James Poyser of The Roots: ‘Paid to play music and act like idiots’

“It’s very rare to find a band on the road that doesn’t have a musician from the Philly area,” says James Poyser. “I’m proud to be a part of that.” (Photo by NBC Universal)
“It’s very rare to find a band on the road that doesn’t have a musician from the Philly area,” says James Poyser. “I’m proud to be a part of that.”
Credit: NBC Universal

The magic of Philadelphia music often happens in a small club, tucked away, with players whose names you might not immediately recognize but whose music you’ve definitely heard.

West Philly-raised James Poyser of The Roots is bringing a little of that magic to the Kimmel Center’s Commonwealth Plaza on Wednesday. The jam session, Sittin’ In: James Poyser & Friends, is part of the Philadelphia Festival of the Arts.

“This is something we used to do all the time coming up in Philly, at Silk City, Wilhelmina’s and the Black Lily,” Poyser says. “A bunch of like-minded musicians — we all know and listen to the same things — we’d get together, park it, and someone would play a melody or a riff or a DJ would play a record part and we’d get an idea and just go from there.”

That Philly sound has seeped into all kinds of contemporary music, and Poyser has had a major role in it. He’s produced or played on records for everyone from Adele to Common, and he’s an integral part of The Roots sound on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.”

“It’s very rare to find a band on the road that doesn’t have a musician from the Philly area,” Poyser says. “I’m proud to be a part of that.”

Poyser’s “friends” for the Sittin’ In session include Steve McKie, the ace drummer who has produced Bilal, along with whoever else is in town for the night.

These days, Poyser doesn’t get to spend as much time in the city as he used to. His gig with The Roots on “Late Night,” along with producing and playing, keep him in the 212. Yet, he’s excited about moving to the 11:30 p.m. slot of NBC’s “The Tonight Show” when Fallon and crew take over from Jay Leno in 2014.

“It’s definitely a blessing and God’s favor,” Poyser says. “You know, it’s an honor. … We’re waiting to see — we’re not sure what it entails and we’re anxious to see what happens. The Fallon show is great. We get paid to play music and act like idiots.”

“Sittin’ In: James Poyser & Friends”
Wednesday, 10:45 p.m.
Commonwealth Plaza, Kimmel Center
300 S. Broad St.
Free, 215-731-3333
www.kimmelcenter.org


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