On The Rise, Ryan J Lee

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At age two Ryan Lee began beating on the drums, at six he was learning piano from his grandmother, and at 17, Lee knew he was going to be a jazz musician. “I started getting into Jazz when I saw Kenny Garrett at this festival called Rhythm and Ribs in Kansas City. It kind of floored me, his music was pretty crazy, and I’ve been hooked since,” said Lee. Including his passion for drums, Lee plays piano, bass guitar, and rocked bass clarinet in high school. Now at 24, Lee has two studio albums with his jazz group Diverse, is featured on James Ward Band’s Groove Axis, Eddie Moore and the Outer Circle’s The Freedom of Expression, and Gary Denbow II’s album Influence, to name a few. The young jazz musician is just getting started.

From Kenny Garrett to Chuckii Booker, Lee draws influence from some of the best. “Alan Dawson, he’s one of the most underrated drummers in jazz music, I think he’s top notch. Also Andrew L. Ward Jr, he’s an influence in everything I do. I build my own drums, because he built his own drums,” said Lee.

Lee credits his jazz education to his time at the University of Missouri- Kansas City jazz program. While at UMKC, Lee had the opportunity to take courses from Grammy- nominated saxophonist, composer, producer, and educator Bobby Watson. “He helped me out a lot when it comes to ear training. I think that’s one of the best classes I’ve taken at UMKC was under his direction; he got my ear in shape! You need a good ear to be able to pick out what sounds you want to use, and what kind of mood you want to set,” said Lee.

Through his time at UMKC, Lee found his own unique composing process. “I start with rhythm a lot, rhythm is the first thing, notes are a little funny at first and then I start getting what notes I want to put in that rhythm, the last thing is melody. Most of the time that’s my process, just because I’m a rhythm section player, I’m a drummer first. So I hear the rhythm in my head and then I build upon that. There’s been very few times I start with a melody,” said Lee.

UMKC wasn’t the only venue the artist grew in. “I started coming out to the Blue Room when I was around 17 years old for jam sessions. Then I got my first gig with Ahmad Alaadeen, and we used to play the Blue Room every month and that’s kind of how I got my experience, with him. I was very fortunate to be gigging at an early age,” said Lee.

Lee returns to the Blue Room when he can to now host jam sessions to give young artists the opportunity he had. “It’s amusing to see myself up there doing something I saw someone else do when I was 17. It makes me hope a little more to see that dreams can come true. Goals are starting to come about,” said Lee.

When he’s not up on stage at the Blue Room, Lee puts his energy into multiple jazz projects. “I’m recording on a couple of albums, Paul Shinn Trio, were recording next month. We play at the Green Lady Lounge every Sunday night. I’m playing on Dominique Sanders new album. Diverse, the group I started with at UMKC, we recorded an album in Paris, France last summer,” said Lee.

During his summer in Paris, Lee grew as an artist and took the city into the studio with him. The recording studios are a lot different; the setup was interesting. Drums were in the control room and everything else was isolated in booths. It was a lot more of a chill vibe over there, they would press the button and let us go, it was really relaxed I enjoyed it. You feel a different energy while you’re there and that can influence the recording process,” said Lee.

Lee currently has plans to travel to New York, Chicago, and Toronto to take in Jazz in some of the most exciting cities in the world. Lee isn’t just going to enjoy the sounds of the city; he looks at his trips as a learning opportunity. “I want to check out the music scene in all those cities. In New York, I’ll be there for two weeks and seeing music every night, all of my favorite Jazz artists. Another thing I’ll be doing in New York is a project where you interview people you aspire to be, like my favorite drummers or my favorite composers. I’ve contacted them already and I’ve set up interviews with them in New York and to see how they made it,” said Lee.

Lee will spend his summer recording, traveling, and most importantly growing as an artist. Things are just picking up for the young musician who has bright hopes for his promising future. “Five years, I see myself having a couple of albums out, I don’t have any of my own yet. I see myself in a different city maybe New York. I do want to live there for a while, that city has a lot of competition and it pushes you to be better. I see myself playing bass for artists by that time, and gigging with R&B, Jazz, and Neo-Soul artists, I would love to do that,” said Lee.

About Demetra Kopulos: Demetra is a Journalism and Digital Media Major at Kansas State University. She is currently serving as an online and media intern at the American Jazz Museum. She does artist features, blog posts, interviews, and manages social media for their various sites.

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