Musicians coming together to celebrate Humphries work
Saxophonist Tony Campbell is right on the money when he says there are many reasons to celebrate the work of drummer Roger Humphries.
“He's a mentor, a colleague and a friend,” Campbell says.
He could even be understating it a bit. Humphries is not only an excellent drummer, but he works hard at keeping jazz alive in many ways.
His work has led Campbell to put together a concert that will not only feature Humphries, but also pay tribute to him. It will be Jan. 20 at the ballroom of the James Street Gastropub & Speakeasy on the North Side and feature a large group of musicians who have played with him over the years.
Included will be saxophonists Campbell, Lou Stellute and Don Aliquo Jr.; trumpeters James Moore, Delano “Volcano” Choy and Ron Horton; keyboardists Max Leake and Howie Alexander; bassist Dwayne Dolphin; and even another drummer, Thomas Wendt.
For decades, Humphries, 72, has been an important part of jazz here. He is a steady performer with his group, RH Factor. He frequently sits in with national performers at concerts at places such as the Kelly Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty or the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild on the North Side.
And he has been a leader of jam sessions all over the city. A dedicated professional, he always manages to keep them from turning into amateur hours.
“It's not a Gong Show” is one his famous expressions at what he wants jam session participants to produce. It is easy to see growing frustration on his face when a jammer is taking matters too far or stumbling over the chord changes.
Humphries, a North Side native, could easily have taken his talents elsewhere. In the '60s he was performing and touring with Ray Charles and Horace Silver, but he decided he would rather be here.
He is one of that curious bit of Pittsburgh genetics that produces great drummers — from Kenny Clarke and Art Blakey to Humphries and Jeff “Tain” Watts.
By the way, Humphries will take part in a tribute to Clarke and Blakey at a concert with drummer Lewis Nash Feb. 25 at the Craftsmen's Guild.
Humphries still tours some, but he has rooted his career here — which has really helped jazz in this town.
The Horace Silver connection actually is what led to this concert. Campbell, who has been putting together shows at the James Street focusing on bands or performers, decided to do one on Silver.
“And then I thought about Roger's connection with Horace and I thought I could sort of kill two birds with one stone,” he says.
Even though he was thinking of it as a tribute to Horace Silver, featuring Roger Humphries, the club's general manager, Kevin Saftner, looks at it more as Roger Humphries Day.
The drummer is happy regardless of the direction.
“I'm really looking forward to it,” he says. “It's nice to play the music of Horace, and it's good to have the musicians around here and a place like James Street to do it.”
Music begins at 8 p.m. Jan. 20. Admission is $30, $25 in advance. Details: 412-904-3335 or jamesstreetgastropub.com
DeFade takes center stage
Eric DeFade sometimes fades too far into the background.
The saxophonist performs in the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra and with bands such as Salsamba and Firm Roots. He also teaches at Carnegie Mellon University and Seton Hill University.
But that range of activity usually has him as part of something rather than as the star.
So pay him a bit of attention on his own Jan. 10 at the JazzLive Happy Hour at the Backstage Bar in Theater Square, Downtown.
Music begins at 5 p.m. and is free. Details: 412-456-6666 or trustarts.org
Bob Karlovits is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.