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For St. Patrick's Day, Let's Go Green — As in Rodney Green

Jazz drummer Rodney Green, who was born on March 17, 1979.
William Brown
Jazz drummer Rodney Green, who was born on March 17, 1979.

How does the observant jazz fan celebrate St. Patrick's Day?

You could cue up the exquisite "Danny Boy" from Bill Evans' Time Remembered. You could muse on the misleading implications of a name like Pat Patrick — the baritone saxophonist and Sun Ra associate whose son, Deval, served as Governor of Massachusetts. You could consult the notable work of living jazz musicians from Ireland, like drummer David Lyttle and bassist-composer Ronan Guilfoyle.

Or you could tap into the energy of Rodney Green, a drummer and bandleader who has been turning heads on the scene since high school, and who turned 42 today.

That's right — Rodney Green was born on St. Patrick's Day. Which makes him an even better candidate for your St. Paddy's playlist than guitarists Grant Green or Freddie Green; saxophonists Bunky Green or Jimmy Greene; or pianists Danny Green or Benny Green. Though you might want to cue up a track from Happiness: Live at Kuumbwa, which features both Benny and Rodney Green (no relation).

Nomenclature aside, there's ample reason to check in on Rodney Green right about now, as ever. Born in Camden, N.J, he's been a remarkable talent since his teenage years on the Philly scene, where I first encountered him. "My musical education was in Philadelphia," he told me more than 20 years ago for a City Paper profile, "at the Blue Moon, at Dietrich's, at Zanzibar Blue, at Chris' Café, at Ortlieb's."

William Brown

Green's first marquee gig was with Bobby Watson, who took him on the road. He moved to New York straight out of high school, and quickly caught the ear of Stefon Harris, who recommended him to Greg Osby. He ended up in Osby's band, appearing on several of the alto saxophonist's Blue Note albums, including the classic Banned in New York. Green also recorded with pianists Mulgrew Miller, Orrin Evans and Eric Reed; bassists Charlie Haden and homie Christian McBride; and saxophonists J.D. Allen and Seamus Blake. For a couple of years, he toured the world with Diana Krall.

During our pandemic year, Green has stayed busy despite it all. Purgatory Perceptions, his homegrown podcast and YouTube channel, has been a steady source of interviews and exclusive musical content. His project Jackson Miller has kept exploring the synergies between improvised music and DJ culture. And he has played in actual clubs during lockdown — notably at Smalls, where he once recorded an album.

Rodney Green Trio - Live At Smalls Jazz Club 1/25/2021

For his gig in late January, Green broke in a new trio with
Luis Perdomo on piano and Giuseppe Cucchiara on bass. (Their set begins 20 minutes into the video feed above.) "It feels so good to be playing with these guys," Green says during the set, and it's easy to remember the isolation of two months ago.

The set opens with Perdomo's tune "Face Up," before the trio moves on to compositions by Elmo Hope and Billy Strayhorn (with a nod to Geri Allen). That set list says something about Green's engagement with the jazz tradition, just as Jackson Miller attests to his foothold in a contemporary mode.

When I reached out to Green via email earlier this week, he initially agreed to speak on the phone. Later there came a friendly demurral over email. "Busy celebrating with my family all week," Green wrote. "Maybe we can plan to do something another time. I have a few really cool projects I'm working on. Keep in touch and stay safe."

For more information about Rodney Green, visit his website.

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, and a regular contributor to NPR Music.