Sean Jones: Trumpeter with a Purpose
Jones first appearance on Mack Avenue, with the Gerald Wilson unit, also opened his eyes. "I'll never forget waking into that studio. The producer, Stix Hooper, he didn't tell me who was going to be there. He just gave me some information. So I walked into the room and there was all these jazz legends [among them, trumpeters Clark Terry, Jon Faddis, Jimmy Owens and Eddie Henderson, and saxophonists Jimmy Heath, Frank Wess and Jerry Dodgion]. I asked myself, "˜Man, should I be here?'" he says with a laugh. "I was embarrassed to be in the room. But I just sat down and did the best that I could. It was a great experience."
Jones is aware of the tradition, as exemplified by the other trumpeters in the room that day. He plans on carrying on in the same fashion.
"When I was growing up, I was pretty much in a gospel church all day. Every day. So I'm very much influenced by gospel music. In fifth grade, that's when I began listening to Miles Davis and other jazz artists. I was very much in awe of the tradition of the music. Clifford Brown, Fats Navarro. Freddie Hubbard. All those guys. I began to collect as many records as possible and just learn all of their solos.
"I really admire the history of the instrument. I try to always give respect to that whatever I play and whatever I write. I try to incorporate some kind of history. Then there are those people that are more daring. They go into hip-hop aspects and R&B and they draw influences from that. So that's kind of cool too. I like it all, unless it's just out there and it's not really saying anything. But if there's some kind of message in the music, I'm for it," he says.
The main influences on his playing are Clifford Brown, Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw, he says. And Miles stands in the pantheon "for his adaptivity. He was able to adapt himself to any style in any era. That was amazing. He was very open-minded. He also had that ability as a leader. I hope to one day be able to lead a band that way." But there are classical influences as well.
"When I got to high school there was a trumpet teacher by the name of Esotto Pellegrini, a great classical trumpet player from Ohio. He's originally from Sicily. He taught me a lot of classical music and had me learning all these crazy solos that I never thought would come in handy until now. I really got my technique together. So I actually got my undergrad degree in classical trumpet. I started a doctorate this past year."
After high school, Jones went to Youngstown State University and studied trumpet. "I took jazz upon myself, but I wanted to be able to play the trumpet better. I really worked on playing the trumpet itself. From that point, I graduated there and went on a cruise ship. It's funny. The company went bankrupt while I was out there. I'm out there in the Bahamas on this boat. No air conditioning. I said, "˜What am I doing out here? I don't want to be out here.' I really tried to focus on what I wanted to do."
What he did was return home and start teaching at an elementary school, an experience, he boldly states, "that changed my life."
"I saw little kids, and they didn't really know what a trumpet was or what a tuba was. They asked a lot of questions. Not only that, but they had so many life experiences. It just really touched me. And I decided: OK. I have this gift of music, the universal language. I want to be able to portray what's hurting these kids. Not only these kids, but people in general. So I began to vow that I would dedicate my life to the expression of humanity, through music. Not to sit down and write what I think is a hip song, or something that's complex for the sake of being complex or something like a project. I don't write that way and I don't play for that reason. I believe that it's our duty to play for our fellow man, to play their story. I think all of the great musicians who came before me captured that. John Coltrane. Pops, Louis Armstrong. All of those people. They were able to capture the feelings and expression and emotion of mankind. I believe that's why they were so great. Not only because they could play "" they could definitely play their axes "" and they knew music forward and backward, but they had a reason for playing. That's what I want to do."
Quite a mature statement from a musician in an era when so much of what comes out of studios is motivated by dollar signs.
That's the path Jones put himself on, teaching by day and playing gigs in Cleveland with his own small group and the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, among other gigs. It was contact from a friend, another trumpeter, that eventually pushed Jones toward the Big Apple.