me so bad that I would have to go take a rest sometimes.” Through his musical-minded family members like his uncles Frank and Hildred Humphries (both professional horn players who’d played with Louis Jordan and Billie Holiday, respectively), he heard lots of jazz and met legends like Art Blakey, Lee Morgan, and Max Roach at local clubs like the Crawford Grill in the Hill, which was owned by the Pittsburgh Crawfords’ Gus Greenlee, and the Midway Lounge, which was located downtown on Penn Avenue. His older brothers also played music: Lawrence, a saxophonist, and Norman, a drummer. As far as influences go, Humphries mentions Art Blakey, Max Roach, Buddy Rich, Louis Hayes, Roy Haynes, Elvin Jones, but also says, if it comes down to naming drummer names, he “would go on forever.” In a recent WQED-PBS video interview, he says his first professional gig was at age fourteen, when he was in junior high, with saxophonist Illinois Jacquet. Later, he was able to sit in with the husband-and-wife team of saxophonist Stanley Turrentine and organist Shirley Scott at Birdie Dunlap’s bustling Hurricane club in the Hill. According to Paul Wells’ 2011 piece in Modern Drummer, Humphries, fresh out of school, was called up and got his first taste of touring when he hit the road with Turrentine and Scott in 1962: “I got out of high school in June, and we went out west in July. I was eighteen, and it was exciting to be on that road. They taught me a lot about dynamics and how to make the music exciting… I kissed my wife-to-be, Regina, good-bye, and I was off.”

After the tour and back in Pittsburgh, he received word in 1964 that one of the founders of the Jazz Messengers, hard-bop pianist and composer Horace Silver, was in need of a new drummer in his quintet after Roy Brooks’ departure. It was a time when Silver was moving on from one group of personnel for his quartet to another. As Silver wrote in his autobiography, Let’s Get to the Nitty Gritty, “Different musicians had told me about a fine young drummer from Pittsburgh named Roger Humphries. I invited him to come to New York and audition.” Roger traveled to Lynn Oliver’s New York studio to audition to be Silver’s next drummer. [note: Roger refers to him as Glen Oliver. –Ed.] He stepped in line at the studio with an intimidating list of other drummers and musicians, which, according to Humphries, included Al Foster, Edgar Bateman Jr., and perhaps Billy Cobham (the powerhouse who later drummed for Silver, Miles Davis, et al.). Humphries got the job. “When I heard him play, I knew right away that he was the drummer for us,” wrote Silver. Other musicians who comprised Silver’s new quintet’s lineup at that time were trumpeter Carmell Jones, bassist Teddy Smith, and tenor sax giant Joe Henderson. When Paul Wells asked Humphries why Silver had chosen him, he responded humbly, “It’s not that I outplayed anyone or anything like that. It was just the fact that I fit with what he heard and complemented what he did… Horace wanted something new.” Bandleaders at the time used to switch up personnel periodically to keep it fresh.

The newly formed quintet rehearsed at Oliver’s studio for a week in May 1964, and, according to the JazzDiscography.com site, debuted their live performance at the Crawford Grill back in Pittsburgh during Friday and Saturday matinees. On June 6, 1964, the quintet played at the Cork ’n’ Bib club in Long Island, New York. The four-song set was recorded and released as Live 1964 in the 1980s on Horace’s own private Emerald label. While the sound is pretty decent for a live recording, it holds up and the performance is solid and solos gratifying, offering a recorded document of the then new lineup doing the older Silver tunes in a club setting. There’s a nearly fifteen-minute version of “The Tokyo Blues,” and Horace called Humphries “one of my best drummers” in the liner notes. In July, the band traveled to play the Antibes Jazz Festival in the French Riviera. There are some classic black-and-white film videos on YouTube of the Horace Silver Quintet performing “Pretty Eyes” and “The Tokyo Blues” onstage at the festival in late July 1964. A youthful Humphries presides over the drums as Silver and Henderson take turns on nice solo runs with the underappreciated Carmell Jones on trumpet and Teddy Smith on bass. When asked, Humphries says he played on a Slingerland kit back in those days. These clips are definitely worth a watch and a listen.

