By NOAH BECKER September, 2020
I've known Jazz drummer Rodney Green for over 20 years. I met Green for the first time in Brooklyn in the 1990s through my upright bass master musician friend David Ephross. Over the years, I've collaborated with Green musically (he played drums in my Jazz trio on several occasions) and also watched as he toured, performed and recorded internationally with all of the top musicians in the New York scene. Green has been telling me about a show he is currently producing online called "Purgatory Perceptions", which is a way for him to connect with audiences and creative people in the midst of this very strange time in human history. Green describes it as a way to "recapture the spontaneity lost amongst shelter-in-place and social distancing." I spoke to Rodney Green for Whitehot Magazine at his New Jersey home.
Noah Becker: You've been a successful touring Jazz drummer/sideman on the New York (the international music scene), since you were teenager - is that correct?
Rodney Green: Yes, I've been a drummer on the scene here in New York for a long time. I came to New York, started coming around sessions when I was about 16 or 17.
Becker: You started playing and collaborating with the best Jazz musicians, people like Joe Henderson, Greg Osby, Jason Moran, Mulgrew Miller and Charlie Haden and recording for labels like Blue Note Records early on.
Green: Yes but I first came here with the Grammy Band - we played at the Grammy parties and stuff. And then I came back the following year from my first gigs with alto saxophonist Bobby Watson and I was living in New York ever since then.
Becker: And so about how many years have you been living in New York?
Green: Twenty something years…
Becker: Where are you from?
Green: I'm from Camden, New Jersey, right outside of Philadelphia. So I grew up on the Philadelphia scene and then kind of transferred over to the New York scene, just because those guys were always coming down to Philadelphia and I was getting a taste of that - and I wanted to be next to that.
Becker: For people who don't know you and don't know your musical career, what is for you the highlight of your musical career?
Green: Oh, every day is different. Somewhere along the lines of the magical time when I was meeting people like Mulgrew Miller, who would become a long-term associate of mine. Or meeting Joe Henderson and then getting back from tour and getting recommended by guys like vibraphonist Stefon Harris or pianist Eric Lewis. And then just realizing that I can make a living in New York as a drummer – that was the highlight. I guess that was the real highlight for me, because it goes from a dream to this mythical magical thing. You realize “hey, maybe I could do that too?” No bill collectors are calling you (laughs)…
Becker: Good point; I can understand that perspective on things. Speaking of time, I’ve known you since way back, like over 20 years ago and you’ve played in my trio over the years. I remember you showing up to play my trio gig in the 1990s – you were still wearing your suit after just performing at Carnegie Hall earlier the same night. That’s a lot of pressure for one person - how do you manage personally in the middle of all that?
Green: I did manage - but it was sad. I was kind of always looking for the other shoe to drop because it was like, “they're going to find out I'm a fraud,” Joe Henderson could have anyone he wants playing drums in his band. I remember there being a moment when I was playing and I looked over to my right and the great drummer Bill Stewart, (who's one of my big supporters) was watching me. He was leaning up against the wall and I was thinking, “Oh, he's got to be thinking, why does this kid keep doing this?”
Becker: Mm-hmm, wild!
Green: Yeah! But not really being able to play on a level with those guys - you have to be in the right frame of mind to hang at that level – which I do.
Becker: And now years later, you've done practically anything anybody would want to do as a drummer in the creative music world, you’ve played at every venue from Carnegie Hall and the Village Vanguard. And now you're working on an ambitious project - an Internet based show featuring artists and musicians? Could you tell me about that?
Green: Yeah, so it was born out of this whole pandemic situation. And another side of my thing is, because so much has given to me early and so many people helped me - no one starts working at 16 by themselves - it got me thinking. People I work with behind the scenes at gigs or booking agents - a lot of those things went away during the pandemic. So it started for me as a situation where I can help kids who won’t have the same opportunities I did.
Becker: What is the program you’re producing called?
Green: It's called Purgatory Perceptions. And so I started to reach out to people like you - artists, musicians and poets. And we've had some amazing conversations, the term “purgatory perceptions” come from the idea that I just thought all of this club quarantine and COVID stuff - and it didn't really have a lot of longevity. And Jazz musicians are supposed to be at the forefront of creativity of what's cool and hip. And so I thought I’d try to pick up that mantle and say, “well, what can we say about this time?”
Becker: Talk about it in what way?
Green: Well, it feels sort of like a purgatory, well wait, no one knows what's going to happen. People think we're going to get back to normal, but we're not. It's a new normal and that time kind of feels like purgatory. So we've been discovering new sides of creativity. I'm getting into it through acting as an artist and a journalist now, interviewing and stuff.
Green: It's pretty cool.
