Trumpeter Sean Jones, only 25, is making a strong name for himself, and a strong move up the ladder as one of the folks to watch. His tone is bright and his technique can be astonishing, thanks to his classical training.
The youngster hears the sounds around him that are not jazz, and appreciates people like Russell Gunn who plays intriguing modern music merging jazz with hip-hop and R&B under the Ethnomusicology banner. But his heart lies in jazz, the music that called to him in the fifth grade, as a fledgling trumpet student, through the horn of Miles Davis.
"To put it simply, I was captured by the swing. It was swinging so hard. I didn't know what it was, but it was so different and it was so strong that I was drawn into it. I never got into rap. I never got into hip-hop. Because to me, it's music, but it's not really music for art's sake," says the man from Warren, Ohio. "So, I got into the complexity of what jazz was. It was captivating."
Jazz is exactly what you get on his debut album as a leader, Eternal Journey
on the Mack Avenue label, a strong statement out of the gate for this soft-spoken, but dedicated musician. The music sparkles, particularly Jones' trumpet, though the whole groupMulgrew Miller, Charles Fambrough, Tia Fuller, Orrin Evans and Ralph Petersonprovides great support and robust soloing. It's a mainstream album, deliberately done so as not to bowl over the listener with too much complexity. Jones warm tone carries the day and moods swing from fiery to soft and sweet (particularly two duets with just Miller's piano and Jones).
Jones got the date after his strong playing on a Gerald Wilson big band date on Mack Avenue, New York, New Sound
. He's already writing for a second album on the label, which he hopes to record in December.
"The first album, I really wanted to kind of keep it simple," Jones says. "Not do anything outrageous. To me, there's a lot of jazz albums that are out right now that are really complex, that a lot of people really can't grasp. So I tried to keep it simple. I want it to be fun and I wanted to really showcase Ralph and Charles and Mulgrew and those guys. Along with myself. Actually, the next album that I'd like to make is going to be a little more complex, musically, as far as the arrangements and whatnot. But with this first album, I really wanted to touch a lot of different bases."
He said it wasn't a matter of just playing simple songs, "but play familiar tunes. Tunes that were inspired by people. Just about everything on that album was inspired either by a person or by some life experience. And I think that's important."
He brought in close friends like Peterson and Fambrough, in part, at least, to have some experienced folks on hand to help get him through the date. He learned a lot, and can't wait to apply it to the next record, another step along the eternal journey.
"There are definitely some things that I learned that I would like to work on. It was a great learning experience for me. I had never been in the studio as a leader. Mack Avenue gave me a lot of control, surprisingly. I thought I was going to pretty much do what they wanted me to do. That wasn't the case. They really wanted me to develop. I was surrounded by great people. I was very fortunate that they let me do what I wanted to."
Songs like Fuller's "Gullyism" smoke with straight-ahead fire. Jones "Serpent" moves and slides and moves in interesting patterns. On "God Bless the Child," Jones shows a melodic, singer's-style phrasing and his tone comes more to the foreground. It's a different arrangement. The same can be said for "Over the Rainbow," which is in stark contrast to most renditions, haunting and ethereal.
"That was actually inspired by a guy at a place I was playing at years ago in New Jersey. This guy would come out every week and request 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow.' His name was Bruce," says Jones. He didn't really want to play it, but one night he acquiesced. "Afterwards I said, "˜Why did you want to hear that tune so much?' And he told me that his brother passed away. And when he got the news that his brother passed away, he was actually watching the movie [ The Wizard of Oz
] and Dorothy was singing 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow.' I said, 'How did that song make you feel when you got the news?' He said, 'I was kind of upset, and at the same time I was at ease.' I said, 'Can you describe the place where you were?' And he described this very surreal kind of place. He was imagining his brother kind of floating away, going to heaven I guess. I immediately went home and tried to relate the song to depict what he described to me. I went back the next week and I played it for him. And I subtitled it 'Bruce's Rainbow.' "
Jones is pleased with the CD and has his eyes on the next record. "I'm excited about that, with the amount I learned from the first album. I want to go into the second album really giving it my all. Not that I didn't give my all the first time around, but now I know a lot more."
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.