Trumpeter and music arranger Rashawn Ross of the Dave Matthews Band is a man living his dream. He’s also a man who has never forgotten where he came from. Moved by the devastation of the Virgin Islands and the territory’s schools following two back to back hurricanes, Ross strives to support others through his own passion.
“As a Virgin Islander and successful musician, I feel its important to do what I can to assist and motivate those students who love music and not wait on the government to replenish the tools they need to hone their craft,” he shares. “Through my association with Conn-Selmer, an American manufacturer of musical instruments for concert bands, marching bands and orchestras, I have secured large discounts to local schools in all three island districts. I’ve also donated many of my personally designed trumpets to local schools over the years.”
Stan Joines, local musician and Central High School band director, has nothing but praise and accolades for his good friend and fellow trumpeter.
“Rashawn Ross is humble, giving, smart and hardworking and one of the world’s jazz giants. He is a Virgin Island treasure.”
A native son of the Virgin Islands, Ross was born in St. Croix and grew up on St. Thomas where he was surrounded by the musical culture of the Caribbean. At 13, Ross was a working musician, playing with the Imagination Brass Band, and by his junior year of high school, Ross says he decided to “put all his eggs in one basket” and pursue a career in music.
“It just so happens that my mom’s friend was the manager of Imagination Brass. I would attend the band’s parking lot shows and stand as close to the horn section as I could,” Ross remembers. “It was during this time that I became close to the man who would become my musical mentor, Sergio “Bolo” Fernandez, a cultural icon who taught me horn arrangement.”
Ross also credits his Dad for planting the seeds that led him to become a musician at an early age.
“My Dad was very protective of his music collection, albums and CDs by jazz greats like Oscar Petersen, Clark Terry and other jazz legends,” he explains. Ross recalls “borrowing” a CD without his father’s permission and then later confessing. “Although he was annoyed that I’d taken the CD without asking, he was touched by the fact that the seed for the love of jazz music had been planted. In his mind, he’d done his job.”
After high school, Ross won a scholarship to Berklee College in Boston, Massachusetts. Upon graduation, Ross moved to New York City where his career in the music industry quickly took off. Not one to discriminate, Ross began doing a lot of session work. At that time, the aspiring jazz musician followed artists like Charles Mingus and the big band jazz sound his father shared with him.
“When I first moved to New York, it was important to me to work as much as possible. Even though my goal was to be a jazz musician, I took whatever gigs I could get, jazz, R&B, whatever was needed,” says Ross. With a high demand for trumpeters, he enjoyed early exposure and eventually met influential musician Ron Blake of 21st Century Band. “He took me under his wing, told me who to see, where to go, and referred me for other gigs.”
In 2005, Blake sent a tape to Leroi Moore, a saxophonist and founding member of the Dave Matthews Band, which led to an invitation to play with the band for the first time in 2005. When Moore approached Dave Matthews about bringing Ross on permanently, the rest as they say, is history. Ross has become a major presence and contributor to the band’s style and musical arrangement.
“As an artist, I am always striving to improve my craft, my performance,” he shares. “Over the years, I have designed trumpets to experiment with my sound. I like to take them out on the road and test them out – put them to the test.”
When Ross is not busy touring and recording, he continues to do studio sessions with artists across musical genres. His personal music playlist represents a mixture of R&B, rock, funks, and the music his Dad raised him on, including Roy Hargrove and Freddie Hubbard, Earth Wind and Fire, Tower of Power, Kool and the Gang, DeAngelo, and Brooklyn-based jam band, Snarky Puppy.
When asked about the recent nomination of the Dave Matthews Band to the Rock & Roll Hall of fame and subsequent loss, Ross graciously responded, “As a band, we have always been the kid in the corner.” He adds, “Honestly, we didn’t have lofty expectations about winning. We were just happy that our fans see us that way. That’s why we do this.”
The Dave Matthews Band will begin their 2020 tour in Las Vegas in late February. In the meantime, Ross stays busy in the studio recording tracks for the recently-aired Grammy’s and upcoming Oscars. “I am so grateful that I have a career that I love,” he shares. “The freedom and the artistry that comes with being a musician enables me to enjoy myself.”