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Saxophonist Ronell Regis Makes Things Happen With ‘Grenada To The World’

Ronell Regis

Granada is a Caribbean nation 100 miles off the coast of Venezuela with a population about that of Dayton’s. If Americans have heard of Grenada at all it’s probably in connection with Ronald Reagan’s Cold War saber-rattling invasion of the island in 1983.

That might change Sunday when Cleveland saxophonist Ronell Regis presents a world premiere performance of “Grenada to the World: The Suite” at Cleveland’s Bop Stop.

Regis has deep roots in the island and its music. “My dad is a musician. My grandparents and my great grandparents, they were all great musicians,” Regis says on a video call earlier this month. “This music is inspired by different events and my parents’ upbringing, starting from 1974. My main purpose is to tell the story in many different ways through my parents’ and through Grenada’s history.”

Some sections of the six-part work are drawn from historical events, such as “1974, The Celebration,” which honors the nation’s independence from Great Britain. Others celebrate cultural touchstones, such as the reggae- and soca-flavored “Jab Jab,” a French Creole word for the demonic figure of the island’s Carnival tradition. The most personal of the suite’s compositions might be “We Shall Tread.” The title was taken from the hymn “When We All Get To Heaven,” and sets to music, Regis says, “my belief in how we will meet up with the people that we lost along the way.” “Scattered, The Trilogy,” is a tribute to the West Indian diaspora in North America, and, Regis says, “an ode to the culture that is being continued through my generation and through the generations before me of people who leave their respective islands and settle in another place.”

For Regis, that place was Brooklyn, where he was born and lived until age three. His Grenadian-born parents moved to Atlanta where Ronnell started playing the saxophone at 12. “I went to a performing arts high school in Atlanta, and I started playing jazz when I was 16,” he says.

Though his original plans aimed toward a career in corporate finance or as a pediatrician, Regis couldn’t escape the call of music. “I didn’t make my mind up to major in music until my last my last semester of senior year. I was with our college and career advisor at my high school, and it just hit me. I had to find the school that was taking auditions later in the year past the usual deadline. And man, thank God Kent State had auditions going into maybe July or August,” he says.

Regis was offered a full scholarship, but what clinched the deal was a video of a faculty recital.  “I wasn’t too knowledgeable of the Cleveland/Akron scene. But I looked at the video and I see Chris Coles, Bobby Selvaggio, Aidan Plank, Dustin May–and they sound so good! I’m like, wow, this is beautiful. Let me just see how it goes,” he says. “To this day it is the best decision that I’ve made because I met lifelong friends here.”

Some of them are in his band.  Guitarist Jonah Ferguson is a classmate from Kent. Drummer Gabe Jones,“ Regis says, “pushes me every time and it’s just beautiful.” The saxophonist met bassist Jordan McBride through an Akron jam session run by Theron Brown. “He has a tone and he fits so well with so many bands,” Regis says, adding,  “The bass is my favorite instrument personally.” Regis also met pianist Josh Stone at those jam sessions. “When I first heard him play, he took my soul, man.  He was just amazing and then from that day, I was like, yeah, I have to play with this brother more.”

Regis graduated from Kent State just last spring. “It’s all moving kind of fast for me,” he concedes. “But I’m so grateful. I can’t put into words how grateful I am for that faculty and meeting people here that influenced me [to] continue to get better and better and ingrain myself in the scene as a new guy from the South, trying to make things happen.

Ronell Regis Presents Grenada to the World: The Suite Sunday, Feb. 26, 7 p.m. at Bop Stop, 2920 Detroit Ave, Cleveland. $20, available here.

Trading Fours

There’s never a bad time to get out and commune in the same room with creative musicians. Below are four musical events of interest in the coming week that you might want to check out.

Paul Francis Quartet “Interpretations Of The Beatles”
Wed., Feb. 22, 7 p.m.
Bop Stop, 2920 Detroit Ave, Cleveland (tickets)

One of the most intriguing and enjoyable jazz releases of the last month finds pianist Brad Mehldau playing solo-piano arrangements of Beatles songs in concert in Paris. Closer to home, drummer Paul Francis has been thinking along the same lines. On Wednesday, he’ll convene his own Fab Four of Chris Bacas on reeds, guitarist Andrew Hartman and Michael O’Brien on bass. Close your eyes and you might imagine Hingetown to be Merseyside.

Third Law Collective
Thu., Feb. 23, 7 p.m.
Bop Stop, 2920 Detroit Ave, Cleveland (tickets)

One of the most inspiring parts of my interview with Ronell Regis was his excitement about the value that the NEO scene places on writing. Nothing exemplifies this hopeful trend more than the monthly series of concerts by the Third Law Collective dedicated to presenting work written by improvising musicians in the Black American tradition. The second of these is a promise of the staying power of the concept. It’s also a chance to hear some of the area’s best players energized by the challenge of the new.

Ernie Krivda Fat Tuesday Big Band
Fri., Feb. 24, 8 p.m.
Bop Stop, 2920 Detroit Ave, Cleveland (tickets)

True, this gig arrives a couple days after Fat Tuesday. So what? Saxophonist Ernie Krivda is a master of playing behind the beat, and for those who couldn’t make it to Carnival (or who need to toe tap, finger pop or dance away those paczki), the Old Master’s big band will spark the spirit. Vocalists Evelyn Wright and Erin Keckan will be along to make sure that the good times roll on.

Brite Winter
Sat., Feb. 24,
West Bank Of The Flats, 2014 Sycamore, Cleveland (tickets)

It’s a long way from the banks of the Cuyahoga to the shores of Lake Ponchartrain, but revelers who need to do a bit of outdoor booty shaking this time of year can look to Brite Winter. The lineup leans toward rock, blues and indie branches of the great tree of American music, but jazz fans can get a taste with the appearance of Da Land Brass Band at 4:20 p.m. (coincidence?) and  Free Black! the duo of MC Floco Torres and versatile drummer Holbrook Riles III.

Information for this section came from Jim Szabo’s essential, weekly Northeast Ohio jazz calendar , NEO’s most complete list of jazz and jazz-adjacent events.


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