Roger Humphries at Rudy Van Gelder’s Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, studio during Horace Silver’s Song for My Father session, October 26, 1964. Photo by Francis Wolff and courtesy of Blue Note Records.

 

Humphries played on four tracks of Silver’s hard-bop classic Song for My Father, released in 1964 on Blue Note, including the timeless and successful title cut, which was, according to Silver himself, inspired by Brazilian bossa-nova rhythms and Cape Verdean melodies combined with jazz elements. Silver had traveled to Brazil previously. The song’s influence has continued from its release to this day. Besides “Song for My Father” becoming a jazz standard, the Godfather of Soul James Brown, at the organ, wasted no time in covering the song in two parts on his 1965 instrumental album, James Brown Plays James Brown Today & Yesterday on the Smash label. The intro vamp with its bass line and rim-clicks was almost directly lifted, whether consciously or unconsciously, into parts of Steely Dan’s 1974 hit “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.” Furthermore, B-3 organist Richard “Groove” Holmes covered the tune on a couple albums, while maestro Mulatu Astatke quoted and melded elements of the song into his late-1960s Ethio-jazz tune “Yakermo Sew,” which later popped up on the soundtrack for Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers. In 1993, the song was sampled by jazz-meets-rap outfit Us3 on “Eleven Long Years” on their hit debut, Hand On the Torch. Moreover, the man-of-many-masks Madlib and cohorts reinterpreted the standard on his Blue Note remix project, Shades of Blue. When I ask Mr. Humphries about the influence, borrowing, and sampling of the music he had a hand in creating, he says with a laugh, “I never gave it [much] thought. You know, I just listen to music to see if there’s something I like… I love music, man, and [people] can take jazz—and with the right flavor—they can make it slay.”

Featuring a Francis Wolff photo of Horace Silver’s real-life dad sitting near a pond on the cover designed by Reid Miles, Song for My Father was recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s Englewood Cliffs studio over two dates—about a year apart—with twosets of personnel: for the first session, on Halloween of 1963, it was the earlier quartet consisting of drummer Roy Brooks, trumpeter Blue Mitchell, bassist Gene Taylor, saxophonist Junior Cook, and leader Silver on two tracks, “Calcutta Cutie” and “Lonely Woman.” Brooks had replaced the great Louis Hayes, who had played with Silver in the mid- to late 1950s until Hayes teamed up with Cannonball Adderley. In fact, when I recently saw Hayes during his Horace Silver tribute tour at the New Hazlett Theater, he invited his fellow Silver alumnus Roger Humphries up for few tunes, with Roger laying down a groove, adding dynamic accents, and then building up to a blistering solo. Roger speaks very fondly of Hayes. For the second Song for My Father session date, which was October 26, 1964, it was recorded with the aforementioned new lineup of Silver, Joe Henderson, Carmell Jones, Teddy Smith, and Humphries at the Van Gelder studio. The songs recorded on that fall day were “Song for My Father,” “The Natives Are Restless Tonight,” “Que Pasa,” and “The Kicker,” a Henderson composition. This album went on to sell millions.

Humphries provided his fine drum-work on two more Silver studio albums on Blue Note: The Cape Verdean Blues—another tip of the hat to Silver’s father, who was from the Cape Verde Islands—was released in 1965 with, in addition to Silver on keys, Bob Cranshaw on bass, Henderson on sax, Humphries on the skins, a fine young musician, Woody Shaw, on trumpet, as well as a special guest musician, J. J. Johnson, on trombone on three tracks. Shaw had up till then been playing with Nathan Davis in Paris, where Davis, according to his book Paris to Pittsburgh, encouraged the young trumpeter to take the job with Silver. The Cape Verdean Blues album sports a verdant, Reid Miles–designed cover and features tunes like the up-tempo “Nutville,” the title cut, the aforementioned “Pretty Eyes” (apparently Silver’s first waltz), and “The African Queen.” And the next album, 1967’s The Jody Grind, presents another catchy, lightly toasted-in-funk title track, and Humphries locks in a smoking groove and takes a nice solo on “Grease Piece.” This album, Humphries’s last with Silver, alternates between a quintet and a sextet with Larry Ridley on bass, Woody Shaw on trumpet, Tyrone Washington taking over on tenor sax after Henderson’s departure, and James Spaulding on alto sax and flute on three tracks.

