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American Routes Shortcuts: Adonis Rose

Adonis Rose
Adonis Rose

This is American Routes with a tribute to the legendary New Orleans drummer, James Black.  Black also composed tunes like "Monkey Puzzle" and "Dee Wee," both recorded by Ellis Marsalis' ensemble in the early 1960s.  As a composer, Black received support from the National Endowment for the Arts.


Nick Spitzer: Our guest, Adonis Rose, started playing drums at age three under the instruction of a family friend, James Black. Adonis went on to play with Ellis Marsalis, Terence Blanchard, and Betty Carter. Rose studied at Boston's Berkeley College of Music but left to play music back home. In 2002, Adonis began drumming with the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra; now he's artistic director. They’re here to play the music of James Black, starting with a 1963 composition, "Old Wyne," on American Routes.


NS: "Old Wyne!"

Adonis Rose: "Old Wyne."

NS: Uh-huh, "Old Wyne," James Black, huh?

AR: James Black, the one and only.

NS: Yeah, Adonis, thanks for being out here with the group.

AR: Absolutely, thanks for having us.

NS: Yeah, all sounds good down here in the Ninth Ward. James Black, what drew you as a percussionist, musician, thinker, doer, to James Black?

AR: Well, you can't be a New Orleans drummer and not be attracted or influenced by James Black in one way or another. Actually, you can't be a New Orleans musician and not be influenced by James Black. I have a personal connection to James Black, because I studied with him, but James Black and my dad, Vernon Severin, they were good friends. They were best friends up until the time that James Black died, but not only that, my uncle played in James Black's band. My uncle, Chris Severin, was his bassist. So, there was really no getting away from James Black. He was at the house almost every day. I didn't even know he was a drummer for the longest time when I was a kid just coming up.

NS: He was just a friend coming over.

AR: He would just come over, drink with–hang with my parents, drink. He would be at all the family parties, and then, one day I found out he was a drummer. He gave my dad a set of drums and, you know? That was it. So, he gave me drum lessons and gave my brother trumpet lessons. He was also a trumpet player.

NS: Right, yeah. A melodic instrument gives you insight into that side of the music too.

AR: It does, it does.

NS: Well, in addition to being drawn to your family, I mean, [laughs] Irma Thomas, Harold Battiste, obviously Ellis Marsalis, Lee Dorsey, the Meters, Dr. John.

AR: Yusef Lateef.

NS: Yeah, out on the road with Yusef Lateef, Freddie Hubbard, Cannonball, Lionel Hampton. I mean, a lot of people were drawn to James Black.

AR: They had no choice, I mean, he was a musician that was ahead of his time, just in terms of the way he played the drums, which was one thing. His style, he was influenced a lot by Max Roach; Max Roach's playing, and then you had other great drummers around who were before him, you know? You had Ed Blackwell; you had a lot of great drummers that influenced James Black. Smokey Johnson was around, but as a drummer, he was the New Orleans modern jazz drummer outside of Ed Blackwell. So, if you were looking to be progressive and be modern, James Black was the guy you were gonna call.

NS: Yeah, if you want to be soulful and funky, [laughs] you call him too-

AR: He did it all, yeah, he did it all. He played with Fats Domino, obviously. He played with a lot of people, so. One of the things that are really present in a lot of his music, and the thing that I feel like makes him special, are the melodies. They make the entire songs.

NS: Yeah.

AR: Some composers have different methods to writing, like, for me, I like to map out a form and do the chords and map that out and see what that's gonna be. For James Black, you could tell that he wrote the melodies a lot of time first to his songs.

NS: Yeah, well, what's on your mind for what we can do next here?

AR: I think we're gonna do another tune, it's a very beautiful tune by James Black. This one's entitled "Pretty One."

NS: Alright.


To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 5 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at americanroutes.org.