Roy McCurdy is one of the best-known and most widely acclaimed drummers in jazz. He was born in Rochester, New York on November 28, 1936 into a family where music was a constant part of life. While not professional musicians, his father, mother and sister always had music playing and some of his earliest childhood memories were of the living room rug being pulled back and family and friends dancing to 78s of big band swing ‘til way past his bedtime. At six years old, he was already building drum sets out of pots, pans and cardboard boxes and at eight he began drum lessons. He got his first real drum set before he was nine and joined a marching drum corp.
It was always jazz until, as a young teenager, he discovered the Blues. He was playing professionally in clubs at sixteen and remembers his father taking him to his gigs and waiting for him while he played because of his age. His focus returned to jazz when famous trumpeter Roy Eldridge heard him; while still sixteen, "Little Roy" was playing with "Little Jazz," as Eldridge was known. He attended the Eastman School of Music from sixteen to eighteen and, at seventeen, played with Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson. Roy won the drum seat in the Air Force Band and was stationed in Fairbanks, Alaska. In addition to his musical duties, he ended up playing five or six nights a week in local clubs. He was discharged in 1959 and returned to Rochester where he and Ron Carter, Chuck and Gap Mangione and Peewee Ellis became the house band at the Pyphod Club. He made his first recording, "Struttin' with Sandra," in 1960 with Chuck Mangione.
1960 was the beginning of the big time for McCurdy. He was playing at the original Five Spot, down in NY's Bowery and Art Farmer heard him. Later, he received a call from Farmer asking him to join the band. When he showed up at the appointed time and place it turned out that it wasn't a gig, but an audition. He got the job anyway and played with the Art Farmer - Benny Golson Jazztet for two years. Next came a stint with Betty Carter in '62-'63 and Sonny Rollins in '63-64. Cannonball Adderly called him in '64 and Roy was with the quintet for eleven years, until Adderly's death. Those years have been called the decade of change for Adderly and McCurdy showed his skill and talent on yet another level as he evolved through it all with the rest of the band.
Roy counts among his influences Louie Bellson, Shelly Manne, Sam Woodyard, Buddy Rich, Papa Jo Jones, Philly Joe Jones and the bands of Duke Ellington, Jimmy Lunceford and Lionel Hampton. He's performed on between 150 and 200 recordings but, almost unbelievably, none as leader. The list of jazz greats that McCurdy has played and recorded with is virtually endless. Here is a "short" list: Kenny Dorham, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Timmons, the Toshiko Akiyoshi - Lew Tabackin Big Band, Harold Land, Bobby Hutcherson, Kenny Burrell, the Count Basie Orchestra, Donald Byrd, Teddy Edwards, Herbie Hancock, Coleman Hawkins, Joe Henderson, Milt Jackson, J.J. Johnson, Jackie McLean, Carmen McRae, Oscar Peterson, Mud Powell, Jimmy Smith, Horace Silver, Clark Terry, Sonny Stitt, McCoy Tyner, Joe Williams, Ernestine Anderson, Chris Conner, Kenny Drew, Billy Eckstine, Eddie Harris, Don Ellis, Shorty Rogers, Stanley Turrentine, Hubert Laws, Charles Lloyd, Hampton Hawes, Blue Mitchell, James Moody, Mark Murphy, Bud Shank, Wes Montgomery, Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, Nancy Wilson, Blood, sweat and Tears, Kenny Rankin, Conte Candoli, and Scott Hamilton. At sixty-six, Roy McCurdy looks forty-five, if that, is healthy, happy and continues to grow and mature as a musician and as a gentle, compassionate human being. He's clearly one of our seminal jazz musicians and is ready to share his knowledge and skill with another fifty or seventy-five jazz-greats-to-be.