Thomas Rome has been managing and promoting talent, producing films, recordings, and concerts, and practicing entertainment and copyright law in New York City since 1983, with significant international media experience in a panoply of institutional and entrepreneurial settings.
His early work in theater included the off-Broadway launch of Angela Bassett's career in her first professional role - the title role in Jean Anouilh's adaptation of Sophocles's tragedy "Antigone," directed by Ailie Alexander and her City College of New York classmate Richard Schiff for their Manhattan Repertory Company. Schiff would later win an Emmy as curmudgeonly White House communications director Toby Ziegler in NBC Television's popular series "The West Wing," and star alongside Sean Penn and Michelle Pfeiffer in "I Am Sam," among his countless other Hollywood roles.
Rome's beginnings in the music business were in jazz. In collaboration with independent British concert impresario Wilf Walker – a founder of London’s Notting Hill Carnival and a catalyst of the punk/reggae synergies in 1980s West London – Rome’s first venture was as manager of then exiled Cape Town-born pianist and composer Abdullah Ibrahim (also known as Dollar Brand) and singer Sathima Bea Benjamin (1936-2013), Ibrahim’s wife, both major figures in the history of jazz in South Africa. In 1985, in late-night talks in their apartment in New York’s Chelsea Hotel, the Ibrahims persuaded a young Rome to leave his position with one of the city’s largest law firms, Proskauer Rose, to devote himself to the music full-time. (Three decades later, Abdullah Ibrahim will be honored in 2019 as a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master, the highest honor given by the United States to jazz artists.)
While remaining active in jazz, from 1988 through 2010 Rome became at the same time a fixture on an ever evolving "world music" scene, both in New York and around the globe. As a personal manager, record producer, and concert promoter, he has been a catalyst in the international careers of, among others, Senegal's Youssou N’Dour, Pakistan's master of qawwali (Muslim devotional) singing Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (1948-1997), and Morocco’s Gnawa modernist Hassan Hakmoun.
Rahat Fateh Ali Khan (b. 1974), Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's nephew and protégé, and another Rome client, has assumed his uncle's mantle as the world's most famous qawwali master, with wide popularity in South Asia and elsewhere.
While N’Dour was transforming himself, with Rome’s support, from local star in Senegal to Grammy winner, “Africa's Artist of the Century” (so chosen at the 20th century's close by the editors of "Folk Roots," the influential British magazine), and internationally known figure not only in music but in public health advocacy and politics, Rome also collaborated with such leading rock musicians as Joe Henry, Daniel Lanois, Peter Gabriel, Van Morrison, and Patti Smith, with nuevo flamenco supergroup The Gipsy Kings, and with Irish songwriter and performer Pierce Turner who had relocated to New York.
In 1991, Rome invited American filmmaker Spike Lee to Dakar, Senegal to witness N’Dour’s extraordinary popularity in the country, and the visit resulted in a recording contract for N’Dour with Lee’s nascent 40 Acres and a Mule Musicworks label, distributed by Sony Music, and a broadening of N’Dour’s activities in the United States. In 2000, Rome secured a new recording contract for N’Dour with Nonesuch Records of the Warner Music Group, followed by a contract for US tour representation with the Gloucester, Massachusetts-based International Music Network.
From 1999 through 2005 N’Dour and Rome produced a unique event on New York’s musical calendar, The Great African Ball, first at the Hammerstein Ballroom, later at Roseland. N’Dour has since replicated the feat in Paris, in seven sold-out editions of the Ball, known in France and Senegal simply as "Le Grand Bal," at the 20,300-capacity Palais Omnisports–Paris Bercy (currently known as the AccorHotels Arena).
In ceremonies in New York on October 27, 2005, Rome was inducted into the Afropop Hall of Fame alongside Youssou N’Dour. In internationally televised ceremonies in Paris on November 10, 2018 including a performance by N'Dour, Rome received a prestigious African Leadership Award for his years of professional activity in the arts in Africa.
In 2007, critic Robert Christgau said on NPR's "All Songs Considered" that he believed Youssou N'Dour's band to be the best live band in the world.
Rome collaborated with Academy Award-winning film director Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi in the making of her 2008 profile of N'Dour entitled "Youssou N'Dour: I Bring What I Love."
Since 2010, Rome’s artistic interests as a producer have returned primarily to jazz. He is known for guiding the rise to prominence of American tenor saxophonist Jovan Alexandre, among others, and is currently curating a series of new and archival South African jazz recordings.
Though Rome’s connection to South African jazz dates to his years with Abdullah Ibrahim and Sathima Bea Benjamin, and even before, it has been particularly marked in latter years by partnerships with two other influential South African jazz artists – chromatic harmonica master, pianist, and producer Adam Glasser and the late saxophonist Zim Ngqawana (1959-2010). Rome’s tutelege of South African actress and singer Nonhlanhla Kheswa, who has gained international notoriety as a charismatic player in Peter Brook’s Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord company in Paris, is also noteworthy, as are his collaborations with drummer Kesivan Naidoo, trumpeter Feya Faku, saxophonists McCoy Mrubata and Rus Nerwich, and a whole other adventurous wave of new South African jazz talent.
