Pittsburgh Music Story‎ > ‎Jazz‎ > ‎Modern Era‎ > ‎

Roger Humphries


Roger Humphries is a hard bop drummer and band leader who has recorded and toured the world with many jazz greats.  As a member of the Horace Silver Quintet he performed on one of the all time classic hard bop recordings "Song for My Father".  Humphries toured Europe and the U.S. with Stanley Turrentine, Horace Silver, and Ray Charles.  He has appeared at the Newport, Monterey and Antibes jazz festivals and performed at top venues around the world including Carnegie Hall, the Apollo Theater, Birdland, the Village Gate, Ronny Scott's in London and more.  

Roger Humphries recorded with three albums with Horace Sliver and has appeared on the recordings of Carmel Jones, Steve Rudolp, Nancy Wilson, Herbie Mann, Stanley Turrentine, Joe Henderson, Woody Shaw, Nathan Davis, Kenny Karsh, Kenny Blake, Rodney McCoy, Frank Cunimondo,  Dwayne Dolphin. Bill Heid, Lisa Ferraro and the 21st Century Swing Band.  He has released three albums with his band RH Factor.

The Mellon Jazz Festival honored Roger Humphries in June 1998 with a tribute concert at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild.  The state of Pennsylvania and the city of Pittsburgh jointly proclaimed February 23, 2008 as Roger Humphries Day.  He was honored with a certificate of recognition for his achievements as a world class performer and teacher.

"Humphries is one of the finest drummers in the bebop and post-bop tradition…. Roger's playing is solidly rooted to the greasy swing of '50s jazz, but with a firm grip on the innovations of the '60s, 70s, and beyond. His groove is unstoppable, and his soloing is fiery and energized. Most important, every note he plays on the drums is music."  Drummer Paul Wells in Modern Drummer 

"One of Pittsburgh's sturdiest representatives is a man of steel pulse at the drums, a man who remains a propulsive force at the tubs...Catch the man in the Steel City and you'll likely be warmed by that fire and incandescent swing, still thoroughly modern, still Roger Humphries, as good as it gets." -Willard Jenkins Jazz Times

Child Prodigy from a Musical Family

Roger Humphries was born in 1944 in Pittsburgh where he grew up on the North Side's East Jefferson Street.  He was the youngest of ten children.  His uncles 
Frank and Hildred Humphries were touring musicians who grew up with Roy Eldridge and were friends of Art Blakey. 
Frank played trumpet with the Tab Smith band and Uncle Hildred played tenor sax. His uncles in their youth rehearsed with Art Blakey and Billy Eckstine at the Humphries' grandmother's house. 

Roger's older brothers carried on the family jazz tradition.  Lawrence played sax and Norman was a drummer.  They rehearsed at their house with singer Dakota Staton  when Roger was just three. Imitating his brother Norman Roger began banging on pots and pans. Norman taught him the basic rudiments of drumming.  At age four Roger played a Sousa march and a Christmas show at his neighborhood Mary J. Cowley elementary school. His Uncle Frank made him sit in with the Tab Smith band at the New Granada Theater when he was four and a half. Roger competed on the popular Wilkens Amateur Hour radio show with his piano-playing cousin Teddy.  He became a local celebrity in the Pittsburgh Courier when he was photographed by the legendary Teenie Harris. 

Learning Jazz from the Masters on the Hill

Rogers' uncles and brothers started taking him to Saturday matinees at Hill District jazz clubs when he was eleven.  At the Hurricane and Crawford grills he sat in awe watching his drummer heroes Art Blakey and Max Roach.  At age twelve Roger's Uncles introduced him to Blakely telling Art that this little boy could play drums. Blakey put Roger on stage with Lee Morgan and Hank Mobley.  He became a regular at Hill District clubs where where sat in with the likes of Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter and Max Roach.

During his school years Humprehies played in the bands of his elementary school, the Latimore Junior High, Allegheny High School, and the All City-Band.  He credits his music teacher at Latimore Christine Shoda as one of his mentors.

While in Allegheny High School Roger launched his professional career played a nine day stand at the Crawford grill with sax player Illinois Jacquet. Pianist Walt Harper who called Roger "a genius" hired him as a star attraction.  In April of 1961 at age 17 Roger led his own quartet opening a Dinah Washington concert at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Hall.  He also played dates in Pittsurgh with George Benson and the Marcels.

Turrentine Tour.

In July of 1962, a month after Humphries graduated from high school, Stanley Turrentine asked Roger Humphries to join his band to replace the departed Otis "Candy" Finch.  They rehearsed for two weeks in New York before hitting the road with Turrentine's wife singer Shirley Scott.  He toured with Turrentine for almost a year. 

