Friday, July 19, 2024

Take 5 With Courtney Jones

Whether it’s performing onstage or relaxing in his plant-filled office, trumpeter Courtney Jones’ joie de vivre is infectious. I witnessed him in both modes, first at a January fundraiser for Florida’s National Society of Arts and Letters. Clad in a three-piece suit and colorful socks, Jones led a quartet through Gershwin standards and bossa nova favorites from guitar god Antonio Carlos Jobim, his brows arched, his eyes as big as the notes he was playing.

In between compositions, he shared his thoughts on the power of music to heal the world—a lofty sentiment he would echo a couple of weeks later at FAU, where he has served as assistant professor of trumpet and artistic director of the university’s jazz and chamber ensembles since 2017. Educated in the contemporary classical canon, the Georgia native has enjoyed a borderless career, scoring music for series such as “Glee” and “Criminal Minds” and collaborating with artists as diverse as Rihanna, Boy George and trailblazing jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell.

From his office near FAU’s University Theatre, Jones discussed his wide-ranging work and his belief that, “for me, there is no genre. It’s style. Do you feel the beat on 1 and 3, or 2 and 4?”

Did you know early on that music would be your passion?

Not necessarily. … I never thought it was going to be a career, because I thought that everyone was able to do this. Later on, my teacher at Columbus State helped me figure [it] out.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned the differentiation between passion and gift. I’m passionate about cooking. I’m passionate about botany. But I don’t have a restaurant, and I’m not opening a nursery. A gift, however, is music, and everything that is under that awning. … If you can wake up in the morning and think about nothing but that one thing, that is your gift. And that’s what you should be doing.

You’ve played with a lot of legends. What did you pick up from working with them that you take into your own practice?

Empathy. Gratitude. I knew those words; I didn’t understand them until I got older.

You’re already in the industry; you’ve done “Glee” and“Cougar Town,” so you don’t really get star-struck. My job is to go on set at Paramount Studios. My job is to go do these pre-records, and after that, I can go have dinner and hang out. But then you sit down, you walk in, your name is on a long list of names, and there’s BB King and Dee Dee Bridgewater and Lalo Schifrin, who wrote the“Mission: Impossible” theme, and then all of a sudden Stevie Wonder bumps into you, and he says, ‘oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there.’ Oh, he’s blind, he just made a joke! I’m surrounded by all these people. There’s love, there’s no ego. … There is a level of respect that’s beautiful.

Can you speak about the versatility of the trumpet?

[It goes] from the band hall to the concert hall, from the solo setting to the chamber setting … and if you limit yourself to one thing, then you’re missing out on what the divine has provided for you. … I played at the beginning of a metal band’s show. We came in, and we played this piccolo fanfare, then they went into this thrash metal. And it paid well. The best 30 seconds I ever had!

You played Carnegie Hall for the first time last year. What was that like?

Invigorating. Astonishing. It was a check off the bucket list. We sold out our performance with an orchestra and musicians who happen to be BIPOC—Black, indigenous, and people of color. And these are all people that are in the upper echelon of their careers, and we came together to perform in this space that was built [to] bring people together. It wasn’t built for one class of people. It was built for music, and music has no color, music has no boundary. And to be in this place, it was just breathtaking.

Do you get nerves when you walk onto a stage like that?

Always. I’m nervous right now. I’m an extroverted introvert. And I use those nerves, even when I perform, as fuel—as adrenaline, to help block that energy. Because if you’re nervous, that means you care. Because you don’t want to mess up.

We have this idea that practice makes perfect. That’s incorrect. Practice makes improvements. It makes progress. Because we are human, and it’s OK to make a mistake. … You never really master your instrument. You’re always learning your craft.

This article is from the May/June 2023 issue of Boca magazine. For more like this, click here to subscribe to the magazine.

John Thomason
John Thomason
As the A&E editor of bocamag.com, I offer reviews, previews, interviews, news reports and musings on all things arty and entertainment-y in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

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