Becker: And you have a perpetual concept with this, it's something you want to be doing for a long period of time?
Green: Yeah. Anything I get involved in, I try not to start unless I can see myself going in for at least five years.
Green: Because it takes five years to do anything. It takes five years for it to get noticed and get where you think it should be. So, here we go…
Noah Becker: I agree with this philosophy…
Rodney Green: Yeah but I'm trying to make this doable and sustainable so that I can do that.
Noah Becker: And how many guests do you have per episode?
Rodney Green: So we usually we have two main guests, one musical guest, and then one interview guest.
Green: As a future guest on the show we have my band Jackson Miller. It’s kind of a tribute to Charlie Haden and Mulgrew Miller - two men who I worked with for 10 plus years. And then we had a young up and coming guy named Julius Rodriguez as a guest on my show. He’s going to do really well, but he's not so well known yet. He’s just graduated from college and starting his career…
Becker: I played with him once on the Smalls jam session (which is a bit of a random meeting) and met him several times in person later on - he’s great. He's a pianist and a drummer?
Rodney Green: Well, I guess primarily he's a pianist now. That's what I knew about but when I met him, he was 14 years old and he wanted me to help him pick out his cymbals at a drum shop. So I liked him right away and he could play and then the next time I saw him about a year or so later, he was on a piano. And I remember asking a friend of mine "is that the same kid and he plays piano?" I had no idea that he had already been doing that.
Becker: Where do you think music is at now?
Rodney Green: Good question. They tell young Jazz musicians how to be successful, or you need to wear a suit and do this, and you need to talk this way… You need to get in the click and do this and do that. So it seems like recently players don't seem to stand out. I remember when I got to New York, when I was a kid you had guys like Leon Parker that would show up to the gig with just a cymbal. And then you had guys playing like Jeff Watts, and then you had drummers like Lewis Nash and all three of these guys were completely different. You don't see that kind of separation anymore...
Becker: Right, I see that.
Green: It's like one guy gets “hot” and works with the “hot guy” is at the moment. I guess right now you would say it would be somebody like Chris Dave.
Green: And then all the young drummers want to play like that.
Becker: Could you talk a little bit about your collaboration with Greg Osby and Jason Moran and the album that you did on Blue Note?
Rodney Green: Yeah, so we did a few albums. Oh, no. I guess Jay-mo was only on the one. So there was a record on Blue Note called Banned in New York and I was just starting to play with Greg Osby’s beats. Matter of fact, Stefon Harris, who was roommates with Jason Moran at the time had recommended me for the band. And I remember when Greg called me, I thought he was someone else. I didn't know who he was, but anyway, I moved forward and I started working with Greg Osby and it turned into a really fruitful relationship and we had an engagement at the legendary NYC Jazz club Sweet Basil.
Noah Becker: And there’s a story behind this…
Rodney Green: Yeah, I was just trying to get better. And one of the best ways to get better is to look in the mirror, record yourself, sit there and check it out. And so I was listening to it. And I remember about the Friday of that week, I called Greg and I said, "Hey, Greg man, I've been listening to the tapes.” We regularly talk and discuss what was going on with the music. I said, "no, some of the stuff is all right, man. It's actually pretty good.” And Greg kind of said, "Oh yeah, send me the tapes.” So I went to the post office I sent the tapes and next thing I heard - Blue Note was going to put it out as a record. And it was recorded on my recording of the gig at Sweet Basil, on my Mini Disk recorder - remember the old disk recorders? And it had the little stock microphone with it…
Becker: That’s wild; you recorded the record!
Green: Yeah. And that turned out to be a really magical week. Billy Hart came to the club, Lenny White came to the club, Victor Lewis, all kinds of people Ben Ratliff came to the club. And Ben decided to write a big piece on me…
Becker: I think it was interesting that when I visited the Jason Moran show at the Whitney Museum with you, that there was one of those "Mini Disk" players in the glass case. And you pointed it out and said that that it was similar to one you recorded the Greg Osby album on.
Green: It was that, but it was standard equipment around that time. I think everybody had one of those. Matter of fact, I still have mine. I'll send you a picture of it.
Rodney Green: Yeah.
Noah Becker: Tell us where and when to see your show Purgatory Perceptions?
Rodney Green: So the first Friday of each month, you can find it on the Purgatory Perceptions Patrion page or the Purgatory Perceptions buy me a coffee page. Also, the audio is available as a podcasts, wherever podcasts are found.
Noah Becker: Okay. Great. Thanks man
Rodney Green: Yeah. Thanks, thank you. WM
Noah Becker is an artist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine. He shows his paintings internationally at museums and galleries. Becker also plays jazz saxophone. Becker's writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010). Becker's new album of original music "Mode For Noah" was released in 2023.
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