The highly disciplined, truck driving, pavement pounding, nail banging, Civil War buff (His self-renovated fixer-upper even dates back to 1865), and proud papa of three debunks popular music mythology: classical musician does not equal jazz artist. Adam Unsworth, French hornist with The Philadelphia Orchestra since 1998 embraces the jazz idiom with the same guile and gusto as he does everything else in life.
At age 10, Unsworth confided in his first horn instructor, a professor at the local University, “I’m going to be principal horn of The Philadelphia Orchestra.” Well, almost, but the fall of 2005 is where the story takes an alternate route.
His ride began in 1968. Unsworth hails from Potsdam, New York, an idyllic, cultural and educational hub of 45,000, just north of the Adirondack foothills. Before moving to Boone, North Carolina in the ‘80s, his father was Associate Dean of the Crane School of Music at SUNY, Potsdam and played jazz piano. His mother played piano, taught music theory and history there too. He’s the second of six children, four of them, musicians.
Osmosis is one way the Unsworth clan incorporated music into their souls. Classical and jazz, but mostly the latter, was always on the record player. He remembers, “Plain and simple, music was the household focus.” A foreshadowing of Unsworth’s intensity, “I don’t think my parents ever had to get on me to practice. I started with classical piano lessons when I was 5, and because of its beauty and unusual sound, I picked up the French horn and additional lessons in 4th grade.” While wrapped up in classical training, he also had jazz on his brain, and thinks that the early aural immersion resulted in his current affinity for the genre.
Unsworth joined the junior high jazz ensemble playing yet another instrument, the electric bass. “In my teens, I looked up to my bass-playing, older brother. I wanted to play in his rock and roll band. He wanted to sing and was happy to pass the instrument onto me. My foray into heavy metal lasted only a couple of months, but I continued playing the instrument in large and small jazz ensembles through college. It was a great way to learn jazz forms and tunes, to develop an ear for harmonies and loosen up enough to experiment with improvising.”
On the other extreme, Unsworth entered many nationally recognized horn competitions and in 1985, in 10th grade, he was a finalist in the young artist solo competition sponsored by General Motors and Seventeen Magazine. He was also a member of the National Youth Orchestra in high school and had the honor of playing one week in Los Angeles under the direction of the then Oregon Symphony Music Director and native Philadelphian, James DePreist.