Originally created 03/02/00

Georgia teen plays jazz at Grammys



HINESVILLE, Ga. -- This week, it's back to science classes and studying and baseball practice after school.

But last week, it was red carpets and singers and celebrities at the 42nd annual Grammy Awards.

On Feb. 23, 15-year-old drummer Tony Royster Jr. took the stage at the Grammys to play a jazz set with a group of teen and preteen music phenomenons from throughout the country.

The same stage where Britney Spears sang her hit songs. The same stage where Jennifer Lopez and her un-dress presented an award with X-Filer David Duchovny.

Tony's low-key about the whole thing, though, possessing a maturity that eludes some adults. There's nary a trace of gushing when he lists all the stars he met. Santana. TLC. Whitney Houston. Elton John. He rode in an elevator with Phil Collins and Sting, but he "just missed" Ms. Lopez and Sean "Puffy" Combs.

"Everyone always says `I wish I could meet these stars,' but when I got there and saw them and met them, I felt like I already knew them," he said Monday. "Everyone was really nice."

The road to the Grammys started with Tony's appearance on the cover of the millennium edition of Modern Drummer magazine, a top industry publication. Someone involved with the Grammys saw his picture and passed it along until it reached Michael Green, Recording Academy president and chief executive officer.

Mr. Green called Tony's father, Tony Sr., who's also a musician, and asked him to send some recordings by his son. A few weeks later, Mr. Royster got the call.

"They said they'd found someone for the drummer's spot," he recalled, thinking that meant they had found someone else. "Then they said it was Tony."

When Grammy week rolled around, Tony and his father flew to Los Angeles for four days to prepare for the show, although Tony said they didn't spend much time rehearsing. That was all right, though. There wasn't any music he hadn't played before.

"All jazz is basically the same," Tony explained.

When the jazz ensemble took the stage, Tony, wearing a tuxedo, introduced himself and said he was from Hinesville.

If you saw the show, you might remember Mr. Green making a comment that Hinesville was near Atlanta.

Thanks to Tony's confidence in his ability, the brief performance went well, earning a standing ovation from the star-studded audience.

Back at school this week, Tony said everyone's been running up to him, telling him "I saw you on TV." It's nothing too new for Tony, who has been involved with big projects before.

He's a member of the Nickelodeon band, a group that includes David Letterman's bandleader, Paul Schaffer. And he's performed with the likes of saxophone player Branford Marsalis. Someday, Tony says, he hopes to be a professional drummer.

Because of all the things he's done, Tony knows he's in a position to influence others. He hopes the influence is positive.

"People look up to me, so I try to be an example, a leader," he said.

And as Tony prepared to leave for baseball practice, a young fan ambled up his driveway with his mother.

"He just wanted to tell Tony he saw him on TV," the mother said.