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Backstage With Elias: Rod Bonner III

This is the third series of a periodic feature showcasing local musicians who are rising, and may be headed for bigger and better things. They perform locally on a regular basis in Buffalo, and are some of our best cultural assets. These are our “must see” musicians… catch them while you can. – Elías Damián Benavídes

Rod Bonner III

Electrifying. That is what I thought the first time I saw Rod Bonner play. He was 14 at the time, and already stealing the show. I teched a show locally for international Jazz great, Alex Bugnon. He had a young kid come up and play a couple of tunes on the piano. Simply, electrifying.

Bonner-Buffalo-NY-4Today, Rod is a recent graduate of Berklee College of Music, completing a degree in Music Business. But his story begins long before college ever did…

Music started at 3 years old for Rod, with drums at church. The pastors and others recognized early on, he should be going on to advanced programs. He was offered Rhythm programs and other workshops which all contributed to the groundwork. Speaking of groundwork, he then tells me, “at 4, my mom put me on the piano, and I didn’t like it. It wasn’t my thing.” I’m guessing he stuck with it…

“I remember a Sunday, when the organist went missing”, he says. Who knows what happened to the organist, but he continues, “I sat in, and stayed for 3 to 4 years as the organist”. He went on to become the youngest minister of music for his church in New York State at the age of 15. At 16, local sax great Will Holton gave him his first big opportunity, performing with American Idol contestant Ruben Studdard, downtown. Doors were opening.

Bonner-Buffalo-NY-3While Rod attended City Honors School, he was a part of the music program at the school. That landed him as the drummer for the gospel choir, headed by Linda Appleby. In 2009, while still in high school, he also started touring with smooth jazz saxophonist Najee on an interim basis.

The Najee tours took Rod and the band all around the country and to different countries, including Miami, St. Thomas, Bermuda, Denver, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, etc. Something special about performing in some of the country’s great cities, and beyond, that’s how he felt. Some of the highlights include Long Beach Jazz Festival, Miami Gardens Jazz Festival, Capital Jazz Festival, and Jamaican Jazz Festival. All offering something different, but shining in its own way, and audiences in the thousands.

Bonner-Buffalo-NY-1After 2 years, Najee hired Rod permanently as the band’s music director. He also attended college at the same time in Boston, Ma. That is a lot of miles logged for a young man in a short amount of time, but the experience has created a solid foundation for a promising musical future.

Rod continues to perform with Najee, and also has his own original projects in the works. His latest project, nine0seven Rod describes as “R&B with a ‘90s feel but with today’s urban interpretation”. He recently took the work to Los Angeles to meet with industry people about the new work. Maybe more doors opening.

I spoke to his dad years ago while the kids were jamming on the musical instruments at a church sanctuary. Mr. Bonner told me then, “it’s a Saturday night, and these kids, instead of hanging out on the streets getting into trouble, they’re in here making music. They do this all the time.” Such pride beamed from mom and dad every time I had the opportunity to see them.

Rod’s influences include Alex Bugnon, and the late George Duke. They cater to the piano sound. The New Jack Swing Era, most notably Teddy Riley was also influential.

So many opportunities are ahead of him, and Rod, armed with his keyboards, musical knowledge, touring experience, and that Buffalo work ethic is determined to reach new musical heights. Keep electrifying new audiences, young man…


You can see Rod perform September 2 at DBGB with Verse, and September 20 with The Trinity, also at DBGB.



Also see backstage with zuri appleby, Savannah King


Written by Buffalo Rising

Buffalo Rising

Sometimes the authors at Buffalo Rising work on collaborative efforts in order to cover various events and stories. These posts can not be attributed to one single author, as it is a combined effort. Often times a formation of a post gets started by one writer and passed along to one or more writers before completion. At times there are author attributions at the end of one of these posts. Other times, “Buffalo Rising” is simply offered up as the creator of the article. In either case, the writing is original to Buffalo Rising.

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