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Rashawn Ross: Dave Matthews Band is 'Perfect Gig'

Feb. 8, 2008 — Rashawn Ross is living a happy surprise. He never imagined he'd be traveling the world doing what he loves most, let alone landing in the midst of what he calls "the perfect gig" — trumpet man and sometime vocalist in the Dave Matthews Band.
As a member of Georgia Francis' music program at Charlotte Amalie High School, Ross was never far from notice. He quickly fell into performing with Imaginations Brass and Jam Band before even graduating from high school.
When it comes to musical inspiration, Imaginations arranger and fellow trumpeter Sergio "Bolo" Feliciano made the deepest impression on Ross.
"Everything I learned, I learned from Bolo," he says emphatically. "I owe everything I know to him!"
While on St. Thomas for the 21st Century Band's homecoming concert (see "United Way Benefit a Bittersweet Homecoming for Reuben Rogers and 21st Century"), Ross reconnected with Feliciano, even laying down tracks for Bolo's long-awaited solo album.
"My family has been my strongest support: the Rosses from St. Croix and the Monsantos of St. Thomas," Ross says. Music was a constant in young Ross' life and household; he remembers his interest being piqued by a jazz CD he lifted surreptitiously from his father, the late Randy Ross (who passed away in 2004).
"He is the reason I am where I am today," he says. "I stole my first jazz CD from him!"
Mother Beverly Monsanto was determined that her son would succeed, even when Hurricane Marilyn devastated the family home in 1995. The V.I. Council on the Arts award recipient was on a fast track to the Berklee College of Music when he was forced to miss his audition for a scholarship, slated for the week after the storm devastated the territory.
"I'm not going to let you sit here for a year," his mother declared, and at great sacrifice, the necessary funds were secured to pay for Ross' freshman year. While on a European tour, Matt Marvuglio — renowned flutist and dean of the Performance Division at Berklee — regaled Ross with a listing of future performances he was assuming Ross would be around for in his sophomore year.
A dejected Ross informed him that he was unsure of whether he would be back, as his family was struggling with rebuilding after a major hurricane, as well as his tuition, room and board. A stunned Marvuglio placed calls that resulted in a timely review and a generous scholarship for Ross.
"Living a Dream"
With his academic future more secure, Ross went on graduate in 2006 while making an impressive name for himself in the studio, as well as onstage with acts like 21st Century Band (see "Acclaimed V.I. Jazz Artists Return for Concert by 21st Century Band."), Soulive, Yerba Buena and DJ Quik.
"I'm pretty much living a dream right now, but I never even dreamed that big," he reflects.
Shying away from any mention of the accolades that earn him easy entry to many a short list, Ross is quick to note that the trappings of success are not what drive him — although he certainly knows what they are.
"I could go on and on forever," he says. "We watched BET and MTV growing up, and we saw all that."
According to Ross, the "bling-bling," rump shakers and luxe life portrayed in pop culture cannot sustain what is necessary to have a satisfying career: happiness.
"I'm not saying that all of that should not be motivation, but it should not be the only thing," he says. "You have to have substance; it can't be superficial. Otherwise that's the type of person you will attract, and people will associate you with that. Soon enough you'll believe the hype. When everything's gone, you don't have anything of substance to fall back on. I curtailed all of that and didn't let it become a distraction."
Acknowledging the inevitable ups and downs to any career, Ross offers some words of advice for those contemplating the music business — or any career, for that matter. Observing what his mother endured in the workplace, Ross vowed that he would not pursue a career that resulted in his not wanting to go to work.
"I said that I never wanted to be like that," he says.
Deeply grateful for his mother's willingness to ensure that he would have better opportunities, he says, "Always do something that you love to do. I never hear musicians saying, 'I want to make a lot of money' … I loved to do it. I wanted to do it. And nothing comes overnight."
Joining the Dave Matthews Band
Neither did the dream job that he holds with the Grammy Award-winning Dave Matthews Band (DMB). Members (saxophonist) LeRoi Moore and (drummer) Carter Beauford spotted Ross in performance with 21st Century Band and again as he played with their opening acts, and approached him about sitting in with the group. Scheduling conflicts kept them apart, but the jazz-loving trio established a friendship and stayed in touch over some months, until Ross was able to squeeze in a Philadelphia date with them. The pickup invitations continued until one day Dave Matthews himself insisted that they make things official.
"Finally they said, 'Let's make it happen!'" Ross says with a laugh.
Since 2006, Ross has been part of the band's official lineup, after having spent the summer and winter of 2005 with the band on tour. His inclusion in the band's studio dates and continued presence through the present indicate a mutually beneficial relationship.
Ross has been embraced by many DMB fans, among the most opinionated in the industry. However, message boards and blogs thrum with the pros and cons of Ross' presence on the lineup. Those impressed with Ross jump to his defense, and even Matthews himself acknowledges the controversy on his blog, while stating that such skirmishes are par for the course and do not dim his confidence in his choice to bring Ross on board.
As for Ross, the fans are entitled to their discussions.
"It is hard to go into an established ensemble," he says. "You gotta get past a lot of the fans and prove yourself. To be honest, I really didn't pay it any attention — all of us in the band are in our own little world. I only knew about it when outside people told me about it."
Besides, he is enjoying himself too mightily to concentrate on such things. The reason?
"It's the perfect gig," he enthuses, pleased to be able to collaborate on arrangements and even sing from time to time. "I get to play country, bluegrass, calypso, jazz … I get to use all my training and background … it's all these good things rolled into one."
While jazz is the foundation of his present musical oeuvre, calypso, gospel, rhythm and blues, and even hip-hop add excitement to the blend.
"I love jazz — I appreciate and know firsthand the discipline it takes at a high level," he says. "Jazz is cerebral. But it's hard to pinpoint my favorite style. I do enjoy Earth, Wind and Fire. Nowadays the lines are so blurred. I'm living in a generation of so much fusion. You must be versatile."
Currently Ross is in high demand for studio sessions, arrangements and stage work. He is quite popular with gospel artists in the Florida area. He is also working with DMB's Beauford on scoring a new catalog of music for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) broadcasts under the aegis of the Disney/ESPN/ABC banner. In the studio with rap star Ludacris, Ross remains true to form, yielding the spotlight to a colleague and fellow Berklee grad: "Also playing trombone on that Ludacris session is another Virgin Islander, Lasim Richards!"
With a fast-filling resume and the cred to match, is a so
lo career far off for this rising star?
"There's so much more that I want to experience before I go solo," Ross demurs. He is happy to continue practicing what he loves most, in preparation for the day when the time is right for him to spread his own wings.
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