2013′s Winter Jazz Festival will be kicking off in exactly one month from today, on 1/11/13. This year Revive Music Group will be presenting two action-packed nights of music at Sullivan Hall filled to the brim with a roster of amazing musicians. For the next month we will be bringing you previews of these incredible artists to give you a taste of what is to come in January. Check out our first preview on the intriguing musicality of rising trumpet extraordinaire John Raymond and look out for more previews in the coming month!
Who is John Raymond?
If I were to describe myself as a musician, I think I would just consider myself to be someone who is genuinely seeking to find his own voice. And not only as a trumpet player, but as an improviser; especially in the context of the jazz scene here in New York or even worldwide. And that’s obviously very vague, but at the same time I think it’s very honest. If I were to even think of myself, that’s something I think about every day. Like, “How can I be more honest in my music,” just with who I am and that’s even a personal discovery sort of thing. It just takes time to realize who you really are, as a person, as an artist. That’s something I’m consistently thinking about.
Being a younger musician, people might not expect you to work in this particular medium. What drew you to jazz?
There were a few things. Early on, for me, in high school, when I was back in Minneapolis, I remember getting a bootleg from a friend of a Nicholas Payton concert, when he came to the Dakota [Jazz Club] in Minneapolis. We were hanging out at his house, I can remember him putting on the recording. He played like the first 30 seconds of the first track of this bootleg. I don’t remember my exact reaction, but I know inside I was like, “Man, that’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard. I want to do THAT.” And I think up to that point I was practicing somewhat regularly as a trumpet player and just getting into it more and more through the years and I think that was kind of a turning point for me. It basically made me realize that I, at least, wanted to play trumpet for a living, but I think it was also connected to jazz because there was something about how that felt to me, something that I hadn’t experienced before. I actually didn’t even grow up around much music at all in my house. My parents never really exposed me to a lot of music like some parents do with their kids, so for me, almost one of the first things I was legitimately into. So, I think that was a pretty pivotal point.
I think the other thing is, too, especially since moving out to New York, being among musicians who are playing this music, I believe how it’s supposed to be played, I feel like the more I get into it, the more I’ve realized the heart and soul of jazz and really music broadly. There’s just something about the music that’s infectious. I think when played really well, it hooks anybody. I have a fair number of friends that aren’t well-trained listeners, but they just really like music. I’ve had numerous conversations with these friends of mine and they’ve agreed there’s something about hearing really great music being played. You don’t know exactly what it is, but there’s something about it that engages you in a totally different way, then you’re typically engaged with music. And even my wife is a great example of that. She just loves to listen to music for the joy of listening to music and so, she’s always a kind of barometer for me because she’ll really be able to plainly tell me, “Yeah. That’s not really happening” or “Yeah. That was it. I really felt that. I was with you.” So I think the Payton experience was big. Also, that live experience, it creates something for everybody that is just really, really memorable. That does something for people.
You mentioned playing music the way it’s supposed to be played. Now, many younger jazz artists have been blending their sound with more modern musical tropes. Have you attempted to modernize your own sound?
I think, subconsciously, yeah. I don’t think it’s been a conscious decision. I just think it’s the reality for me that while jazz was one of the first things that I got hooked on, I still listen to plenty of other kinds of music that influence me. The music I make, I want to emotionally represent me and so, I think it just comes out in a more modern context.
Currently, much of your music has a more traditional feel. Could we ever see you moving towards more fusion?
I think there’s definitely the possibility. I’ve thought, at times about how to incorporate electronic sounds into my music. Actually, for me, part of the reason I like playing with a guitar in my band is because I feel like I can get some of that in there. I feel like any of the guitarists that I’ve gotten the chance to play with, they not only have their soloistic tone and approach, but they even have a comping and even atmospherical approach to how they play, too. That’s what I want in my music, as well. So, I’ve thought about it. I love some hip-hop stuff and I think that comes out in certain doses in music. I don’t ever see myself going fully into the hip-hop thing like say Robert Glasper, only because I don’t see that being quite as much “me.” I don’t know, though. That’s a good question. I think time will tell. [laughs] Maybe.
When developing a project like Strength & Song, what is your approach, your overall process?
It’s interesting because all of those songs, they span a period of maybe early 2009 or even late 2008 to 2010. So, it’s like a couple year period that I wrote those songs and it was just one of those things where I felt like the songs that I chose to put out on the record, I composed them not with an intentional concept in mind, but somehow they all had some common thread, or a common sound to them. I mean, if I were to even analytically break it down, I wouldn’t know what I would say [laughs]. I don’t know. There’s just some common link to how the tunes came across to me that it all kind of sounded like a collection of songs that should have been recorded.
Speaking of threads, a heavy current running throughout the album was fairly strong religious overtones. What role has spirituality or religion played in your work?
I mean I don’t broadcast, with a huge banner like, “I’m a huge Christian!” I don’t walk around with that intention, but I’m not ashamed to admit it or just be living that out daily. And so for me what that looked like in doing the album, I would write a song and I would just think about it and play the song back to myself, it would remind me of something I was either reading in the Bible or learning spiritually, just something tied into my Christianity. It would be interesting. Like I said, I would write this song and then it would just remind me of something and that kind of informed the title and where it came from and what it meant to me. And so, in doing that, over the course of the album, with different songs, it was kind of a thing where there was this common theme and that’s where Strength and Song came from.
