Jan. 30, 2006 — Reuben Rogers' career started at Addelita Cancryn Jr. High and has brought him to jazz lovers all over the world.
The St. Thomas-born bassist has performed with modern jazz legends everywhere from the United States to Japan, but it was the public school music programs on St. Thomas that got him started.
Rogers was on St. Thomas in mid-January for the United Way benefit concert with Diane Reeves. He has been in Reeve's touring band for four years. The United Way of St. Thomas-St. John was, at the time, looking for more creative ways to raise funds. Rogers' uncle, Raymond Green, is president of United Way and invited Rogers to play. When Rogers asked Reeves if she would perform, he says, "I couldn't even finish the sentence and she said, 'Whatever you need, I'll be there.'"
The concert with Reeves and one of Rogers' close friends and St. Thomas-born musician, Ron Blake, was at the Reichhold Center for the Arts.
Rogers cites Blake as one of his early role models. He first saw Blake, who plays saxophone, at a summer music program through the V.I. public schools. Blake, who attended middle school and some high school on St. Thomas before moving to Michigan, was already performing and touring professionally at the time.
"It really influenced me, and I tried to seek out as much music as I could," Rogers says.
But seeking out the music wasn't always easy. His parents did not listen to jazz much, so he had to find jazz recordings on his own.
"I was teased about it in high school," he says. In fact, he used to hide his jazz records to avoid the teasing — something he laughs about now.
Rogers is friendly and smiles often. He has a propensity for telling stories — something he says is important in his musical career.
"In jazz you get to express yourself more through improvisation," he says. "You get to tell your own story."
Rogers attended Addelita Cancryn Junior High and Charlotte Amalie High School in the late '80s and early '90s — a time when music education was held in high regard across the United States. It was there that he picked up the clarinet. His ultimate goal then was to become a saxophone player, but he never did. Saxophone players often start out on clarinet and switch to saxophone, a more difficult instrument, later on.
Rogers picked up the bass on his own in eighth grade. He played at church every week and mostly taught himself to play. He stayed focused on clarinet in school, and — much to the chagrin of several female clarinet players, he says — he became first chair, the leader of the band's clarinet section in high school.
Rogers also played football for a time at CAHS, but as he got older, "I realized [music] was something I really liked."
After graduating from CAHS, Rogers moved to Boston to attend the Berklee College of Music. He was touring professionally (playing bass) by his second year there, and he graduated in 1997.
"I just loved playing, and I think I had more opportunities to play because everyone needs a bass player," he says. The need for bass players in various jazz ensembles "forced me to get better fast."
Rogers' talent has paid off big time.
Rogers has performed on dozens of jazz albums and has played with jazz greats such as Diane Reeves, Wynton Marsalis, Joshua Redman, Branford Marsalis, Nicholas Payton, Benny Green, Javon Jackson and others.
He has toured throughout Europe, South America, the United States and the Caribbean. Rogers is currently living in New Jersey and does much of his performing and recording work in New York City.
He is now working on a still-unnamed solo project, which Blake is co-producing with Rogers. Rogers expects the album to be out later this year.
He comes back to St. Thomas every two years or so, he says, to visit friends and family, and to visit the music classes at Charlotte Amalie High School.
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