Romarna Campbell: Honours Roll

Romarna Campbell may not yet be a household name but that’s imminent. This 21 year old from Birmingham, now based in Boston MA where she attends the prestigious Berklee College of Music is turning heads wherever she goes. She is a rare breed - A Black British Female Jazz Drummer, but first and foremost a formidable musician.
Mar 2018


Romarna’s move to Berklee was spurred on by her desire to study under her idol and one of her "favourite drummers ever", the world renowned Terri Lyne Carrington.

“She [Terri Lyne Carrington] is an absolute idol to me.  I remember when I first came across her playing and being like wow, there’s someone similar to me out there.  Not that we’re the same or anything like that [Laughs].  It’s that connection being able to know that I can do this, and seeing all the cool people she’s played with. She’s such an amazing drummer so I went to the school for her”.

I went to music college here [UK] too.  One of the things I always struggled with was the lack of cohesion between me and my teachers

Berklee is a stark contrast to her college days in the UK.

“I went to music college here [UK] too.  One of the things I always struggled with was the lack of cohesion between me and my teachers and that sometimes was problematic, trying to understand each other. Things could get lost in translation which was a shame, but nobody’s fault.”

They say you are judged by the company you keep. In this regard we should be holding this young lady in the highest esteem because she is in stella company. When we met Romarna, she was sharing the stage with British Jazz legend Courtney Pine. Indeed she had been flown in from Boston to be part of the Jazz Directors Series led by Pine, on his request. You would have been forgiven for questioning your vision as the petite drummer walked across the stage to take command of the drum kit. As the night progressed, there was no holding back from Pine or Romarna as the set went from swing to drum and bass, reggae and afro-cuban rhythms.

“It’s nice to play such a varied set because its not necessarily something that’s happening a lot.  So, it’s kinda cool because I feel like the audience don’t really expect it… we do everything from like a super burning fast swing to like super heavy like steppers thing and got some funk in there, there’s a lot going on. It’s cool, super cool”

Credit: Gladstone Minzie

Pine later revealed to the audience how Romarna had changed one of his compositions from Funk to Drum N Bass - how had she pulled that off? A question we put to her.

“Sometimes I think I just come in with these random ideas and I think that was a mix of jet lag and coffee and I was like yeah lets play drum n bass.  I was also listening to General Levy in my break.  I was like yeah drum n bass.  Courtney was like cool lets do it which I’m not sure if I regret that or not yet but we’ll find out by the end of the week.”

This was the first of four dates with the band where she was also joined by Shirley Tetteh (Guitar), Theon Cross (Tuba), Nathan Cross (Trombone), Chelsea Carmichael (Saxophone), David Austin Grey (Piano/keyboards) and Alex Davies (Double bass) -  the exemplar of young British jazz talent.

Back in Boston when Romarna is not being put through her paces at Berklee, she hangs out at the local [jazz] clubs.

“There are so many international students there which is super cool, everyone is coming from a different place. You get a wide range of people which I really enjoy, it has opened me up into so many new things and discoveries.  Yeah I play a lot with the students and go to Wally's Cafe. Just did a gid at Skully’s [Jazz Club] that was really great.”

She is due back in the UK over the summer and has promised to keep us all posted on her social media. JS will definately be watching.