I think that’s said multiple times in the Bible, but one specific instance just really resonated with me in that the whole theme of the album became my strength, which in a sense to me is where all of this music is coming from—what sustains me, what guides me, what I’m looking to and seeking after, as the core of who I am. That’s my strength. And what comes out of me because of that is the song. So, it was kind of this relationship, I think, every artist is seeking, just trying to honestly express who they are through their music. It may not be spirituality, but they’re going to have a similar approach of like, “Here’s who I am and this is how it’s going to come out in song.”
Speaking to who you are as a person, you’ve obviously established a strong career as a musician, but some might not know that you’re deeply embedded in the educational side of music. What drew you to teaching?
Well, I teach at a private school on the East Side of Manhattan, called the United Nations International School, which is predominated by the children of the diplomats and staff workers associated with the UN, as well as other international students. I teach four days a week, private trumpet lessons. I have 17-18 students and I also teach a class of 5th grade beginning trumpet players. For me, I think teaching is one of those things, I haven’t done this regularly in a long time, but I have taught for a number of years. I don’t even know if I can describe it, but I think teaching is just a big a part of me as playing or composing. There’s something about the process, especially with my students, most of whom are in middle school. You get these middle school students in a place where they kind of know how to play the trumpet, they’ve played for like a few years, but everything you’re showing them about how to play the instrument and even growing their musicality, is a huge difference. They still don’t know a lot. They’re still at a really formative age when they’re in middle school. I think there’s something about that, for me, to see a student take steps of growth as a trumpet player or even as a musician, in general, It’s just really exciting. And there’s also something for me too in that I love interacting with people one on one, whether that be students or just other people. One thing I do when I’m teaching is to not only help or grow these students musically, but I to be there for them as a mentor in their life—to grow their discipline and character and self-control, even if it’s just getting them to practice weekly. Being able to mentor someone musically and personally is a really special thing for me. I love it. In addition to that I’ll travel around and do clinics with different schools. That’s also a big part of what I do. I wouldn’t trade teaching for anything.
As an influence on a younger generation, who are those individuals you consider to be influences on your own career?
I would say Clifford Brown, for sure. That’s obviously a big one amongst many trumpet players. A huge influence for me is Tom Harrell. I think people would say that he’s a great trumpet player. For me, he’s been especially influential in many ways. I’ve really listened to a lot of his stuff and tried to digest as much as possible, even taking some of his approach and trying to apply it to what I’m doing. Someone that’s come on for me recently, maybe in the last year or so is Lee Konitz. There’s something about Lee Konitz’ playing that resonates in a similar way that Tom Harrell’s playing resonates. I’m finding that when I listen to Lee Konitz, there’s something that unlocks in me as a musician that sort of frees me up to be more of who I hear that I sound like, if that makes sense. So, he’s another big one. Those are the first three that really come to mind.
In every interview I do, I always ask this one question: If you could listen to only one album for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Wow. [hesitates] That’s really tough. I would say Clifford Brown with Strings. Maybe, Bon Iver, which is not jazz, of course. You know what? That’s probably my biggest non-jazz influence. I know a handful of people from that group. The place where I went to college in Wisconsin is where they’re all based. So I’m super tight with some of them. That music resonates with me in a lot of different ways that aren’t jazz related. Now that I think about it, maybe, Kurt Rosenwinkel’s The Remedy. That was also a really influential album for me, for a long, long time. Still, that’s pretty tough [laughs].
What can we expect in the future from John Raymond?
Well, I’m currently writing a bunch of music in the hopes of doing another record in the next year or two. I’m not sure exactly how that’ll work. I’m leaning towards actually doing a quartet record, instead of a quintet record, this time around. Apart from that I’m not really sure how that will look. Actually, I think the music is kind of changing and evolving in that while it’s still contemporary and modern in certain ways and will continue be, I think it will employ, I wouldn’t use the terms “traditional” or “straight ahead,” but it’s a little more swingin’ than maybe the stuff I had on my last album. But I don’t know what’s really going to happen with that. As I’m writing the tunes and where I go next, I think it’s somewhere with those things ideas in mind. Apart from that, I’m not sure. [laughs]. I’ll just continue to compose and see what comes out. I think that’s a part of it too. As a composer, even aside from playing or improvising, you get drawn to certain things or certain sounds and who knows what that’ll lead to. Maybe I’ll go in some direction that I don’t even know is coming.
Wrapping things up, I have to ask you this question, considering you’re from Minneapolis. How big of a Prince fan are you?
[laughs] That is a good question, actually. So, I’m a fan of like certain Prince stuff. There’s some things I’m a really big fan of, some things I’m not. For me, it was interesting because even when I was in Minneapolis or even in school in Wisconsin, which wasn’t very far away, Prince was someone I was never really exposed to early on. I knew about him, but I never really listened to him. But as I got going more in my early twenties and I started hooking up with a lot of gospel and R&B dudes, I learned about the Minneapolis Sound that everyone talks about and I’m a huge fan of that whole thing. A lot of my friends I have back there are very much into that too. I dig it. It’s very much me. But it’s not like I’m like “Prince is my savior, because he’s so amazing!” I honestly hadn’t checked him out that much. But, yeah, there are songs I like, some songs I don’t. Thanks for asking . [laughs].
Interview by Paul Pennington (@paulpennington)