Leroy Jones: A New Orleans State of Mind
“ Jazz is a language; first comes the hearing, then comes the speaking. ”
While New Orleans may not be as popular as some of her sisters to the North, her personality and charm are second to none. She is as diversified as the people who live within her boundaries. Though she is indelibly linked with the unwanted visits from her ill-mannered and tempestuous cousins Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and Ike; she has proven to herself and the world that she is tougher than most. Whether times are hard or happy, joyful or mournful, she always has a song in her heart that she is willing to share. Not to mention, this is one lady who knows how to party.
Jazz trumpeter, vocalist, and New Orleans native Leroy Jones takes after his "mother" in the best possible ways. He's charming, generous and kind and has the gift to musically move you from tear-in-the-eye emotion to dancing in your seat. Jones also has the optimistic attitude of many New Orleans residents. He seems to look on the bright side of things, even the humid late summer weather. He wouldn't say the weather was bad, just hot. "You all have no idea what summer is," he laughs. And Jones definitely knows how to have fun, Big Easy style. His joy and passion during a performance is contagious even to the stodgiest among them.
Although Jones was born and raised in New Orleans, he has traveled and performed all over the world. So just what is it about New Orleans that keeps him there? "I think the main reason why I've chosen to keep New Orleans as my home base is because if I ever decide to stop going on the road, New Orleans is one of very few cities in the United States, even perhaps in the world, where a musician can earn a living from just playing music. New Orleans' economy thrives on tourism. So there will always be a market for entertainment and usually within the genre that has made the city famous. And that musical genre is jazz. Not to mention, New Orleans has a vibe and a cultural spirit that is unique."
When asked to define the jazz sound of New Orleans, Jones responds, "The jazz that comes from New Orleans is very funky and soulful in an aesthetic sense. That makes it sound different from the jazz that you hear up on the East or West Coast. I think that it has a lot to do with the brass band influence in the jazz funeral. People reacting to the music in the streetsthey are dancing. It is the kind of music that makes people want to move, makes them want to dance. The same bloodstream runs through all the genres of music that comes from New Orleans. There's a definitive connection between New Orleans jazz, New Orleans funk, New Orleans R&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;B, and the gospel music that comes from New Orleans. There's something about it that's very relative, even if it's a different genre."
So what would Jones consider the link between all the New Orleans genres of music? "Well, the link is just that the actual musical aspect of it is that the music has a certain groove, a certain beat that is identifiable within each genre. It's just a certain type of groove, something that really you can't put into words exactly. It's something that when you hear it, you know it. You recognize it. It's been said many times that when people hear music from New Orleans or they hear New Orleans musicians play, if they didn't know that they were from New Orleans they would have to say that there's something about their sound. It's the sound and the rhythm that identifies them with New Orleans...They can almost tell you're from New Orleans by the way you play."
He explains, "I think the main reason for that is that basically the music was nurtured and developed in New Orleans going back to Antebellum Times, Congo Square. There the Africans were allowed to practice their rituals, their musical rights, playing their rhythms in the square itself. This was happening in a section of the country during that time where it didn't happen anywhere else."
According to Jones, there have been some, but not many changes to New Orleans jazz over the years. He says, "There have been subtle changes within the brass band genre. The music has taken on more of a contemporary twinge to it but you can still hear the remnants of the traditional sound. It's still traditional but it's more contemporary because the bands are now incorporating more pop repertoire. Pop in the sense of the popular music of today. They're not playing the old hymns and the marches like the brass bands of a hundred years ago. Yet you can still hear underlying that particular sound that makes it New Orleans brass band music. So there have been some subtle changes to the sound. I would say for the most part it has been within that sort of genre of music, the brass band music, New Orleans brass band music."