Ron Enyard is a jazz drummer’s jazz drummer. He’s done the West Coast scene, gigged in the Big Apple, toured and cut albums with luminaries from Barney Kessel to Woody Shaw. Along the way, he was even honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award for Jazz and Culture from an Indianapolis jazz radio station.
These days, Enyard makes his home in Newport, Kentucky. He’s a fixture in Greater Cincinnati clubs and music venues, with a long-standing “jazz brunch” engagement every Sunday at Ohm Café’ in Cincinnati’s Clifton neighborhood.
Enyard embraces improvisation as a central pillar of jazz performance, which is instantly apparent to anyone who sees him live. “We try to play music that’s honest to ourselves and to the audience – to play in the moment,” he explains. “That’s why I never play anything same way twice.”
Born in Marion, Indiana in 1936, Enyard started playing percussion instruments at age 12. By the time he hit high school, he was leading jazz workshop groups that played all over Indiana. After college, he began his career as a professional drummer, playing at clubs and concert halls across the nation. The long list of jazz greats he’s performed or recorded with is impressive, including King Pleasure, Roland Kirk, Herb Ellis, Dave Liebman, and Gordon Brisker. “Yeah, I played with the people who played with the legends, like Miles, Duke, and Billie,” he says with a laugh.
Although he relocated to Berkeley, California for ten years in 1970s, Enyard returned to the Midwest with no regrets. “I moved to Indianapolis because I realized there was actually a better jazz scene there than in the Bay Area,” he says. “Barney Kessel, Woody Shaw, and all the big players came there to play. Sure, I met a lot of famous people in 10 years on the west coast, but I’m same person wherever I am.”
At age 80, Enyard shows no signs of slowing down. Among the frequent local gigs he plays each month, he’s always happy to include the Blue Note Bistro in Miamisburg, one of his favorite venues. “I’m really enthused about the Blue Note,” he explains. “They’ve got a great sound system and monitors and very good acoustics. When I first heard that the club was a converted bank building, I was afraid it would be all marble and steel and sound would be bouncing all over the place. They did a great job, though.”
Rooted in be-bop – think Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie – Enyard describes his flavor of music like this: “We play real jazz, both hot and cool. You’ll hear some Chet Baker, some early Miles Davis, tunes from the great American songbook, jazz standards, even a few obscure tunes you don’t hear too often. We don’t play way-out jazz, but it’s also not old-fashioned stuff.”
Asked who influenced his playing, Enyard lists noted jazz timekeepers such as Art Blakey, Max Roach, and Kenny Clarke. He also admired Elvin Jones, who played with John Coltrane on many classic albums. “I met Elvin and hung out with him in New York,” he remembers. “EJ could play really soft – which is really hard to do.” Enyard’s other musical heroes include the great horn players Max Roach and Clifford Brown, as well as groundbreaking composer-pianist Thelonius Monk.
A stalwart of New York-based specialty label Cadence Records, Enyard has recorded 9 albums with various jazz lineups. He’s also featured on three other releases from the Resounds and AMP labels. “Unless you do it a lot, you can overthink it when you’re in a recording session,” he observes. “That’s why I prefer live recordings, because you can forget you’re recording and just perform.” He also reports that the quality of a recording session depends a lot on the engineer: “Some of them don’t have jazz recording experience, just rock or pop. I hate when they say, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll fix it in the mix.’”
The Ron Enyard Trio – voice, keyboard, and drums — last played the Blue Note Bistro on October 15 – its third appearance at the club. “It was a Saturday night, so there was a good crowd,” he says. “Our trio sets have been well-received there. It’s nice to have responsive audience that applauds after solos.”
Want to see a jazz legend live? His trio’s next performance at the Blue Note will be on October 21. On October 29 and November 11 and 25, the Ron Enyard Quintet will play – supplementing their sound with tenor sax and acoustic bass.