“I feel like we need to reintroduce the band in a way,” says drummer Adonis Rose, who has been named as the artistic director of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (NOJO). “Everybody’s back—all of our core members—so it’s the same configuration,” Rose adds, mentioning musicians like pianist Victor Atkins, saxophonist Ed Petersen, trumpeter Leon “Kid Chocolate” Brown and others.
The Grammy-winning ensemble, which was founded in 2002 by trumpeter Irvin Mayfield, has been on hiatus since presenting its last show in May 2016. Following restructuring, the nonprofit organization performed again under its new leader in October at the New Orleans Jazz Market.
“I really missed playing with NOJO,” says Rose, a New Orleans native who moved to Fort Worth, Texas after Katrina. During his 10 years there, the drummer taught at the University of Texas and continued to travel back to his hometown to play with the orchestra. He returned to the Crescent City in December 2015. “That was my chance to be connected to home while I was gone,” he continues. “NOJO was really on a roll and we had a lot of momentum working with Dee Dee [vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater]. We went all over the world—we went from 100 to zero.”
What Rose really missed during the period that NOJO was idle were his fellow musicians. “The thing I love most about the band is being able to see the cats—it’s like a family. I love the music too. There’s no other band in the world like this one.”
Rose, 42, comes highly qualified for the artistic director’s position. For one, he has been a member of NOJO since its inception and remembers playing its first gig at Tipitina’s. He’s also performed in several other big bands, including an early edition of Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and vocalist/pianist Harry Connick Jr.’s large ensemble. While in Texas, Rose established the nonprofit Fort Worth Jazz Orchestra, which he based conceptually on his experience with NOJO.
As he did for that ensemble, Rose will hire another, yet to be named drummer to join NOJO so he will have the flexibility of either playing or conducting. As artistic director, he’s responsible for anything “music related” like running rehearsals and composing new material. “I write but I don’t arrange for big bands,” Rose explains. “It’s a skill set. Guys like Ed and Victor, they can do a chart in like two days. So I leave it to them.”
Rose has had drumsticks in his hands since he was four years old, and to this day they’re usually close by. Musical skills, particularly behind a drum set, run in his family. His father is drummer Vernon Severin, who is perhaps best recognized with the Treme Brass Band, and his grandfather, Wilfred “Crip” Severin, also made a mark at the drums. Noted bassist Chris Severin is his uncle and his grandmother was a member of the musical Pichon family.
Rose attended Warren Easton High School while also a student at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA). He was there at the same time as trumpeter Nicholas Payton, with whom he would later perform and record. “At one point he was playing drums better than I was,” Rose admits. “He was teaching me all the things that I needed to know when I was at NOCCA.”
Payton once remembered when Rose came to NOCCA with sticks so large and thick that the trumpeter described them as “turkey” drumsticks.
“From the marching band, that’s why,” Rose explains with a laugh, adding that he abandoned the big sticks except to warm up with on practice pads. “I wouldn’t have drums if I used the sticks I used to use back then.”
Rose has also minimized his habit of tapping on everything in sight and now restricts that action to a drum pad. “Yeah, I never stop but I’m more conscious of furniture at this point,” he offers, again with a chuckle.
A graduate of the Berklee School of Music and leader of his own combos, Rose has been touring with a variety of musicians for 25 years. He first hit the road at 17 with trumpeter Terence Blanchard.
“Terence was my introduction to being a touring musician,” Rose adds. “Everything I learned about being on the road, being consistent with my playing, playing on a high level every night and being pushed to be my best, I learned from him.” On a regular basis, Rose presently tours with artists including vocalists Bridgewater and Nnenna Freelon, trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis and pianist Ellis Marsalis.
Ellis now holds a position on NOJO’s artistic development committee along with Bridgewater and Cassie Worley. Sarah Bell has been named NOJO’s president and CEO.
“He’s very active,” Rose says of Marsalis. “I call him and bug him all of the time. I bug him about everything—what to play, educational ideas, programming for performances, writing ideas… He just has so much information.”
Getting up to speed, Adonis Rose and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra look forward to presenting a holiday performance in early December and offering full spring and fall concert seasons. Rose, as well as fans and supporters, are ready to see NOJO go from zero back to 100 again.