Rashawn Ross Stands UpFrom the Randall’s Island Satellite
It’s been a few years since trumpeter Rashawn Ross made his first guest appearance with the Dave Matthews Band. But ever since DMB’s September 2005 Red Rocks run, the group’s sound has been bolstered by the steady presence of Ross’s trumpet on a continuing basis. As Ross prepares for his Randall’s Island debut with the group, the Satellite caught up with the musician, a veteran of many groups including Soulive and Yerba Buena, to talk about his prior endeavors and just how he arrived at this stage.
Let’s start with your background and musical origins. Can you talk a bit about those?
I grew up in the Virgin Islands, St. Thomas. I got into jazz in the eighth grade and I have been playing music professionally since I was 14, playing calypso and reggae. St. Thomas, the Virgin Islands, is pretty much a melting pot musically, so that’s where I get my musical taste from. I like a variety of stuff.
When did you come to the United States and how did you hook up with Soulive?
I first came to the United States right after high school. I moved to Boston, attended the Berklee College of Music and graduated from there in 2000. I knew some of the guys from Lettuce, which was the band that Eric Krasno and a bunch of guys who were going to the Berklee summer program started. I knew Sam Kininger and Adam Deitch and all those guys. I think it was 2003, Lettuce was getting ready to gig in Japan and they had a gig at the Lion’s Den in New York. They asked me to come play so I ended up going down there, playing and learning the music. Then they were going to Japan in a few days and they said, “You should go to Japan with us,” so I went ahead and started rehearsing and at the last minute they got the ticket and I was in Japan.
After that it boiled over into Soulive. At the time, Sam Kininger and Ryan Zoidis were doing gigs off and on with Soulive as a horn section and I started sitting in. Soon after that I started doing horn arrangements to their older stuff and they dug it and that’s pretty much how the Soulive thing came about.
So, did your connection to the Dave Matthews Band take place through Soulive?
No, that dated back to 2002, when I first opened with Yerba Buena. I was out in the house checking out their soundcheck and I had my horn in my hand. Carter saw me and signaled to come up onstage. So I went up, started jamming during soundcheck and that’s pretty much where the whole connection started. I kept in contact with LeRoi and Carter and whenever they came to town I would hang out and go to the shows. That’s where the whole DMB thing started.
What was your first reaction when you saw them play?
My first reaction was, “Wow they’re very musical, there’s a lot of music going on.” It wasn’t cream puff, making-it-acceptable-to-the-masses type music; it was a bunch of guys playing what they wanted to play and it just so happened that the masses loved it. It was like, “Wow, they’re playing everything that I would love to play and they’re not afraid to play it. They’re doing what they want and they’re successful at it.”
Talk a bit about how that relationship developed and how you came to take on a regular role with the band.
LeRoi and I hit it off right away. He’s a huge jazz fan and so am I. At Berklee I was doing the whole jazz thing and we would just sit there and talk about all these jazz musicians and listen to music. We had that in common from the beginning, that was pretty much the basis of the relationship. And pretty soon he said, “You know what, you should learn some of these tunes, so whenever you’re around and we’re in town you can come up, play with us and really fatten up the music a little bit. I was like, “Cool, no problem,” and that’s what started happening.
Pretty soon I was learning more and more tunes and Dave would say, “This tune would sound great with trumpet and saxophone.” It kind of evolved and finally it was like, “You should come play with us.” [laughs] So I got the call asking me if I would like to come out to Colorado for Red Rocks and I said sure. And that’s how it all started.
What was it like coming into a situation where so many members of the crew have been with the band for such an extended period of time?
It makes things easier because more than a job, it’s like a family. It’s good to come into a situation where everybody knows their role, yet it’s so laid-back. That just speaks to the kind of band and the kind of individuals you have in this bandto have the same crew pretty much from the beginning. Not a lot of bands can accomplish that, taking close to 70 people on the road and have the majority of them be there from the beginning. But everybody is so hospitable and when I came into this situation everybody made me feel at home. I really love the girls and guys on the crew. They never let you pass without saying hello. It’s a good feeling to walk into that, it’s so cool to work in an atmosphere like that. Everything is just so cool and laid-back.
What are your favorite songs, both to perform and to hear?
I love “Last Stop” because Roi and I, we’ve slipped a few new things in there and the horn arrangement is pretty kicking, so I love playing that. I love the new stuff that’s happening. I can’t say they’re a stretch because with a drummer like Carter nothing’s a stretch. I love “Break Free” because it’s just a pretty song. I love the songwriting. Dave is a genius when it comes to lyrics. My favorites of the new ones are “Break Free” and “Kill the King.” Of the old ones, “Last Stop,” “Warehouse” and “Nancies.”
I know our readers would be interested to hear your thoughts on the band members given your unique perspective. Let’s start with LeRoi.
One word comes to mind: wisdom. I have learned so much standing next to him onstage, both musically and learning to play without fear. He’s always told me, “You’ve got to have one radical in the band. Don’t be afraid to try new things.” I’ve learned so much from LeRoi, so, wisdom, period.
Stefan, he’s just so intense. I feel Stefan more than I see him and I guess that kind of fits because he is the bass player [laughs]. He has such an intense personality and he’s so versatile on his instrument. He can go anywhere.
He’s been the big brother in the band. He’s always checking to make sure I’m doing okay. He’s like the guy who makes everything easy and comfortable for me. And with a drummer like him, you can take it anywhere, he can play anything. He’s not your typical rock drummer; you can go anywhere with Carter.
Honesty. You gotta dig Boyd’s honesty. When BT plays something I feel it and I feel like he needs every note that he plays. I wish I could play with that kind of honesty. It is unreal. Every night he blows me away.
He’s a funny guy, such a funny guy. He makes everything easy because he’s the front man and he has all this energy directed towards him but he finds a way to make everybody feel special. There are times when I’d be like, “Wow, I can’t believe I’m here,” and Dave will come along and say, “Man, I’m the luckiest man in the world to have you in my band right now.” He’s a stand-up guy and I’m blessed and honored that he has me here. There’s not much else I can say about a guy like Dave.
Finally, what are your thoughts on playing at Randall’s Island?
It’s a hometown show for me so I’ll be playing in front of people I know who still haven’t seen the band. This is going to be my first time playing Randall’s. I don’t know what to expect yet but I know it’s going to be exciting because I’m going to have some friends and family checking it out for the first time. So I’m pretty sure I’m going to hear about it later [laughs].