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Trumpeter and educator Sean Jones: 'It's up to us to lift one another up'

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Trumpeter and educator Sean Jones
Trumpeter and educator Sean Jones

On this episode of AOS, WBGO's Leo Sidran chats with trumpeter and educator Sean Jones about his upcoming gig and goals.

Jones is looking forward to bringing his quartet to Hudson Hall, in Hudson New York this weekend.

“It’s gonna be fun,” he says. “My quartet’s coming up. Luques Curtis on bass, Orin Evans on piano and a young drummer Ben Schwartz, he’s still in high school. He’s an amazing drummer, wait until you check him out!”

For an acclaimed musician and educator like Jones to bring such a young musician with him might sound unusual, but for Sean it’s part of his ongoing commitment to music education and mentorship. In fact, in Hudson he will not only be performing, but earlier in the he’ll lead a free jazz workshop for students in the Hudson City School District band program - an amazing opportunity for young players in a rural community.

“We’re going to take questions and hopefully engage them in discussion around not just music but life in general”, he explains. “A lot of young folks are having a hard time reconciling with their lives right now and social media and how that works, so I want to make sure that we are open and available to them for whatever they would like to discuss. Right now our young people need our full selves.”

Sean Jones has spent much of his life at the crossroads of community and higher education. Today he is an internationally recognized teacher. He serves as President of the Jazz Educators Network. He is the chair of Jazz at the Peabody Institute and is Artistic Director for Carnegie Hall’s NYO Jazz ensemble. But growing up in the church choir in his hometown of Warren, Ohio, it was the spiritual side of that music that first moved him.

“Anybody growing up in a pentecostal church, the first thing they remember is singing in a testimony service or singing in a choir,” he says. “Everybody just naturally did that, and I actually think that because we had that we were in essence better communicators, we had more empathy for one another. And I basically take that way of being into the classroom, into the boardroom, and into whatever situation I need to go in.”

The sound of the singing in church also influenced him as a trumpet player. “I actually try not to play notes. I try to play human utterances,” he explains.

Whatever you call what he plays, Jones is a world renowned trumpet player who has established himself as one of the predominant voices of his generation on the instrument, with a sound reminiscent of Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan. He is a former member of the SFJAZZ Collective and was the first-chair trumpet in Wynton Marsalis’s Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra for years. His story is exceptional.

“I am a product of the strange American condition where all of these worlds can intersect to create an individual like myself. I think that is largely what makes me who I am, my early life, and just kind of living those things as full on as I can,” he says.

While he is a great American success story, Jones sees learning from failure as one of his best teaching tools.

“It’s important for us to live according to purpose and bounce back when we make mistakes. I have failed multiple times in my life. I just don’t allow those mistakes to define me. In fact I learn from them and I move on and I share the lessons,” he explains.

Sean says he’s not considering success and failure on economic terms. For him, the importance of music runs much deeper than that. “We can’t see everything through the lens of capitalism,” he says. “Your basic guttural instincts are beyond that. Like love. Where society right now, specifically American culture, doesn’t honor its artists the way it should - everyday artists not just folks who are famous - it’s up to to us to lift one another up, it’s up to us to immerse ourselves in the communities to tell our young people that there are some things that money can’t buy. And we have to be examples of that.”

Sean Jones will do just that this weekend in Hudson New York. He plays at 7pm on Saturday, March 2nd at Hudson Hall.

Leo Sidran is a Latin Grammy-winning multi-instrumentalist, producer, arranger and composer. Since 2014 he has hosted an influential podcast called The Third Story, featuring interviews with musicians, producers, songwriters and creators of all kinds.
Doug Doyle has been News Director at WBGO since 1998 and has taken his department to new heights in coverage and recognition. Doug and his staff have received more than 250 awards from organizations like PRNDI (now PMJA), AP, New York Association of Black Journalists, Garden State Association of Black Journalists and the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists.