Acclaimed V.I. Jazz Artists Return for Concert by 21st Century Band

Jan. 16, 2008 — Jan. 26 will mark the homecoming of the 21st Century Band to the Reichhold Center for the Arts in a benefit concert for United Way of St. Thomas-St. John's 2008 fund-raising campaign.
The concert is being dedicated to "the late, great Jon Lucien," who passed away last year, according to a United Way news release. Cruzan Rum serves as the concert's major sponsor, and it is funded in part by the V.I. Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. Other sponsors are Ackley Media Group, Yacht Haven Grande and Guardian Insurance.
The 21st Century Band consists of world-class V.I. musicians led by drummer Dion Parson, saxophonist Ron Blake, bassist Reuben Rogers, trumpeter Rashawn Ross and vocalist Rudy Faulkner. All are renowned musicians nationally and internationally. The band returns to Reichhold Center for the first time in seven years after an unforgettable debut concert in 2000.
"United Way is proud to be sponsoring the return performance of these talented musicians," said United Way President Cheryl George-Chance. "This event provides yet another opportunity for individuals to give to United Way as its fund-raising drive winds down."
Funds raised by the concert will go directly to the support of United Way's 13 member agencies, which provide needed services to the youth, elderly, disabled, hungry and the homeless.
Parson and Blake founded the 21st Century Band in 1998, and although they have remained active in the band, their musical careers have taken them in different directions. Parson has been a drummer in demand for several recordings with major artistes and record labels, including Sony, Columbia and Concord records, and most recently performed in the smash-hit Broadway production of "The Color Purple."
Blake, known for his eclectic saxophone style of fusing Latin, Caribbean, soul and funk to traditional jazz, is currently a member of the house band for NBC's "Saturday Night Live." Blake's newest release is due out this month. Rogers is considered among the top bassists in the world, appearing with such notables as Wynton Marsalis, Roy Hargrove, Joshua Redman and Betty Carter. As a member of Dianne Reeves' touring trio, Rogers was instrumental in bringing Reeves to the territory in 2006 to perform in a benefit concert for the United Way.
The remaining members, Ross and Faulkner, are also well-known and respected in the jazz world. Ross is presently a member of the famous Dave Mathews Band, while Faulkner — the newest member of 21st Century — has performed with the jazz group FRENS as lead vocalist and percussionist.
Tickets are $60, $45 and $30, and are available from the Reichhold Center's box office and its outlets: Modern Music, Urban Threadz, Island Video at Nisky Center, V.I. Bridal & Tuxedo, Essentric Shoe Boutique and Home Again.
United Way is the single largest non-governmental provider of funds for human services in St. Thomas and St. John, supporting the American Red Cross, Catholic Charities, Boy Scouts Council, Civil Air Patrol, V.I. Institute for Teaching and Learning, Ebenezer Gardens, Yellow Cedar Group Home, the Dial-A-Ride programs on St. Thomas and St. John, Legal Services of the Virgin Islands, Habitat for Humanity and two summer programs, according to the news release.
A closer look at the artists:
Dion Parson
Since he departed St. Thomas in the 1980s to attend college, Dion has blossomed into one of the finest drummers in contemporary jazz, especially on the New York scene. So much so in 2006 he was a lead musician in the smash Broadway production of "The Color Purple." Born June 11, 1967, Dion's musical foundation ranges from classical, reggae, calypso, jazz, African and pop music. His first musical instrument was the trombone, but at the age of 15 he began playing drums and was awarded a grant from the V.I. Council on the Arts to study at Interlochen Music Academy in Michigan. Upon returning home, he was selected to be the V.I. representative in the McDonald's All-American High School Band.
With his illustrious compatriot Ron Blake, he formed 21st Century in 1998 and has remained active as band leader ever since. That year, with partial funding from the V.I. Council of the Arts, they produced their first album, titled simply, 21st Century. In 2001, Dion released his own CD, People Music, featuring the band.
Over the years he has been a drummer in demand for several recordings with major artists and record labels, including Sony, Columbia and Concord Records. He has also performed live with such greats as the late Milt Jackson, Steve Grossman, Jon Faddis, Dianne Reeves and Geri Allen.
Always interested in giving back, coupled with his desire to ensure a continuous crop of talented musicians, Dion began his teaching career at Rutgers University, his alma mater, in 1992 as an adjunct professor. Since February 2005, Dion has been the drum/percussion instructor at the N.J. Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) Jazz for Teens program, and he continues to give private instruction in New York City and around the world while touring.
Although he continues to make music education a priority, Dion persists in his efforts to master his instrument. He maintains study with master drummer Michael Carvin, a relationship that began in 1994. Dion's vast experience — as performer, educator and lifelong student — allows him to further broaden his knowledge and embrace opportunities to bring his music to the world.
Ron Blake
The co-leader of 21st Century and saxophonist, Ron is respected worldwide for being a well-rounded musician with a unique style. He has not only recorded as leader of three critically acclaimed albums — Up Front and Personal (2002), Lest We Forget (2004) and The Sonic Tonic (2006) — but his discography numbers more than 50 recordings as either a guest or sideman with leading artists. They include Roy Hargrove; Art Farmer; the Christian McBride Band; Spirit Music Jamia; Red, Hot + Riot; and the Grammy-nominated Latin pop group Yerba Buena. Blake has also recorded soundtracks, most recently for "El Cantante," starring Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez. The multi-talented musician is entering his third season as a member of NBC's "Saturday Night Live" band.
Ron is known for his eclectic style, fusing Latin and Caribbean beats, soul and funk to traditional jazz sounds. This can be traced back to his roots in the Virgin Islands, born (Dec. 31, 1969) and bred. At age 8, Ron took guitar lessons. Two years later, after listening to a lot of his dad's records (Miles Davis, Jimmy Davis, Cannonball Adderly and King Curtis), he switched to the alto saxophone. He excelled in the Nisky Elementary (now Uller Muller) school band, playing calypso and other music from the region, eventually moving to and graduating from Michigan's Interlochen Arts Academy in the 1980s. He later matriculated into Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., where he received the Presidential Award for Outstanding Artistic and Academic Achievement.
In 1987, Ron's jazz career began in St. Thomas, where he taught in summer music programs. He was introduced by, and performed with, jazz luminaries Dizzy Gillespie, Bobby Hutcherson and Gary Bartz at the first V.I. Jazz Festival. Later he won a National Endowment for the Arts Grant to study with Bartz. After his graduation from Northwestern University, Ron worked extensively in the Chicago area with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra, performing behind such legends as Louis Bellson, Clark Terry and Nancy Wilson. He was mentored by many of the Windy City's jazz statesmen, including Von Freeman, Willie Pickens and Bunky Green.
Ron was appointed to teach in the Jazz Studies program at the Juilliard School of Music. Currently he is member of the faculty at both New York University and Nyack College (Manhattan campus).
Despite his many accomplishments, Ron regards his work with 21st Century as one of his
most important, allowing him to collaborate musically with some of the greatest musical talents from the Virgin Islands. He last performed in the Virgin Islands in 2006 when he shared star billing with jazz diva and Grammy winner Dianne Reeves at Jazz For A Cause 2006.
Reuben Rogers
A bassist, Reuben is the finest musician of his type in the jazz world, in constant demand nationally and internationally because of his versatility and creativity. Reuben is acclaimed by music lovers for his ability to tell a story with his instrument. As one critic observed, "He forms a woven tapestry, a blanket of rhythm and harmony with every stroke of the bass that is a complete narrative his audience can take pleasure in."
He has worked with a virtual who's-who in the jazz world, including Dianne Reeves, Betty Carter, Wynton and Brandord Marsalis, Roy Hargrove, Nicholas Payton, Joshua Redman and Marcus Roberts. Reuben is constantly on tour and has traveled much of the United States, Canada, Europe — including the United Kingdom, the Middle East, South Africa, China and, of course, the Caribbean.
