New York Spotlight

Reuben Rogers ’94
Reuben Rogers ’94
Jimmy Katz

Reuben Rogers ’94, has been among the most sought-after upright bassists of the past decade. He has recorded and toured with legendary artists and is a regular fixture with jazz saxophonist Joshua Redman. He began playing with the Redman quartet, also featuring pianist Aaron Goldberg, and drummer Gregory Hutchinson, in 1998. Now pared down to a trio comprising Redman, Rogers, and Hutchinson, the group garnered attention with its 2014 recording, Trios Live on Nonesuch Records.

Recently, Rogers had a few days to relax in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, which is where it all began for him. He taught clinics and spent time with the teacher who planted the seed of music. “Georgia Francis, my band teacher,” Rogers says, “saw the potential in me and always pushed for her students. She saw I was serious and helped me get a small grant from an arts council to help me buy my first upright bass while I was at Berklee. I go back to the school and present clinics now; I owe her a lot and I tell her that every time I see her.”

Rogers remembers a last-minute decision to attend a Berklee high-school jazz competition. “We didn’t actually compete in the competition, but many of us had the chance to audition for scholarships. I won a scholarship to the Five-Week Summer Performance Program for the following summer and sealed the deal once I had that experience.” Rogers then received a full scholarship to attend Berklee. He still remembers his first experience. “The first day on campus, I walked into the lobby looking for my room and someone approached me, asked if that was a bass on my back,” he recalls. “When I answered yes he asked me if I was interested in playing a session, I said yes. I tell students, ‘Play as much as possible while you’re here.’”

Rogers self-recorded his first album, The Things I Am in 2006. “I was approached by a few labels, but they were too controlling during the creative process,” he says. “I saved my money and funded it myself. I wanted it to be a labor of love; it wasn’t about selling records. I listen to it now and cringe; but that’s me being hard on myself. It was fun doing it with the crew I’d been touring with for many years: Josh, Greg, Nicholas Payton, and Rob Blake.” Reuben began recording projects after graduation with fellow Berklee alumni Donald Harrison ’81, and classmates, Anthony Wonsey ’94, and Teodross Avery ’95.

He credits much of his success to fostering and maintaining relationships. “Don’t take the person you’re sitting next to for granted. that might be the [person] you’re going to be playing with for the next 15 years,” he says. “I always feel that the best music we’ve grown to love—especially instrumental music—is from people that have spent a considerable amount of time together.”

Reuben, Joshua Redman, and Aaron Goldberg all met at a Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition almost 20 years ago. Rogers played with jazz great Marcus Roberts and Redman played with Goldberg. A few years later, they got together at a jam session at Goldberg’s house in Brooklyn. Soon after, Redman was putting together a new band, and he called Rogers.

“We spent two and a-half years touring,” Rogers says. “It was good to break bread, make music, and grow in the process.” Rogers emphasizes relationships and professionalism, “From the time I started touring in 1995, I can trace connections to everything I’ve done back to someone from those early years.” Reuben’s hard work and network have helped him to get where he is today. “I didn’t aspire to be a jazz bassist for hire, I just wanted to play music, and now that has become my life. I’ve been kind of branded and people see me in that light—which is cool.”