It's a Robert Frost kind of road, wending its way from Warren, Ohio to New York City and then to Pittsburgh, but it's the path Sean Jones chose, and the City jazz scene is richer for it.
Trumpeter Jones is a musician, composer, bandleader, and educator, and it all started in Warren, where he was born in 1978 and began whetting his musical chops by belting out gospel as a youngster. He knew music was his calling almost right from the start.
After graduating from Warren Harding High, Jones went on to Youngstown State, where he earned a degree in classical trumpet performance and then went on to win a master's degree from Rutgers University, where he studied under Professor William Fielder, who included Jones' future boss, Wynton Marsalis, among his students.
Jones started out as most do, as a session player, but in 2004, his stars aligned.
He was playing his horn at an Ohio gig, and Wes Anderson was in the audience, taking in the show. Anderson was more than a random jazz fan; he's an alto sax player for Wynton Marsalis' Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. After hearing a few of Jones' licks, Anderson called his boss in the wee hours after the performance and said “Brother Wynton, you got to hear this cat.”
Jones got an interview with Marsalis and a six-month internship with the orchestra. When that was up, he was offered the first chair in Marsalis’ hand-groomed ensemble. He still plays with the internationally renown band and joins them for three month-long worldwide tours each year.
He also released his first of five and counting albums ("Eternal Journey") as a band leader for the Grosse Pointe Farms-based jazz label Mack Avenue Records. Pretty heady stuff for a kid in his mid twenties.
In 2005, Pittsburgh sax man Mike Tomaro, who is also the head honcho of jazz studies at Duquesne, hired Jones as an artist-in-residence. The following year, Jones joined Duquesne as a professor.
It's a hire that's been nothing but roses for the City jazz scene. Jones settled in by moving to Robinson Township, and his local presence made an immediate impact. His life is about music, and he haunts the area jazz clubs, sitting in on jams with any player who will have him - and who wouldn't? He performs in the City. He lectures and sits in on jazz workshops.
And in Jones' most notable move, he brought back the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra in 2009, now serving as its artistic director. The ensemble is the resident 16-member big band of the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, loosely based on the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. He picked up the pieces from Pitt prof and brass player Dr. Nathan Davis, who originally formed the band in 1986, but saw it splinter because of financial pressures.
The trumpeter performs with his own groups both nationally and internationally, in addition to his gig with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Jones plays at music venues and jazz festivals such as the Monterey Jazz Festival, Detroit International Jazz Festival and Montreal International Jazz Festival.
He teaches, performs with the Louis Armstrong Legacy University, and worked with the Chico O'Farrill Orchestra, the Gerald Wilson Orchestra, the Illinois Jacquet Band, Charles Fambrough (he's featured on the bassist's "Live At Zanzibar Blue" record), Joe Lovano, Tom Harrell, Jon Faddis, Jimmy Heath, Frank Foster, Tia Fuller, Brad Leali and the International Jazz Quintet.
And let's not forget his own band, the Sean Jones Sextet, that plays from Montreal to Monterey, Paris to London, and from Bonn to Istanbul. He's about due for another Mack Avenue album. In fact, his life style led to one of the cuts on his latest release, 2009's "The Search Within."
The track is called "Sunday Reflections," and was written while he was traveling from New York to Pittsburgh.
He's been recognized a few times along the road, too: in 2006 and 2007, he was selected as Downbeat Magazine's "Rising Star." In 2007, Jones was picked as JazzTimes Magazine Reader's Poll "Best New Artist," and also that year, he was featured on the Grammy Award-winning "Turned to Blue" by Nancy Wilson.
Many consider Jones to be this generation's heir-apparent to jazz trumpet players like Louis Armstrong and company. And hey, he won't be 32 until May.
Sean Jones (he's the big guy) and Marcus Printup dueling trumpets