He is particularly pleased that in the past year he was able to perform for the first time in Anguilla, the Cayman Islands and, most recently, St. Barths. Reuben has played on over 60 CDs, a phenomenal number for one so young. In 2006 he showcased his originality in his debut CD, The Things I Am, an album co-produced by his 21st Century colleague Ron Blake.
Born Nov. 15, 1974, as a child he was exposed to a variety of music including gospel, jazz, calypso and reggae, which sparked his intense interest and love for rhythms and melodies. Spurred on by his parents, particularly his mother, an accomplished pianist, and by the legendary teacher Georgia Francis, Reuben pursued a love of the bass at Charlotte Amalie High School (CAHS). This passion found its focus in jazz, which was first awakened during workshops conducted by Ron and Dion in the late '80s. His potential was well recognized by numerous awards, grants and scholarships from the St. Thomas Arts Council and other local organizations. This in turn opened the door for Rogers' summer studies at Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan and in Boston at Berklee College of Music. The latter offered a scholarship, with Reuben eventually earning a bachelor of music degree in 1997.
Always willing to give back to the community where he grew up, returning frequently to give lessons and gifts of instruments to high school students and, more recently, to hold workshops at UVI, Reuben has been the key person in making the artists available to United Way's Jazz-For-A-Cause, both in 2006 and 2008.
Rashawn Ross
Trumpeter and arranger Rashawn Ross is one of the biggest names from the Virgin Islands in the music business. Since 2006 he has been a member of the famous Dave Mathews Band (DMB), one of the Top 100 highest selling music acts of all time.
Born and raised in the St. Thomas, Rashawn is another outstanding product of Georgia Francis' program at CAHS, moving on to Berklee College of Music in 1996 and graduating in 2000.
Rashawn has no boundaries musically and has worked with artists from almost every genre, ranging across funk, rock, jazz, hiphop, gospel and country music. He has even been caught doing a little rapping professionally. Some of the big names he has toured with include Yerba Buena, Soulive and DJ Quik. Rashawn has also recorded and performed with artists such as Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder, Sean Paul, the Fugees, Christian McBride, Nicholas Payton, Roy Hargrove, Robert Randolph, Willie Nelson, MeShell N'degeocello, Maceo Parker, Mike Phillips, the Mingus Big Band, String Cheese Incident, Fred Hammond and the Hawkins Family.
Not the least among the many groups he has collaborated with is the 21st Century Band, with whom Rashawn has jammed on countless occasions. His first-ever stint was at the Reichhold Center in 2000. Rashawn will be the first to admit he owes the band and its members a tremendous debt of gratitude for opening doors to the many opportunities he has had over the past decade. But there is no doubt that it is his outstanding talent and hard work as a musician that has propelled him to the heights he has now attained.
Rudy Faulkner, Vocalist
He is the newest member of 21st Century and is a very special singer, with powerful vocal abilities that have created a buzz with audiences around the world. His command of many vocal styles including jazz, soul, R&B, calypso, salsa and gospel, has led the Richmond Times-Dispatch to call Rudy "a musician's singer" because of his total mastery of improvisation.
His talent was first discovered at home, in St. Thomas, where he developed a reputation in gospel circles as an exquisite singer. Rudy then studied classical and jazz music at Norfolk State University and Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), eventually coming to public notice in and around the Richmond area. While attending VCU he met Jon Hendricks, who was instrumental in his development. It was there Rudy nurtured his unique ability to improvise and use his voice as an instrument. This has led to opportunities to open for the likes of Clarke Terry, Carmen McRae, Jon Hendricks, Betty Carter and Rene Marie. This ability to master many musical genres has made him a hit in the opera houses of Italy, Germany, France and Austria. He has performed in more than 300 concerts throughout Europe and remains in demand.
Rudy has also performed with the jazz group FRENS as lead vocalist and percussionist. The group has opened for the likes of Chaka Kahn, Michael Franks, the Rippingtons and Rick Braun. His power, poise and unique approach make him one of the most exciting vocalists around, and Rudy is anxious to share this special gift with his friends and family in St. Thomas when he returns home for his first big show in many years.

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