1 February 2019

Rod Youngs Interview

Rod Youngs is one of the busiest drummers on the jazz scene, though he rarely appears in Sussex. Last year you would have seen him at Love Supreme Festival and Jazz In The Round: Emergence Festival in Hastings with the Denys Baptiste Quartet and as part of A Change Is Gonna Come with Carleen Anderson and Nikki Yeoh at Brighton Dome.

This month he appears at Jazz Hastings with his own trio that includes the aforementioned Denys Baptiste and long-running collaborator Larry Bartley on bass. “I met Larry in 1998, as a matter of fact, at a jam session that Denys was leading. We’ve been working in different bands since the early 2000s. I’ve probably worked with Denys the longest. Since about 2002 we played in Jazz Jamaica All Stars, the band led by Gary Crosby. From there I began to work with Baptiste’s group and did a recording entitled Let Freedom Ring in 2003.”

For the gig in Hastings, Youngs is keen to pay homage to his favourite drummers. “It’s more or less a tribute to Elvin Jones. Most of the music is going to be from an album of his called Puttin’ It Together, a trio record with Joe Farrell on sax and flute, and Jimmy Garrison on bass. Joe Lovano’s Sound of Joy with Ed Blackwell, and another Joe Lovano record: Trio Fascination. We’ll be doing some stuff from that. We may do some originals. It’s still in the planning but the bulk of it will be from the Elvin Jones recording, Puttin’ It Together.”

Originally from Washington D.C. but now resident in London, Youngs is busy working in a number of different bands. “I do lots of projects and recordings and all sorts of things. It could be soundtracks, it could be live dates and various recording sessions, in different styles of music as well. It could be jazz, RnB, whatever. That takes me to lots of different genres and situations and configurations. It could be a big band, trio, quartet, free jazz. At the moment I’m doing lots of work with Denys Baptiste and his quartet. We did a record about a year and a half ago, and last year we had lots of dates all over. I also play in a big band led by saxophonist Paul Booth and guitarist Giorgio Serci called Bansangu Orchestra. That’s a world music big band so there’s lots of different styles and some great, amazing players. I’m also playing with Byron Wallen. We did a recording last year which is due to come out this year at some point. He’s an amazing trumpeter and composer. I also play with Mica Paris, where she’s doing the music of Ella Fitzgerald. She’s done a few recordings with Guy Barker’s Big Band but now we’re doing it scaled down to a quartet format. Those are just a few things that I’ve been involved with. That’s just the tip of the iceberg because there’s a lot of other smaller projects and bands that I’m lucky enough to be called for.”

On top of that, Rod also finds time to teach. “I occasionally teach at Julian Joseph Jazz Academy, which is incredibly inspiring, always. The enthusiasm and the talent in these students is phenomenal. Seeing how the students are evolving and developing, to see that process is really gratifying. Jazz is in good shape right now. When you think of all the other things that young people can occupy themselves with, there are still lots of them who want to pursue it, so that’s really good.”

Rod Youngs learnt drums in the DC Youth Orchestra Program before graduating in Applied Percussion at Howard University and later studied jazz performance at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. under the tutelage of Keith Copeland. With his depth of knowledge about drumming he is keen to pass on what he knows to the next generation of players. “In terms of one-on-one lessons, I try to deal with the fundamentals of the instrument, and in parallel with that develop on the student’s weaknesses. I try to focus on the individual needs of each student. For students that are already technically gifted, we might work on the emotional aspect or work on their sound. If they’re not technically proficient then we’ll work on developing that. It’s basically trying to develop what each student needs. I always try to be empathetic and always positive. It should always be fun to explore, but at the same time it has to be disciplined.”

Looking at the year ahead, Rod is already busy with a number of projects. “Right now I’m working on doing a recording with Dave O’Higgins and Rob Luft. We’re doing a record of the music of John Coltrane and Monk. It’s going to be a quartet with an organ player. We have quite a few gigs booked in for the summer and the fall, as well as some gigs coming up.”

“I’m also going to be doing something with Nu Civilisation Orchestra, which is one of Gary Crosby’s ensembles. We have a date at Ronnie’s in February and we’ll also be doing the London Jazz Festival playing the music of Duke Ellington with the BBC Concert Orchestra. I’ll be doing more with Mica Paris later this year and I’ll definitely be doing some work with Denys Baptiste’s Quartet with Larry Bartley and Nikki Yeoh.”

“I’d like to do more stuff with my trio, with Larry and Denys. This one in Hastings will be our first gig this year so I want to make the most of it, and focus on that with a view to developing it. ”

“I’m just looking forward to performing in Hastings. I rarely do that. I had a gig there with Denys Baptiste at the Jazz In The Round. I love the concept, it’s a great thing to do and I really enjoy it. I think anytime that jazz is presented in an intimate setting, that’s always best. The music resonates best in that setting, for both the players and the audience. It’s just a greater connect so I think it’s a great concept.”

“Hastings is really becoming something, there’s lots of great musicians down there like John Donaldson, Jason Yarde, and Liane Carroll. Hopefully I can do more gigs down that way. I’m just looking forward to playing. I know it’s gonna be a great audience. Every time I do gigs down there the audiences have always been attentive and knowledgable. I’m looking forward to it.”


Rod Youngs Trio: The Power of Three


Tuesday 12th February, 2019



Rod Youngs was interviewed by Charlie Anderson.

Photograph of Rod Youngs by Lisa Wormsley.

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