Jazz Notes: Trumpeter Sean Jones Plays It Live and Raw for His Album Release Party at Jazz Standard
By Dan Ouellette, ZEALnyc Senior Editor, May 17, 2017
For his NYC record release party for Live at the Jazz Bistro at Jazz Standard, trumpeter Sean Jones brings his longstanding sparkplug quartet—pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Obed Calvaire—to join in with him in what promises to be music that is familiar to all band mates and surprising to themselves and the audience. “Having a band this long is really rare in jazz these days,” Jones says of their eleven-year history. “It’s really hard to do, but we have managed to keep playing together. When we play, it’s become like a conversation, like second nature. I can hire the best cat to sub for one of my guys, but it just doesn’t feel the same. It’s back to square one immediately.”
What will be particularly special about this engagement is that Jones will be holding a mirror up to what’s on the recording: playing live before an appreciative audience. In his eighth recording for Mack Avenue Records, Jones was looking for the raw. “In a nutshell, I’ve been wanting to do a live album for awhile,” he says. “I wanted to capture the band energy live and record what it’s like to go to one of my gigs. Granted, recording in a studio creates a polished sound where the music is all tied up. But this album, it’s real raw. The best way to hear me is live.”
On Live at the Jazz Bistro, Jones shines at the most dynamic and playful and loose-limbed excursion of his career. As such, the sessions reveal Jones with a stalwart poise, the fire of ecstasy and a whimsy in motion.
Recorded at the Jazz Bistro jazz club in St. Louis, Missouri, Live at the Jazz Bistro represents one more triumph in a career that has been impressive in its expanse of accomplishments. A gospel-bred drummer who switched to trumpet when he was ten after hearing Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue and Amandla, Jones found his jazz epiphany basking in John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, which summed up the youngster’s desire to explore the spirituality of the music. He received his master at Rutgers University, then quickly began his ascent into the upper echelons of the jazz world. He served for six years as the first-chair trumpeter for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and today is in his third year as a member of the SFJAZZ Collective. He’s also the chair of the brass department at Berklee College of Music.
As for his long run with Mack Avenue Records, it all started when Jones appeared on the 2003 Gerald Wilson Orchestra Mack Avenue release, New York, New Sound. “When I was living in Cleveland, I met Gerald and he told me that if I moved to New York, he’d put me on his next album,” he says. “A year and a half later when I was in New York, he called me up and I did a trumpet solo on the tune ‘Viva Tirado.’”
It was such an outstanding display of his trumpeting command that Jones was signed by Mack Avenue on the spot as a significant new voice on the instrument. He’s still there. “It’s been quite a ride,” he says. “I’ve been there while the industry has been changing. But what I appreciate the most is that they have never questioned my artistic integrity or ability.” Even when he recorded his 2007 album Kaleidoscope of sextet and vocals, Mack Avenue was all in for spotlighting his musical curiosity. “Kaleidoscope was pretty wacky,” Jones says. “But they were cool. All they said was, ‘You got it.’”
Jones experienced the same response when he decided to record a live album. He appreciates the support of the label and its willingness to let him experiment as an artist and not just be a yes man.
On Live at the Jazz Bistro, Jones delivers “BJ’s Tune” that opens as a lyrical beauty with the leader’s slow and alluring trumpet line, then builds about half way through with rhythmic dynamics that ignite the piece into an r&b spirit. Jones soars with high-range solos before bringing the epic journey to an end with a sublime take on “Amazing Grace.” Jones wrote the piece in New Orleans in 2004 at the city’s festival, pre-Katrina. “It’s a tribute to my nephew BJ, who is the son of my wild child brother who became a minister,” he says. “He sent me a picture of BJ and I got emotional thinking of the services that my brother and I attended growing up. It was a coming together in a spiritual community. The piece starts soft ands then builds to a whole room of people crying out. I wrote the tune to fuse jazz and gospel.”
While Jones typically ends the piece by playing “Danny Boy,” on the recording he moved in to “Amazing Grace” because “that’s what I heard in the moment.” And, in essence, that’s what Live at the Jazz Bistro is all about. The unpredictability, the special spark that makes a live session so moving, so spirited, so honest, so natural and as Jones likes to say, so raw.
Jones goes deep when talking about the essence of jazz. “I think the progression of the art form comes with people being allowed to be themselves in their rawest form with no compromise,” he has noted and added, “My body of work is going to show a progression of who Sean Jones is in its most honest form.”
Jazz Standard, which has supported Jones’ career from the word go, may not be the Jazz Bistro, but you can expect the same spirit. “I feed off the audience energy. I don’t play at the audience,“ he says. “It’s like the audience can play me, then I give back in exchange.”
Cover: Sean Jones; photo: Jimmy Katz