Rome serves as lawyer and advisor for the family and estate of Jackie McLean (1931-2006), the famed alto saxophonist who left his native New York City in 1968 to found, with his wife Dollie McLean, the Artists Collective, a vital teaching and performance space in the heart of Hartford’s African-American North End. By 1979, McLean had established the African-American Music Program at the University of Hartford’s Hartt School (its conservatory for music, dance, and theater), which is now known as the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz.
Rome has been a voting member of The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS or The Recording Academy) since 1997, and of The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) since 1996.
Rome was a founding delegate to the inaugural WOMEX (World Music Expo) at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin in 1994. He has continued to attend the annual WOMEX congress, now Europe's most important gathering of professionals in "world music."
Rome is also a trustee of The David Lewiston Archive, an organization dedicated to the preservation of sacred and traditional musics of the world, serving alongside Cynthia Bridgman Josayma and Rome's longtime colleague Brian Cullman, a recording artist, record producer, and two-time winner of ASCAP’s Deems Taylor Award for excellence in writing about music.
Rome is a professional basketball player agent certified by both the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) and the International Basketball Federation (FIBA). His former law partner, Max Siegel, is a major figure in the sports business, and currently serves as the CEO of USA Track & Field.
Another former law partner of Rome's, Michael Chernuchin, has been a lead writer and executive producer of the Dick Wolf television franchise "Law and Order" throughout the show's history.
The first-born child of Lewis and Ann (Nicolle) Rome, Thomas Rome was raised in the racially integrated and ethnically diverse Hartford, Connecticut suburb of Bloomfield, where he attended Bloomfield Public Schools from 1961-1969. His parents are of different ethnic backgrounds and religious traditions, his father of Lithuanian Jewish extraction (from a famous family of printers and publishers in Vilna) and his mother a Roman Catholic of Irish, German, French, and English ancestry. Nonetheless, in an era of low tolerance for intermarriage, they were high school sweethearts and attended Bloomfield High School together (1946-1950), then the University of Connecticut (1950-1954). Lewis Rome (1933-2015) became a prominent lawyer, elected official (mayor of Bloomfield and Connecticut state senator and legislative leader), candidate for governor of Connecticut, and university official (longtime chairman of the University of Connecticut’s board of trustees). Ann Rome is a former high school home economics teacher, house mother for institutionalized children at Hartford’s Village for Families and Children, and child development and early education specialist.
Rome completed secondary school at The Loomis Chaffee School in neighboring Windsor, Connecticut as a day (commuting) student. He was at Loomis Chaffee at the same time as Steven Strogatz, currently Schurman Professor of Applied Mathematics at Cornell University, earlier a winner of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s highest teaching prize, and a renowned popularizer of mathematics for the general public through National Public Radio, The New York Times, and several books. "The Calculus of Friendship" (2009) is a moving record of Strogatz's lifelong correspondence with Donald Joffray, who taught mathematics to both Strogatz and Rome at Loomis Chaffee.
Following graduation from Loomis Chaffee in 1974, Rome attended Yale University, residing in Jonathan Edwards College. He graduated from Yale in 1978 with a B.A. cum laude, majoring in history. His concentration was in 19th and 20th century European and American social and intellectual history. His departmental senior thesis advisor was Richard Fox, and his thesis examined the political thought of John Dewey, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Randolph Bourne. Rome also studied South African history at Yale with Leonard Thompson, founding director of the Yale Southern African Research Program, and South African politics and society with political scientist Stan Greenberg. From a basement office in New Haven, Greenberg later founded a leading political research and strategic consulting firm, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, specializing in political polling and campaign strategy, and helping political candidates, parties, and advocacy groups succeed across the United States and around the globe, including Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress in the historic 1994 election that helped end apartheid, and the 1992 presidential campaign of Bill Clinton. He studied with the distinguished Marxist cultural critic Fredric Jameson, with Jean Gaudon, and with the poet Yves Bonnefoy (1923-2016), all in Yale’s French Department, and also with historians John Merriman and Peter Gay (1923-2015). In the Philosophy Department, he was introduced to the writings of Walter Benjamin and the Frankfurt School theorists by Seyla Benhabib, wrote about the philosophical situation of surrealism for Andrezj Rapaczynski, and studied phenomenology with Maurice Natanson, among other encounters. Rome was also greatly influenced at Yale by the lectures of the popular art history professors Robert Farris Thompson, chronicler of the continuities between African culture and the various cultural forms of the African diaspora in the New World, and Vincent Scully, the revered architecture historian (1920-2017).
Rome earned his J.D. degree in 1982 from The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where one of his law school classmates and friends was fifth-generation Nebraskan Michael Rips, distinguished appellate and trial lawyer, art collector, and also the author of two acclaimed memoirs – “Pasquale’s Nose: Idle Days in an Italian Town” (2001) and “The Face of a Naked Lady: an Omaha Family Mystery” (2005).
© 2018 Young Vilna (except photographic reproduction of the painting "Jackie McLean on Mars" © 2016 Andrés Chaparro) - all rights reserved.