"Jazz is a combination of extreme elegance and sophistication with extreme carnality," says Cleveland Jazz Orchestra's incoming artistic director Sean Jones. "It's like America. We have those extremes."
Cleveland audiences will hear how that translates into repertoire and musical energy as Jones takes leadership of a band he played in as a 20-year-old trumpeter from Warren. Ten years later, he has several opportunities — not just in Cleveland — to launch his own musical ideas into the world. He says he intends to keep the focus on the music and not to re-invent the wheel — to use his taste and his connections to build programming.
"If your goal is to get people in the seats, you missed the boat," he says. "But if your goal is great music, people will come."
Jones takes the helm at a time of potential for both, partly because CJO is moving into what it hopes will be its regular home, PlayhouseSquare's newly renovated Hanna Theatre, in December. The venue solves some challenges of the band's migratory past. It's a centrally located, mid-sized hall. And having a well-stocked bar in the same very stylish room as the stage can't help but contribute to Jones' effort to build a scene. He hopes its season will eventually feature monthly performances.
Jones himself is the other part of that potential.
"The band has always been very polished," he says. "That will continue. The programming might be a little more collaborative. I will use my connections. The race issue will be important."
As a 30-year-old African American, Jones has the chance to connect with people who haven't been a big part of CJO — in the audience or on the stage. In addition to jazz, his taste has been informed by hip-hop artists like Mos Def, Busta Rhymes, 2Pac and Digable Planets.
Jones' introduction to the trumpet came in fifth grade. "My Grandma said my great-great-grandfather played bugle in the Civil War, so that's why I chose the trumpet."
He credits music teachers for seeing his interest and guiding his energy. "My teacher gave me two Miles CDs — Amandla and Kind of Blue," he says. "That changed my life."
Since Jones' first tenure with the CJO, he's reached the top of the jazz world, as principal trumpet with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra under the leadership of Wynton Marsalis. His last official gig with the LCJO is in May 2010. But even after that, Jones will be a very busy guy. In addition to his day job as professor of trumpet and jazz studies at Pittsburgh's Duquesne University, he leads his own band. And he announced last month that he plans to resurrect a Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra.
But he's happy to be spending at least some of his time giving back to Cleveland and the band he played in as a younger man.
"When you have the opportunity to make a difference in your community," he says, "you jump at that."