In this video, Pittsburgh-based drummer Roger Humphries plays a solo on The Jazz Cruise on June 2, 2013.
Drum magazine is sharing a story posted on TribLIVE.com, which covers Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania news, sports, politics, entertainment, and more. Bob Karlovits is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.
By Bob Karlovits
Pittsburgh jazz musicians always march to the beat of different drummers.
With Kenny Clarke and Art Blakey leading the way, the rhythms have driven the music through the tireless work of Roger Humphries to the ever-developing skills of Thomas Wendt.
Humphries will join workhorse drum star Lewis Nash on February 25 at the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild on Pittsburgh’s North Side for a tribute to Clarke and Blakey — and a look at where their music has taken the other drummers.
Nash sees their importance all the time as a performer and teacher.
“Anyone who has ever taught this music can see that they set the beginning of doing what we do,” he says.
Humphries is amazed at the Pittsburgh legacy in drum history.
“It is just amazing how some cities produce certain musicians,” Humphries says. “I have no idea why. Something in the water? I’m just glad to be a part of it.”
The concert will feature Lewis and a band of saxophonist Bill Pierce, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, pianist Renee Rosnes, bassist Peter Washington and trombonist Jay Ashby.
But Humphries will sit in with that group, too, and he believes he and Nash also probably will do a drum duet.
Nash, 58, one of the busiest drummers currently in jazz, is not part of the Pittsburgh jazz legacy, but his skills are broad enough that he will provide another musical mindset to this examination of these important jazz figures.
Appropriately enough, he was part of an album, The Legacy of Art Blakey, featuring a crew of classic Jazz Messengers.
“When I was young, I was really caught up in Philly Jo Jones, but then I heard a Jazz Messengers album and said, ‘Hey, who is this Art Blakey guy?’”
Humphries, 72, a North Side native and resident who is one of the leading figures in jazz in this area, says Clarke and Blakey are two of the most important figures in his development as a player and mentor.
“Art Blakey just could go anywhere and do anything he wanted to on the drums,” he says. “One of the big things was how he sort of played the melody with his drumming. He sort of beat out the phrasing.”
That technique also is a big part of Humphries’ playing. He thinks it is an aspect that often can pass by a listener’s observation, but nonetheless registers in their ears.
Clarke, he says, is “a godfather to us all,” with his forerunning use of cymbals and blazing rhythms that shaped the direction of bebop.
Nash says Humphries is the “embodiment of all the work” Blakey and Clarke did.
Clarke (1914-1985) and Blakey (1919-1990) blazed great paths in jazz. Clarke was a force in the development of bebop, but also was one of the founders of the Modern Jazz Quartet, which leaned toward the “third stream” jazz-classical blend.
He relocated to Paris in the ’50s and was part of an expatriate movement there that spawned many players, including Nathan Davis, the former director of jazz studies at the University of Pittsburgh.
Blakey is one of the best-known figures in the hard-bop era that gave bebop a soulful heart. But the Jazz Messengers was perhaps his strongest accomplishment. As a sort of University of Blakey, he produced jazz stars from saxophonist Hank Mobley to Wynton Marsalis as well as adding to the repertoire such tunes as “Moanin’” and the irrepressible “Blues March.”
The two set up a challenge for their successors, Humphries says.
“Just like them, I am trying to pass it on,” he says.
Similarly, Nash says the two drum pioneers have woven “a thread through my career.”