With each of these classic Blue Note albums having been impeccably recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in New Jersey and with liner notes penned by critic/composer Leonard Feather, I ask Humphries how the conversations went with engineer Van Gelder and producer Alfred Lion. He responds that Van Gelder and Lion were “the business part, the owners. You didn’t have no conversation, really, with them, except to say, ‘Hello, how you doing?’ [Have] a cup of coffee [together],” he says with a laugh. “When you’re dealing with engineers like Rudy Van Gelder, these guys are at the top of their game.” When I ask if they ever did overdubs or anything other than live takes, Humphries responds, “Nono, no. It’s live. No punch-in this or that, no. There’s no punching-in. Matter of fact, when you go into a studio now, they have separate rooms they put you in. But back then, at that particular time when I was with Horace Silver, those albums, there was just a barricade, you know, in front of the drums, [and] the trumpeter would be here, the piano over here,” he says, pointing to nearby parts of his basement practice room as examples. “You weren’t separated. It’d be just like you’d been [playing] in a joint. You’d feel that sense of, oh, human [kinship].” However, he does marvel at the sound technology nowadays, “I love it, because technology, you know, [with] separation, makes the sound much better. So it doesn’t bleed.” He recalls an earlier Blue Note recording session in Englewood, possibly in 1962, that he was part of during his time with Stanley Turrentine: “It was Butch Warren on bass, Kenny Burrell, Tommy and Stanley Turrentine, and Herbie Hancock was on the piano. And [Stanley] had in his mind what he wanted to do, and I think Alfred [Lion, the producer,] wanted him to do something else. And it got to the point that he was bugging Stanley, and Stanley said, ‘Stop! That’s it.’ He said, ‘Stop,’ period. We stopped recording. ‘Stop. Pack up. We leaving.’” Apparently, Turrentine and Lion weren’t seeing eye-to-eye as to the direction of this session, which would unfortunately be scrapped. “I think about that, the first time I’d ever been in company with Herbie Hancock. I wish I could go back, man, to find whatever that [recording] was. Wouldn’t that be something,” he wonders. When he met Leonard Feather, whom the New York Times called “the dean of American jazz critics,” Feather interviewed Roger for one of his jazz encyclopedias. Concerning the time when he met Feather and others who are now often historically discussed, Roger reflects, “Meeting all these people, different people, they were just normal people to me, you know… He was a nice person.”

During his years in the 1960s as one of Silver’s stars, Humphries was able to tour the States, playing clubs like Birdland, the Village Gate, and the Apollo in NYC, the It Club and Shelly’s Manne-Hole in Los Angeles, the Plugged Nickel in Chi-Town, the Music Workshop in Boston, among many others. He played with the band at jazz festivals like Monterey, as well as gigs in the U.K. and Europe. Speaking of Birdland, he recalls the stage, “There’d be John Coltrane, then they’d take a break then we’d go up and play. Then Stan Getz [would go up and play].” There was a recording at Pep’s Showbar in Philly from 1964, but it was shelved by Blue Note. Another private, limited release on the now-defunct Emerald label, distributed only by Horace in the 1980s, is the 1990 CD The Natives Are Restless Tonight, which culls some tunes from an Alan Grant radio-broadcast performance by the quintet at the Half Note in New York in 1966. There’s a more recently released, expanded, and possibly bootlegged, recording of the broadcast Half Note gigs on Hi Hat. When Down Beat “New Star” critics’ poll winner Carmell Jones left the quintet to record his Prestige debut, Jay Hawk Talk, in 1965, before Jones moved to Germany for years, he recruited Humphries on drums, about whom the liner notes stated: “This man, still in his early twenties, displays a musical maturity far beyond his years with the taste he exhibits in presenting his strong beat.” Saxophonist Jimmy Heath, pianist Barry Harris, and bassist George Tucker joined Jones and Humphries on this session, definitely worth a listen or a revisit.

