Feb 14, 2014 - Hall of Famer Washington Rucker Returns



 Hall of Famer Washington Rucker Returns to Jazz Depot


            People are still talking about the concert Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame drummer Washington Rucker -- along with pianist Steven Schrag and bassist Jordan Hehl, with vocalist Cynthia Simmons in a featured spot -- put on at the Jazz Depot last July. On that evening, the jazz giant and his two much younger comrades swung through mind-blowing explorations of such jazz favorites as “A Night in Tunisia,” “All Blues,” and “Cherokee,” bringing the crowd to its feet more than once.

            What makes the show all the more incredible was the fact that, because of scheduling problems, the three players were never able to rehearse together.

            “That’s right,” says Rucker. “We did not rehearse. But you know, when you play jazz, when you’re a traditional-jazz player, the music is universal. I’ve got a video of me playing with some Romanian guys, speaking Romanian and Gypsy – only one spoke English – and you would have thought we’d rehearsed for a month. But we didn’t. I was in Constanta, Romania, right on the Black Sea, playing at a restaurant, and they wanted to find out where I was coming from. They were all great musicians, and we had a wonderful time. Best time I ever played in my life.”

            Although it was far closer to his home – he now lives in Los Angeles after growing up in Tulsa – he also had a pretty fine time playing the Depot with Schrag and Hehl.

            “It was nice, wasn’t it? A couple of times, the piano player and the bass player did a couple of things I didn’t know about,” he says, laughing. “And I said, `Oh. You’ve been rehearsing.’

            “It was just so great to come back and have people appreciate real jazz,” he adds. “I just wish a lot more people would come out, not necessarily to hear me, but just to be exposed to some top-notch jazz players. You’ve got them in Tulsa, and folks don’t even know.”

            For his Sunday appearance, he says, he’s asked that the trio be expanded by one. “I told Jason [McIntosh, Jazz Hall CEO] that I wanted a saxophone player this time, because with a trio, you sort of restrict it,” he explains. “You don’t have a horn out front so that the rhythm section can play as a section. With a trio, there’s always got to be somebody playing out front. So saxman Tommy Poole [Director of NSU Jazz Program] is in the mix”

            In last year’s show, Rucker spent his share of time out front, giving ample demonstration of the melody-drum style taught to him many years ago in Tulsa by Clarence Dixon, one of Rucker’s mentors.

            “Mr. Dixon played with [the Tulsa-based, nationally touring] Ernie Fields band, and he was a solo drummer,” says Rucker. “He was making either seventy-five or a hundred dollars a night, which was unheard of, because he was playing those great drum solos. So he ran that style of playing past me, and that’s one of the many things I’ve retained.

            “When I began to explore the music more, to play more, I fell in love with it,” he adds. “It gave me a voice. And then I went into the Navy and wanted to put it aside. I was going to be a hospital corpsman. But a boy from Tulsa, Clifton Joe Tipton, was in the Navy Drum & Bugle Corps. We’d graduated together in ’55, but I didn’t know he was in the Navy. And he got me in the Drum & Bugle Corps.”

            From there until the end of his Armed Forces hitch, Rucker played in Navy bands and taught at the Naval\ School of Music. Then, after his discharge, he resumed playing. on his way to a Hall of Fame jazz career. More than a half-century later, he’s still teaching as well as performing; in addition to his Jazz Depot gig, he’ll conduct some workshops for college and high school musicians – including members of the all-city Jam’bassadors, who plan to compete in the national Charles Mingus High School Competition again this year.

            “I really want to put the youngsters on the right road,” he explains. “You know, they can be exposed [to jazz] as much as they want to, as much as they can get on the Internet, but a lot of them don’t know where to go to look for real jazz. I want to make them understand it, because if they’re going to compete for the Mingus award, they need to be really on it.” 

            Washington Rucker and his group are set to begin at 5 p.m. Sunday, February 23, at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First St. Tickets can be purchased at the Depot, from, or by calling Bettie Downing at 918-281-8609. General admission is $15, reserved table seating $20. Seniors and Jazz Hall members are admitted for $10, and high school and junior high students for $5.  

            The show is a part of the Jazz Hall’s 2013-14 Winter Concert Series.

            The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.