Leroy Jones: A New Orleans State of Mind
Though Jones' professional career began before he was fourteen years old, many have been introduced to Jones' music by his New Orleans brother, Harry Connick, Jr. Jones recalls the early days of his and Connick's careers: "We met a long time ago, I am a bit older than Harrybefore he went up to New York to pursue his career. This was in 1985, just before I went off to Southeast Asia [to perform] and I was still working at a club on Bourbon Street called Mahogany Hall. Harry stopped by and said 'hi' and sat in on the piano with us that night. We talked afterwards on the break and he said he was going up to New York to pursue his career. I think he had a gig at a place called the Knickerbocker in New York, which is a bistro where he played solo piano."
"The next thing I knew I saw him on Dateline with Larry Kinghe and a bassist from Portland by the name of Ben Wolfe. They were doing a duo gig and there was all this hype about a movie that had just come out called When Harry Met Sally (1989). After that, the motion picture hit and the music was really nice. Harry got quite a bit of exposure, which prompted him to form his own big band during the summer of 1990. I'd say the most memorable moment meeting Harry would have been during that time, in New Orleans, in 1985, before he went up to New York."
Jones has since gone on to have a solid, successful career on his own and as well as with Connick's big band. Jones' solo trumpet performance of "What a Wonderful World" is, quite simply, unforgettable. The sound of his trumpet wraps around the soul like a favorite blanket, wishing for nothing else from the moment but to hear more. And then there is Jones' voicerich and warm and a wonderful complement to his trumpet.
However, Jones doesn't label himself a singer. He says, "I am a musician first and a trumpet player by far. I don't call myself, or I should say I don't consider myself, a singer. I've never spent any time taking vocal lessons nor do I have any specific routine for exercising that instrument other than when I might sing a particular song when performing or recording. Because I play a wind instrument and have learned how to use my diaphragm, vocalizing has become almost second nature for me."
He adds, "I've never really sang as a soloist, a lead singer until 1978, when I had a gig on Bourbon Street. I worked with a jazz band and no one else in the band sang so they put the monkey on my back. It was cool."
"It's nice to sing and I think you can get a point across more," Jones continues. "People relate more to vocals than they do to instrumental music. Instrumental music and recognizing an artist who is performing on a musical instrument requires a little more acute understanding of music. Every instrument, even if someone plays the piano, his or her touch is different so it sounds like a different person on the piano. They play different ideas. With wind instruments, the tone is different. It is the same thing, if you sing or you play an instrument, you use an instrument, as a tool to express yourself as well as your voice becomes an instrument when you sing to express yourself. It's the same person so it's the feeling according to how developed the person is on the instrument or how developed the voice is. It's pretty much going to be that same individual that you are going to hear, no matter what instrument that application is coming from."
A conversation with Jones includes much more than talking about music. He is also a historian, teacher, writer, and business advisor. In addition, he has recently added producer to his already crowded musical resume, wrapping up a project with Japanese singer Kasumi Kawamura, also known as Noon , on a CD called Walk With Thee in New Orleans (JVC Japan, 2007).
If Jones had to choose a career other than performing, he knows it would definitely be something related to music. He thinks he would continue to write music or perhaps, teach. On teaching, Jones says, "You really can't teach someone how to play jazz. You can only direct them in the direction they should go and then tell them what recordings they should listen to. Jazz is a language; first comes the hearing, then comes the speaking. Improvisation has many dialects. So you choose which dialect you want to 'speak.' You try to master that one best you can and if you can speak in other dialects, that's all to your benefit. Modern idioms, more traditional idioms, free jazzthose are all different dialects of playing what you choose to play as an improviser. But you have to be true to your art and play the music that you love because then it will be sincere. That's what gets across. People feel that when they hear a musician play."