There was only one minor confrontation between Humphries and Silver back then, according to Willard Jenkins’ piece in Jazz Times, in which Roger reported with a laugh: “I remember one time we were playing a tune, I thought I was right, and I was saying, ‘Hey, man, what’s happened to the tempo?’ [Horace] looked at me and said, ‘Man, you messed up the tempo!’ The drummer is gonna get blamed, no matter how hard you try!” Overall, Humphries very much appreciates his time spent with the pianist and composer Silver. “Man, my time with Horace, it was beautiful,” he tells me as we sit at the table in his basement, nodding his head fondly in memory. “Horace was like a big brother to me… I got under his wing, man. [He] exposed me to a lot of things, a lot of people.” The great hard-bop innovator and pianist Horace Silver passed away in 2014.

After the departure of Joe Henderson and Jones, it was time for Humphries to move on, as he told Paul Wells, “It was time for us to start doing our own thing. It was nothing personal. After I left, I realized [Horace] was teaching me to be a bandleader.” After the Silver years of tours and albums, he returned briefly to Pittsburgh and started to play with musicians who were coming through the city. He married his love, Regina, and started a family that would include four kids, eventually. According to Kevin Kirkland’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article, Roger “was on a scaffold doing construction with his brother Norman when Edgar Willis, longtime bassist with Ray Charles, asked him to come Downtown to the Roosevelt Hotel to audition.” Willis, a Pittsburgh native who’d also played with Sonny Stitt, had suggested Humphries to Charles. A fan of Ray’s music, Humphries says the hotel was on Sixth Street and the audition was in the ballroom. When he walked in for the audition, the music book was plopped in front of him; he looked at it, and he had to tell Ray that he didn’t know how to read music (at the time). According to Humphries, “Ray said, ‘Close that book up.’ That’s what Ray said. ‘Close that book up.’ He started playing the blues. Then he did another number. I followed him on that. He did another number, and he said, ‘Okay. That’s it.’ Two weeks later, man, I get the phone call, ‘Come and fly [to Chicago].’ I got the gig!” Roger fit like a glove, and learned to time the music to how Ray would do his signature upper-body lean when playing songs like “Georgia On My Mind.” Roger describes it: “The way he’s leaning, ‘Georgia,’ and then he’d lean back again, ‘Georgia.’ Then he’d start giving you the pulse, the tempo, you know. Then also the bandleader would kind of direct, but Ray Charles was in charge of that, you know. You’d follow him, and the bandleaders follow him.”

So in 1968, Roger toured the U.S. and Europe with Ray Charles and his big band in many performances. They performed on the afternoon segment of July 7 of that year at the Newport Jazz Festival, which, according to the July 20, 1968, edition of Billboard, “attracted 8,000 [fans], making it the largest afternoon crowd of any Newport Festival” up till that time in history. Of note, other performers for the weekend festival included: Gary Burton, Dionne Warwick, Mongo Santamaria, Nina Simone, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington, among others. Another highlight that same July, they played a two-week engagement at the Ambassador Hotel’s famous Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles. Film footage, available on YouTube at the time of this writing, exists of Ray and his big band doing soulful versions of “Yesterday” and “The Sun Died” at the Salle Pleyel shows in Paris in October 1968. Roger is at the drums just behind Ray. There’s another video clip from one of the Paris shows where Ray does a version of his classic “What’d I Say” and is joined by the Raelettes. These clips are worth a watch and a listen, if they haven’t been pulled already. On a refreshing side note, Roger mentions that back then Ray and the band performed a song for a cola commercial with none other than the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.

