Khris Royal was born to be a musician. This young and exceptional New Orleans native began playing the saxophone at seven years old, and producing and writing music at fourteen. Royal’s musical talents were nurtured at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA) High School, in classrooms once shared by jazz greats such as Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, Terrence Blanchard, and Donald Harrison. When Royal was only 16, he was granted a full scholarship to the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA and his career has taken off since then.
To date, Royal has played with hip-hop giants and jazz and funk legends alike, from Lettuce, to Bobby Brown, Alvin Batiste, Ellis Marsalis, Christian Scott, Branford, Delfeayo and Jason Marsalis, Tony Clifton, The Sam Kininger Band, and Johnta Austin. The impressive young artist has recorded with Mary J. Blige, Ashanti, Nelly and The Game, Erykah Badu, Goapele, D.J. Quick, and is also featured with the Regiment on Season 2 of The Boondocks. Royal has developed relationships with prominent New Orleans artists as well, such as George Porter Jr., Zigaboo Modeliste, Fred Wesley, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Galactic, and countless more. The range of Khris’ musical relationships is versatile and reflects the scope of his talent. Although Royal continues to expand and develop his craft, from Jazz, hip-hop, rock, soul, electronic, funk, R & B, Blues, and Reggae –musically, there is not much Khris Royal has not already mastered and incorporated into his unique style.
In addition to leading his own band, Khris Royal & Dark Matter (see below), Khris Royal has been the only horn player in George Porter Jr. & the Runnin’ Pardners since Fall 2009. In 2011, Royal joined as a touring member of the popular West Coast rock/reggae band, Rebelution.
How Music has Impacted Khris Royal's Life
Describe your music in three words.
Funky. Intelligent. Energizing.
What song reminds you of home? Where is home?
Home Is New Orleans, and when I think of New Orleans music, I think of Louis Armstrong’s “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans.” I travel a lot playing music, and I often get homesick. Sometimes it’s nice to take a walk and explore a new place, but a lot of the time, I’m listening to music from home to keep me grounded.
Why the saxophone? What sparked your interest in that particular instrument?
When I was about 5 years old, I wanted to play the trombone because my older cousin played it. A couple of years later when it was time to pick out instruments for band, my parents brought me to the music store to get a trombone. The guy at the store said that my arms were too short to play the trombone. I was in kindergarten at McDonogh 15 in the French Quarter with a kid named Troy Andrews. I was taller than him at the time, and he could play it. Anyways…. My mom said, “give him a saxophone, girls love the saxophone.” The rest is history.
We read that you started writing music at the age of 14...what did you write about? What were some common themes or thoughts of yours at such an early age?
I actually started writing when I was about 11 or 12 at the Louis Armstrong Jazz Camp. At this point I wasn't really thinking about the message behind the music, I was mostly thinking about the things I was learning at the camp. Now that I think about it, one of the first songs I wrote was named Trippin’. I think I wrote it because I felt like my mom was “trippin’” about something. I think that's something every teenager has gone through. Most of the songs I wrote during that period were written because I couldn’t find anything that sounded like what I heard in my head.
What was it like moving all the way to Boston, MA from down south New Orleans to attend the Berklee College of Music after receiving a full scholarship?
Going to Berklee was one of the most important points in my life. It was a bit of a culture shock to go from a place like New Orleans where there is so much culture to a place like Boston that kind of just feels like a generic U.S. city. Going up there really opened my eyes to the fact that New Orleans is one of the most unique and culturally rich places on the planet. Berklee was amazing. I've never been surrounded by so many like minded, talented, and hungry musicians in my life. I learned a lot in the program, but I think I learned just as much from my peers.
Who are some of your musical influences?
Right now, I’m listening to Snarky Puppy which is an amazing Jazz Fusion Group out of New York. Cashmere Cat, a Norwegian producer and Killiam Shakespeare which is a mix of R&B, hip hop, and jazz. That’s just this week though. It’s hard to pinpoint my influences because I like so many different things. Last week, it was all Brazilian Jazz, next week I may be back in my jazz roots with Charlie Parker and Trane. I also listen to a lot of electronic music. I can find inspiration from anything, and I think that is what’s so beautiful about music.
Why do you think music is so important to the people and culture of New Orleans?
New Orleans is one of the only places in America, if not the only place, where we have a party when someone dies. Just yesterday I woke up to the sounds of a block party for a young lady who died in a car accident. She was out drinking and decided to take a cab instead of driving. The cab was hit by a dump truck on the interstate. As sad as that is, her family threw a party.
What is the greatest music moment you’ve ever had? When did you feel most alive?
I felt most alive playing at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado which is one of the most magical experiences I have ever been a part of. Knowing that space has been used as a gathering place for thousands of years is pretty amazing. There is something special whenever people are on one accord, sharing the same intentions, but Red Rocks has a way of magnifying that. You can feel it, and it does something to your soul.
You’ve played with such an array of artists from Ellis Marsalis to Erykah Badu and Mary J. Blige…is there a moment/collaboration most memorable to you?
There are so many… One day while living in LA, I had a studio session with Mary J. Blige. I arrived to the studio a little early so I sat down at the piano and started playing a song I was working on. I didn’t realize Mary had arrived and was standing behind me listening. She introduced herself, and said she was looking forward to working with her piano player for the day. I looked up and laughed and said “I’m the sax player.”