Guitarist Nick Russo talks about playing with solid time

Recently I had a chance to interview Nick Russo via email:

Nick, for musicians it is a technical goal to be able to play music with solid, steady time. Most musicians will practice music and etudes with a metronome. Over the years that you and I have played together, I’ve noticed that you have an impeccable sense of time, but it also goes beyond that. You seem to have a fluid feel which humanizes the time feel of the music, and opens up so much more expressive possibility. Is this something you have worked on consciously, and if so, what is your concept of it, and how did you work to acheive it?

Over the years, I have played and continue to work with a lot with
different drummers and musicians that have great time and feel,
especially in NYC, including Victor Lewis, Joe Ascione, Ari Hoenig,
Willard Dyson, Harvey Wirht, Ralph Peterson, Don Williams (when I was
in Jimmy McGriff’s group), Jonathan Blake, David Pleasant, Lee
Pearson, Alvin Akinson, Jr., Alvester Garnett, Quincy Davis, Grisha
Alexiev, Chris Higginbottom, Chris Benham, Shinnosuke Takahashi, Kevin
Dorn, Pandit Samir Chatterjee (tabla player) and many others. I
learned so much from them, especially doing trio gigs with vocalist,
Miles Griffith and a drummer or a Brasilian vocalist and a
percussionist, without a bassist. In these situations I have to lock
up with the drummer on each and every beat, playing the role of the

Working with a metronome, clicking on different parts of the
beat, including triplets, quintuplets, and septuplets has been helpful
and meditative in deeping my groove. I also feel it’s most important
to play along with recordings of musicians that have a deep pocket and
groove. I listen to a lot of African drumming, North Indian Classical,
Brasilian, Afro-Peruvian, Afro-Cuban music, and jazz.

I also learned and gained a tremendous amount working as a
sideman in Joe Ascione’s group with Frank Vignola, Malika Zarra’s
group with Harvey Wirht and Brahim Fribgane, Issa Cabera’s group with
Emiliano Valerio on percussion, in Miles Griffith’s New Ting with
David Pleasant, Jon Burr’s group(s) and Victor Jones’ Culturversy with
bassist, Kim Clarke. Victor has a project with Black Velvet, where we
play all the music of James Brown.

Recording myself and listening back as well as a lot of studio
work I do has helped me improve as a musician. Talking openly about
music with the musicians I play with has also been helpful to improve
my musicianship, sense of time and feel. For example, hanging and
talking after a gig with close musician friends, such as Doug Largent,
Harvey Wirht, Willard Dyson, David Pleasant and Miles Griffith has
been insightful to my own personal growth.

In my humble opinion, I believe the way great musicians carry
themselves emotionally, their personalities, jokes and stories they
tell and sensitivities are often (but not always) linked to their
solid time feel as musicians. For example, I know the cats that are
well adjusted, relaxed, sincere, making everyone around them feel
comfortable often (but not always) have a solid sense of time and

Thanks so much for listening! I hope to read what other musicians
(on Doug’s blog) say about time and feel.

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