When I ask Roger about the aforementioned photo of the bass-drum head that’s hanging on his basement wall, the one that has Ray’s visage painted on it—the one with the hole in it—he says, “Ray gave that to me.” We share a laugh as he tells me that during a performance with Ray and his band, Roger had played so hard he had punched a hole in the rear bass-drum head and had to switch the front head to the back and then punched a hole in that one too!

Beyond gaining big-band musical experience from Ray Charles, Humphries says Ray taught him the business side, as in other avenues with which to make money. Ray owned real estate and he suggested to Roger that he buy real estate, too, advice that he and his wife heeded. “People don’t know about musicians,” says Humphries. “They have another life that they do besides just playing music. Because music is your passion. But sometimes, you gotta get into the business world.” He toured with Ray for a year.

Humphries eventually realized he wanted to be near his family and get to know his kids, so he moved back to Pittsburgh, realizing that he could help raise his family and do gigs in the Pittsburgh area once again. He played on saxophonist Nathan Davis’s album Makatuka, recorded at the WRS studios in Pittsburgh with local musicians and released on Seguéin 1971. Davis had returned from working as a jazz musician in Europe and was spearheading a new program for jazz studies at the University of Pittsburgh. [Sad news: Dr. Nathan Davis, who personally inspired this writer, passed away in April.] When I show Humphries a copy of the album, he says with a smile, “Boy, that’s taking me back a long ways.” While he of course remembers Nathan Davis and other musicians like his friend Nelson Harrison on the session, he unfortunately doesn’t have a recollection of the session itself. The title track, “Makatuka,” in 7/8, is a personal favorite of mine, with Roger’s detailed cymbal work, toms, and drum rolls boiling under a dark bass groove by Mike Taylor on acoustic and Virgil Waters on electric, layered with keys by Joe Kennedy on piano and Don DePaolis on electric piano, and looming overhead are the film noir sounds of Nelson Harrison’s trombone and Davis’s sax, which build until trilling into a storm cloud.Some of the names, including Roger’s first name, are misspelled on the album, but this something that happens fairly often in the hurried world of recordings, liner notes, and credits.

Next, Humphries formed his own band, RH Factor, in 1972, a group which still performs today. In fact, the sharp-dressed drummer sometimes wears a gold medallion with initials “R. H.” on it in honor of this band. He hit the road again around 1980, playing with B-3 man Richard “Groove” Holmes. On Willis “Gator Tail” Jackson’s In Châteauneuf-du-Pape, 1980on Black & Blue, Roger is mis-credited as “Roger Lee Humphrey.” Holmes, Humphries, and guitarist Steve Giordano appear on this fun live date, recorded in France. He later played drums on an album by the late guitarist Jimmy Ponder and on a Dwayne Dolphin album. He’s released several solo albums, and started the Roger Humphries Big Band in ’96, where he incorporates band-leading skills garnered from Silver and Ray Charles. He says he likes all different sizes of bands from the trio on up to the big-band format: “I need all of them, because they satisfy my taste buds.” He’s played venues all over the city like the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, City of Asylum, the Billy Strayhorn Theater, Dowe’s on Ninth, Graffiti Showcase, outdoor concerts like the Reservoir of Jazz, and the list could go on. Many legendary jazz clubs where he cut his teeth, such as the Crawford Grill and the Hurricane, closed long ago, the latter of which when a large swath of the Hill District was razed for a public sports arena (now razed too). Though we hadn’t met yet at the time, we reminisce over a show from back in 1995 at the now-defunct Balcony, where he used to play with saxophonist Kenny Blake, at which there was not one Hammond B-3 organ player, not two, not three, but four: Jack McDuff, Papa DeFrancesco, Joey DeFrancesco, and Gene Ludwig all played the beast the same night!

