Dion Parson

By Mary Houlihan

Dion Parson is proof that you can go home again, both literally and musically. The jazz drummer splits his time between New York City where he has lived for the past 25 years and the Caribbean island of St. Thomas where he grew up and where he is involved in music education. But he doesn’t stop there in his pursuit of home and the music he grew up with in his corner of the Virgin Islands.

In 1998, Parson and Ron Blake, another Virgin Islander, formed the 21st Century Band, an ensemble that promotes their cultural heritage and melds the many styles of Afro-Caribbean music with jazz. When you think of Caribbean jazz, it’s usually Latin jazz, Parson says. But to create the band’s new sound they looked to the music from their Caribbean roots — calypso, soca, quelbe, reggae and mento.

“We decided to pay homage to Caribbean music through the vehicle of improvisation,” Parson says. “We take all these basic Caribbean rhythms and implement jazz harmonies on them.”

Dion Parson and 21st Century Band makes its Chicago debut as part of the University of Chicago Presents Jazz at the Logan Series, a program that brings world-renowned jazz artists to Chicago’s South Side.

Band members, in addition to Parson on drums (he’s also the band leader), are Ron Blake (saxophone), Rashawn Ross (trumpet), Reuben Rogers (bass), Carlton Holes (piano), Victor Provost (steel pan) and Alioune Faye (percussion/sabar drums).

The 21st Century Band began as a sort of experiment as its seasoned members already had busy careers. Through years of “a gig here and a gig there,” word began to grow and Parson and Blake realized they had created something unique.

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