By Je’Don Holloway Talley
For The Birmingham Times
Orchestra Noir is back! Performing their latest set ‘Y2K meets 90’s Vibes’, the orchestra will play at the historic Alabama Theater on Friday, February 17, at 8 p.m.
Returning to Birmingham was a must, said Maestro Jason Ikeem Rodgers, Orchestra Noir’s Founder/CEO/Music Director, who made his Magic City debut newly a year ago at the Lyric Theatre before a full house.
“I felt love in Birmingham, I felt like there was really a connection, there was a vibe here. Birmingham is this beautiful metropolitan city, where people are in their own bag [professions and making money] and I loved feeling that energy from the people, and I said, ‘we gotta go back to Birmingham and build this relationship because [the show] was meaningful to the people, but it was also meaningful for the orchestra.’”
Asked what songs/artists fans can expect at the show Rodgers played coy, “You know I don’t tell the songs,” he said.
“I like to give that experience of when you’re driving on the highway and you’ve had that long day at work and you put on the radio and you don’t know what’s gonna come next, but then your song drops you have this satisfaction like ‘oooh, this is my joint’, and it just brightens up your day. And we’re really unique in that way, we just tell you the era [Y2k & R&B]. But, what might they hear?,” Rodgers said, throwing the question to his accompanying ensemble members present for the interview
His orchestra chimed in one by one, “They might hear some ‘Tyrese’, ‘Alicia Keys’, ‘Boy II Men’, ‘En Vogue’, ‘112…’”
“[Fans] will see a little choreography, and a little dancing,” the Maestro said. “…I’m trying to show how the 90s and 2000s bridge together in harmony.”
He continued, “We just started this new run, Y2K meets 90s Vibes. We did the kick-off in Atlanta and people loved the show… [for the new show] I thought it would be appropriate to combine the 90s and Y2k era to see how Black music has grown in the genre of hip-hop and R&B and we’re bringing that to as many cities as we can,” the Atlanta resident said.
Following the show in Birmingham last spring, Rodgers, 40, said his orchestra saw some doors open.
”Red Bull [energy drink] hit us up and said we want y’all to bring your full symphony into Atlanta Symphony Hall with [rapper, and record executive] Rick Ross, [which took place in November of 2022], and we did this huge show with this huge budget and all these moving parts… I actually wrote all the string parts to the Rick Ross music, and Laj [Smith II, assistant music director, and lead saxophonist] wrote for the winds and the brass and we combined all the parts together and we put it with Rick Ross and [he] really [enjoyed the on-stage collab],” Rodgers said.
“It was a huge undertaking, and Rolling Stone wrote about Rick Ross and the all-Black symphony, and so did Essence, Vibe, BET, it really helped catapult the name and it took tremendous work,” Rodgers reflected. “I’m glad everybody got to see hip-hop in this way with the orchestra and seeing it can go in so many different musical medians; it was a very proud moment for Black music.”
Members of the orchestra said they are also looking forward to the Birmingham return.
“It was a very reciprocal energy between us and the people” last March, said trumpet player, Tiffany Goode, an Atlanta resident and Richmond, VA native. Larry “Laj” Smith II, assistant musical director and lead saxophonist, said, “When we were on the Birmingham stage, it was different, it was electrifying.”
It was especially meaningful for Tyrone ‘OG’ Bowie, the Birmingham native, orchestra’s band coordinator, and lead keyboardist. “A lot of people see what I do, but don’t get a chance to experience it,” Bowie said. “For me to be able to come home and a lot of family and friends can see me on stage for the first time, it was the experience of a lifetime,” said the East Lake native.
Bowie’s knowledge of the Magic City came in handy when the group played in Birmingham a year ago. “There was this one song that [Bowie] told us that we had to do (“Last Two Dollars”, by Johnnie Taylor), and we were like, ‘are you sure, I’ve never heard this song…’ and [Bowie] was like, ‘just trust me’, and lo and behold when we did that song [the audience went wild],” Smith recalled.
Other members of the orchestra at the interview included Jacob Gray, lead guitarist and Justin Rawlings, violinist, finance and operations manager.
“That’s what was beautiful about visiting the city and experiencing the culture, and everybody accepting us,” Rodgers said. “We got a chance to not only engage [the city] musically, we also got to engage offstage too. We got to touch the people, meet the people and that’s why we had to come back.”
Tickets to the February 17 show at the Alabama Theater can be purchased at Ticketmaster.com. Follow Orchestra Noir on social @orchestranoir.