Rudder Henry Hey and the New Kings of Improv Groove

The music: We’re groove-based, improvised music with a penchant for hooks and melody. We’re all influenced by a lot of sources and tuneful, hooky, pop music is certainly high on that list. We all came up — or at least dwell within, at times — the jazz idiom, so group improvising is a big part of our thing, but we also love to sit on an idea.
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The music: We’re groove-based, improvised music with a penchant for hooks and melody. We’re all influenced by a lot of sources and tuneful, hooky, pop music is certainly high on that list. We all came up — or at least dwell within, at times — the jazz idiom, so group improvising is a big part of our thing, but we also love to sit on an idea.

Webpage: ruddermusic.com

Influences: I’m drawn to players like Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans, Jim Beard, and Ayden Esen, but I also love the funky vibe of some of the ’70s Herbie Hancock stuff, Donald Blackman, Bernard Wright, and a myriad of ultra-funky recordings — Buddy Miles, James Brown, Aretha Franklin live at the Fillmore — this list is endless.

Favorite instruments: Piano, first and foremost. It’s the ground. I can’t leave it for long. I’m very attached to the Fender Rhodes when accompanied by effects pedals. This attachment is such that I find myself now deliberately trying to stay away from it at times. It’s my second home, so to speak. I started playing a beat-up Rhodes at age 15 and never really left.

Favorite synths: I love analog synthesizers — in a vacuum. I say that because they’re nearly impossible to travel with, so I resort to soft synths. In addition, a good Hammond is hard to beat. When the organ is right, and the preamp and amp are tweaked just so, it’s a living, breathing thing. Unbelievable!

Rudder’s compositional process: It goes a few different ways. Sometimes, we mess around with an idea. Perhaps someone plays some tiny seed of an idea on a gig and we jam on that at a later date. If that idea is good, it may get developed into a fully realized song. Some of our most popular material was born this way. Some of the other material is brought in by one particular member, and often altered or improved by the band in playing. Pressure is a help here. We like writing for the band, but by no means are we necessarily fast writers collectively. That’s probably a good thing. Most of our stuff doesn’t feel right until we’ve been playing it for a few months — at least.

Making your practice time count: Five minutes of focused practice is better than an hour of distracted time on the instrument. Seriously.

How to lay down a killer groove: Focus on the big beats. Try to relax into the groove with the drums and bass. Guitar player rushing? Maybe that’s not where you want to focus. A lot of sessions that I see are recorded to click. In spite of that, it’s usually only the drummer who gets the click. This way, the drummer can lock with the click, and everyone else can lock to the drummer. Try to really sit with the drums. If it’s not feeling right, strip it back to the big beats, quarter notes, even just the downbeats. There is nothing funkier than “1.”

Finding a unique, honest sound: Listen to lots of music. Play along with it. Write all the time. If you find yourself playing or writing things that are derivative, don’t worry — just try to change it up. Keep your ears open to every style of music, and keep playing!

For the rest of this interview: Visit keyboardmag.com .