Home News Local news United Way Benefit a Bittersweet Homecoming for Reuben Rogers and 21st Century

United Way Benefit a Bittersweet Homecoming for Reuben Rogers and 21st Century

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Jan. 23, 2008 — Bassist Reuben Rogers is eager to share what he has learned about music, jazz and life as he reunites with 21st Century Band in tribute to the late Jon Lucien at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Reichhold Center for the Arts.
The concert will be presented by the United Way of St. Thomas-St. John in association with Cruzan Rum.
Rogers, who was instrumental in a United Way benefit featuring Dianne Reeves in 2006, had hoped to perform with Jon Lucien, who'd given him a nod as a fellow bassist during his formative years. 21st Century Band founders Dion Parson and Ron Blake shared Rogers' enthusiasm, and plans for the concert with Jon Lucien began to gel in the spring of 2007.
The whirl of their individual careers kept them busy, but they knew that Lucien's voice (a musical instrument in its own right) would be the perfect accompaniment to the band's flavor. Unfortunately, Jon Lucien passed away in August. After a time, it was decided that the show would go on, in honor of the musician and baritone who had changed the fabric of the music industry with his uncompromising sound.
Lucien was only one of many on Rogers' list of "angels." It also includes Georgia Francis and Francis Callwood of the Charlotte Amalie High School Music Department; Louis Taylor and Roan Creque; Joe Ramsey, Vince Wallace and Clifton Finch. Drummer and inveterate roadie the late Charles Lynch took on the responsibility for getting the teen to and from gigs safely. Dion Parson and Ron Blake became acquainted with Reuben at workshops they conducted at CAHS.
"They were twice my age with four times the experience," Rogers said with a grin. "I remember there was this one tune, 'On Green Dolphin Street' — I was playing the bass line wrong. He (Dion Parson) was standing behind me. I was confidently playing, and he was like, 'You're playing it wrong, yo … it's like this.'"
Rogers' sense of intimidation faded to fascination at how a slight change could alter the color of an interpretation: "From that experience, I was like, 'Man, I want to find out more.' I was intrigued!"
He and his friend (percussionist) Amin Gumbs haunted the bargain bins of local record stores for jazz tapes, which they played and replayed, voraciously absorbing many styles while they developed their own. Gumbs now enjoys his own success as a renowned percussionist.
Not all participants in the workshops turned out to be musicians, Rogers noted, but the lessons learned could apply to any aspect of life. While his parents encouraged his musical activities, he was not yet sure what he wanted to be when he grew up.
"I never really aspired to do what I do now," he said. "It was never a dream to travel the world and play music."
Starting with the clarinet, Rogers played piano, drums, and guitar. He ended up falling in love with the bass.
"Bass players are so essential," he said. "It takes a certain amount of selflessness."
According to Rogers, a good bassist provides such integral support to the composition that the audience will not notice the bass line unless it is rendered badly. The Church of God of Prophecy's Verdell Turnbull, his first major musical influence, played the bass, and Rogers emulated him.
"I didn't find the bass … it found me," he said.
To Rogers, jazz is a series of conversations that evolve from melodies, expanding outward in intricate syncopations, call and response and improvisations that can never be duplicated: "I think that's the biggest thing about jazz. What we're 'speaking' in the moment, you will never hear again. I can express myself my own way, each time."
Startled by the fact that he is now considered a "go-to guy," Rogers receives calls and emails from out of the blue, such as from the handlers of Japanese pop icon Tomoyasu Hotei, telling him that he was hired, sight unseen, based solely on his reputation. When young people ask him about the secret to such successes, he says, "I strongly feel if you love what you do and put in the time and the work and effort, it'll come to you in some kind of form or fashion."
Rogers is bubbling under; he was informed by a former instructor that he is listed as a "rising star" by downbeat magazine. And, in much the same way Lucien conferred respect on him years ago, Rogers would speak on behalf of Rashawn Ross, a young trumpet player het met in the CAHS jazz ensemble. Ross was a prodigy who was a part of the group before formally entering high school.
While at Berklee College of Music, Rogers stayed in touch with Ross and Ross' mother, sending CDs of jazz greats when he could. One day he received a call from the scholarship office, asking if he was familiar with a young trumpeter from the Virgin Islands who turned out to be Ross.
"I told him, 'Give him as much money as you possibly can!'" Rogers said. "And they gave it to him. He (Ross) came to Berklee; he was set, and he blew them away. And he carried that into his professional life."
Ross is currently touring with the legendary Dave Matthews Band, and will be a part of the upcoming concert at Reichhold Center.
Rogers co-produced an album for Germany-based American singer Stephanie K (stephaniek.de) called Subterranean Dream.
"You have to hone in on the strengths of the artist and make those things shine," Rogers said. "Most of her life she was singing jazz tunes."
The CD features fluid renditions of covers such as the Beatles' "The Fool on the Hill" and "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" by Paul Simon, along with original compositions.
Between engagements, Rogers is the adjunct professor/bass instructor for a select group of students. He sets his own schedule, commuting from his home in New Jersey to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro several times a year.
Amid the accolades and opportunities, Rogers reflects on what is really important: "You really realize how important it is to have the foundation of family and friends, especially when you're on stage on Thanksgiving Day alone in London."
While he does not have as much time to spend with loved ones while he is here, he takes heart in knowing that he is doing for young people what was done for him, years ago.
On Friday, 21st Century will host morning and afternoon workshops at Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School and CAHS, respectively. The sessions are open to parents, guardians and other interested persons.
"I want to give them the tools, to let them know about professionalism, perseverance and preparation," Rogers said. "These will serve you in music and anything you do."
21st Century Band consists of Parson, Blake, Rogers and Ross. Also appearing onstage will be vocalist Rudy Faulkner. Proceeds from the 21st Century Band's Tribute to Jon Lucien will assist the United Way of St. Thomas-St. John in its efforts to support its member agencies. Visit unitedway.vifor more details.
Sponsors include Cruzan Rum, Yacht Haven Grande, Ackley Media Group and Guardian Insurance, with cooperation from the V.I. Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. Tickets for the Homecoming of the 21st Century Band are $60, $45 and $30 and are available at the Reichhold Center Box Office, Modern Music, Urban Threadz, Island Video at Nisky Center, V.I. Bridal & Tuxedo, Essentric Shoe Boutique and Home Again.
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