The now silver-haired drummer is, and has basically been for decades, a jazz-incubating institution, a beacon. And here’s how. He taught and inspired scores of students at the aforementioned CAPA school. Musicians like Tom Wendt, James Johnson III, Paul Thompson, Richie Goods, Billy Porter, and Paul Wells attended CAPA. For years, according to the New Pittsburgh Courier, he’s helmed an annual jazz cruise on Pittsburgh’s rivers that raises funds for his scholarship for music students. And maybe most importantly for the legacy of jazz, he’s run local jams at various Pittsburgh clubs for decades. These have included the Too Sweet Lounge, the Club Café, the James St. Tavern (which later became the James St. Gastropub and Speakeasy), CJ’s in the Strip, and now, since clubs come and go, at the upscale Savoy. At the jams, he usually features seasoned and newer members of RH Factor, like bassist Dwayne Dolphin, saxophonist Lou Stellute, pianist Max Leake, and trumpeter Ron Horton or James Moore, then he has guest musicians step up onstage, like Humphries’ Big Band saxophonist Tony Campbell, drummer Tom Wendt, trombonist Nelson Harrison, trumpeter Sean Jones, bassist Tony DePaolis, keysman Howie Alexander, and conguero George Jones. (This is by no means all-inclusive. The list is long.) Then he mixes in some students and up-and-comers—serious attempts only, as Roger has been known to say, “This ain’t no Gong Show”—for a song or two, so they get some stage time. That way, the knowledge is passed onward, the subject of which was featured in Billy Jackson’s film documentary about Roger called Pass It On. His sense of humor pokes through when he says things like, “All roads lead to ‘Nutville.’” It’s great to see Roger and his fellow musicians doing renditions of Horace Silver classics, Blue Note material, Freddie Hubbard tunes, and various hard-bop and straightahead classics, as well as Humphries’ own material like “Regina.” He did a Ray Charles tribute last summer, which I’m still kicking myself for missing. His drumming is still propulsive, yet tasteful, with a perfect sense of tone, appropriate texture, and a mastery of dynamics, with each aspect adapted to each song—elements missing from much music today.

In 2008, bassist Christian McBride, then serving as creative chair of jazz music for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, was curating a Horace Silver tribute concert in L.A. in which Silver would be honored as a spectator, as he didn’t play anymore. The list of musicians included Cedar Walton, who would fill in for Silver, Charles Tolliver, Randy Brecker, Bennie Maupin, Joe Lovano, Tom Harrell, George Coleman, Andy Bey, and Dee Dee Bridgewater. “But,” according to NPR, “there was one musician that McBride was determined to add to the evening’s lineup: drummer Roger Humphries. McBride says he had to track him down. ‘Roger Humphries has been such a legendary underworld figure for so many years,’ McBride says. ‘I mean, he’s one of those kind of guys where he sounded so great on all those Horace Silver records… So it was time for him to make his comeback on the national scene. So Roger came in and just sounded so good, sounded so good—I was really honored to play with him.”

In Roger’s basement, I notice a photo of him standing with one Art Blakey, who is smiling. I scan back to the wall with the Ray Charles drum-head with the hole in it. I also can’t help but notice some drum kits on the floor. I think he still has the Slingerland, but nowadays he says he mostly plays a DW with a big bass drum. For sticks, he uses size 7A, and brushes “if the tune calls for it.” Whatever he uses, as he’s hesitant to make any endorsements, he makes it shine and sound like him. “I just grab a stick,” he says, gesturing to the yard outside. “You could take it from the tree and trim it back [and I’d play with it],” he jokes.

On a more serious note, when I ask Roger “Dad” Humphries to reflect upon the future of jazz, he responds in a calm and patient tone, “Well, the thing about jazz is this. Jazz, in my opinion, will never die, because it’s art. It’s an art form—art doesn’t die.”

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2 Responses

  1. Awesome, looking forward to reading. Was this ever published in print?

    – Corey
  2. Thanks for your comment. No, this piece is an original posted to Wax Poetics’ site.

    – Tom McClure

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