Bopping with the Horace Silver Quintet

In 1964 Horace Silver was forming a new ensemble and put the word out that he was looking for a new drummer. Max Roach and Art Blakey both recommended Roger to Horace.  Horace invited Roger to an audition in New York where he competed against drummers Al Foster and Edgar Bateman Jr.  Comfortable that Humprhries's playing fit in with the new quintet's direction Horace hired the young percussionist.  Humphries toured with Horace Silver for four years through 1967.

During his time with Horace Silver Humphries played double bills at Birdland wit Stan Getz, Astrud Gilberto, and John Coltrane's quartet. 

The Horace Sliver Quintet's  "Song for My Father" album was released on the the Blue Note label in 1965.  Scott Yanow ranks the album as one of the 17 Essential Hard Bop Recordings in his Allmusic essay "Hard Bop".  The title cut was a big hit on the radio and on juke boxes.  Yearz later it became a major hit for Steely Dan with their ripped off version "Rikki Don't Lose That Number". The album reached number 9 on the Billboard R&B chart and 95 on the Billboard Top 200.  With that success the Horace Silver Quintet became major stars on the international jazz scene.  They were invited to play the  the Antibes Jazz Festival on the French Riviera. 

Humphries also recorded the Horace Silver album "The Cape Verdean Blues" released on Blue Note in 1965 featuring sax player Joe Henderson and trumpeter   Woody Shaw. ''The Jody Grind" released on Blue Note in 1966 was a funk-jazz album featuring  Woody Shaw, altoist/flutist James Spaulding, and tenor saxophonist Tyrone Washington. 
.
Roger recorded on several albums made by his Horace Silver Quintet mates.  In 1965 Roger recorded with the trumpeter Carmell Jones on his solo album "Jay Hawk Talk".  He appears on sax player Joe Henderson's 1993 four CD set "The Blue Note Years" and trumpeter Woody Shaw's "Dark Journey" compilation album released in 1997.

When a lingering illness forced Horace Silver into a temporary retirement Humphries came back to Pittsburgh.

Hit the Road Roger with the Ray Charles Big Band

After he left the Horace Silver Quintet, Roger returned to Pittsburgh and played with artists who were appearing at clubs in town until he next break came along.  Bass player Edgar Willis, who as from Pittsburgh, recommended Roger to his boos Ray Charles. Ray called Roger asking to an audition in Chicago.  Roger won the gig and joined Ray Charles Big Band in Chicago in 1968.  Roger toured Europe and the U.S.  Highlights of the tour included appearances at the Coconut Grove in Los Angeles and the Newport Jazz Festival.

RH Factor

In his travels around the world Humphries worked with many older musicians who told him that they did not know their own kids because they were always on the road. Roger decided to return home to Pittsburgh to raise his family. He left the Ray Charles Big Band in 1969 after a year on the road.

Leaving the road Humphries played with the Wendell Byrd Group, and the Frank Cunimundo Trio at the Crawford Grill and other clubs around Pittsburgh.  In May of 1972 Humphries formed his own band R.H. Factor with pianist Frank Cunimondo and sax great Nathan Davis.  They worked the club circuit in Pittsburgh playing  Saturday afternoons at the Too Sweet Lounge in Homewood, Sundays at Club Cafe on the South side, and Fridays at the North side James Street Tavern.

Humphries released his first solo album “Don't Give Up” in 2006. Roger Humphries and RH Factor has made two releases “This N That This N That” in 2006 and “Keep The Faith” in 2011

Humprehies does out-of-town gigs playing with Milt Jackson, Monte Alexander and other artists. He toured Europe with Groove Holmes in 1981.  Humphries also works as session player recording with Jimmy Ponder, Dwayne Dolphin, Geri Allen, Ravi Coltrane, Mike Mossman and others.  

Teaching Career

The Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA) was established in September 1979.  Trumpeter Harry Clark, one of CAPA's founders asked Rogers to became a teacher at the new school.  Humphries joined the CAPA staff in 1980 becoming a teacher of jazz and orchestral percussion and co-director of the jazz band. Humphries taught at CAPA until his retirement in 2010.  The University of Pittsburgh's Music Department also recruited Humphries as an instructor in its Jazz program. Humphries has also taught Duquesne Univeristy, the Slippery Rock University Summer Jazz workshop and at Mellon Jazz Masters Classes.
The Drumming of Roger Humphries
Roger Humphries with Horace Silver
Roger Humphries Interview

Roger Age 3 Teenie Harris Photo