Leroy Jones - Interview

Ascona Jazz Award 2019 winner: Leroy Jones, a great New Orleans trumpet

Leroy Jones

Mr. Jones, let’s start with “A Man and His Trumpet: The Leroy Jones Story” documentary by director Cameron Washington. How was the project born and how was the film welcomed in festivals around the world?
To both Cameron’s and my surprise, A Man And His Trumpet - The Leroy Jones Story has been received quite well throughout its film festival debuts! It has even won a couple of awards along the way, like best film documentary at the Austin, Texas Black Film Festival and most recently a Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities Award. Audiences who’ve attended the festivals have been quite captivated and found the film interesting and enlightening.
The project was born via a dream director and independent film producer Cameron Washington had ever since he discovered my trumpet sound when he was a teenager and his musician father presented him with a recording by Harry Connick Jr. titled  Blue Light Red Light. I appear on that album as a soloist and amongst the trumpet section within the big band. Cameron wanted to know and someday meet the trumpet player who was doing the impressive solo work.
Cameron, a native of San Francisco, is also a trumpet player, musician, who fell in love with traditional jazz, swing, the brass band sound and music from New Orleans. In 2015 he made a pilgrimage to the Crescent City, found me, followed me and proposed the idea of documenting my story. Following a period of 2 and a half years of sporadic interviews and filming live performances yielding multiple hours of footage, he ended up with enough information for a full length movie!

How did your recording relationship with Columbia label start?
My recording relationship with the Columbia label, later to become Sony Music Inc., got started through my association and collaborations with Columbia/Sony artist Harry Connick Jr. Harry started his own independent record label, NOPTEE Records, back in 1992. He thought that I deserved an opportunity to record a solo album. So I was fortunate to have my first major release, Mo Cream From The Crop, in 1994 on NOPTEE and distributed worldwide via Columbia. A second recording, titled Props For Pops, was released in 1996. I believe I was amongst the very first artists to record on Harry’s label.

As a citizen of New Orleans, do you think that music, and in particular jazz music, helped to rebuild the city after hurricane Katrina? If I'm not mistaken, in 2015 you recorded “New Orleans Brass Band Music: Memories of the Fairview & Hurricane Band.”
Actually, New Orleans Brass Band Music: Memories of the Fairview & Hurricane Band was recorded and released in 2005, a few months before the levees failed. As a resident of New Orleans, I firmly believe that music, particularly jazz, other local cultural traditions and brass band music has been essential to the rebuilding process. Also our hard working neighbors from Mexico were extremely instrumental to the rebuilding in post Katrina.

Your career has been very long and full of satisfaction. Can you tell me something about your performance at the Super Bowl in January 1972, at the age of 13?
I reckon my career has been long and for the most part, full of satisfaction!  Performing during the half time extravaganza at Super Bowl Vl, just before my 14th birthday, was quite an experience indeed! I was featured as Little Louis Armstrong and played a couple of numbers with Danny Barker and the Onward Brass Band. We were flanked by a float sporting vocalist Carol Channing who sang Hello Dolly. The brass band also performed an instrumental version of the tune High Society. What a rare and exciting moment for a young musician like me, getting to appear with my mentors before such a massive audience! The opportunity came to me through my relationship with Mr. Barker and the Fairview Brass Band. I remember the theme of the half time show being a tribute to our Carnival celebration, New Orleans Jazz and native son Louis Armstrong, who had passed away the previous year. Trumpeter Al Hirt also performed, as well as jazz vocalist Ella Fitzgerald. The Dallas Cowboys prevailed over the Miami Dolphins 24-3, in their first Super Bowl win.

How did your collaboration with Uli Wunner begin?
My collaboration with Uli Wunner began in 1998. Although we met at the Jazz Ascona Festival in 1997. Occasionally I’ve told Uli that he’s a jazz musician, (quite a talented one I might add) impersonating a marine biologist. We’ve been musical brothers and dear friends ever since.

Is there someone among the new trumpeters who inspires you with particular trust?
If we’re talking about new, young New Orleans trumpet players, I’d have to say that they are a couple, two three I believe are putting their own unique and personal signature on the local, perhaps even the global scene. Glenn Hall (trumpeter with the Rebirth Brass Band) Aurelien Barnes (trumpeter with New Birth Brass Band) and John Michael Bradford.