Find Your Own Sound at Berklee Brass Program with Sean Jones

Lesley O'Connell
June 17, 2016
"Bring your curiosity," Sean Jones says of his summer brass program.

About to launch its inaugural year, the Berklee Brass Program with Sean Jones will give young musicians a chance to study with an all-star faculty, explore multiple genres and instruments, and get a taste of what a career as a brass musician could look like. 

Led by Jones—Berklee’s Brass Department chair since 2014 and an internationally acclaimed composer and Grammy-nominated trumpeter—the summer program (July 5-8, open to students 15 and older) will offer a snapshot of Berklee and a strong pedagogical foundation with the freedom for students to find their own sound. Jones lives by example: he began as a drummer until discovering Miles Davis at the age of 10, and went on to hold such gigs as the lead trumpeter for the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and the artistic director of the Cleveland and Pittsburgh jazz orchestras, and to share the stage and/or record with many notable musicians, including Joe Lovano, Tia Fuller, Dianne Reeves, Marcus Miller, and Steely Dan.

The following is an edited and condensed version of a conversation with Jones about the Berklee Brass Program.


What should students considering enrolling in the Berklee Brass Program know?
We explore all aspects of what it is to be a brass player in the 21st century. That includes funk genres, classical music, jazz, contemporary music, you name it. You’ll be exposed to all that and to experts in the field in each of those genres. You’re not going to come to just learn how to play the trombone a little or the trumpet a little. You’ll get that and you’ll also learn how to apply it to various styles that are applicable to the music of today. You’ll be able to shift from one genre to the next while keeping a sound pedagogical foundation. You may come in as a classical musician but leave totally in love with funk.

What do the faculty bring to this program?
Tiger Okoshi is a great trumpet player, a great pedagogue, but he’s also very well versed in jazz harmony composition and theory, so you’ll get a lot of jazz from him. We have two wonderful trombonists: Marshall Gilkes and John Faieta. Wycliffe Gordon is our guest artist. He’ll run an ensemble, do various master classes and a few private lessons, and perform at night.

This is the first year of the program. What will a typical day be like?
Everyone’s going to start his or her day with me. I’m going to do a warm-up boot camp every morning where we’re going to be dealing with sound, a solid practice routine, and technique. Then we’ll move to ensembles, which will range from jazz quintet to some classical quartet/quintet settings, perhaps a trombone ensemble, and also get to some funk or R&B. There will be various master classes in the afternoon that will cover things from the history of trumpet and trombone, as well as various styles, extended techniques in playing—such as how to use a plunger, how to bend notes. We’ll also be dealing with modern brass playing. The evenings will be a mix of jam sessions and concerts. Each group will perform on Friday afternoon in a culminating concert.

So they’re going to get a lot of playing.
For sure. Their horn is going to be on their face all day.

You started out as a drummer before you found the trumpet. How will you encourage students to get out of their comfort zones?
We want students who come to be comfortable enough to explore anything. Let your curiosity run wild. If you’re afraid of a certain genre, we could introduce you to that genre without any sort of barriers or fears. We want to eliminate all that. We just want brass musicians to come and explore and know what a career could be like because that’s really important. It’s scary for young musicians in general, but specifically for instruments like the trumpet or trombone or French horn. It can be scary. It’s like: I’ve only seen these instruments in these situations.

How has versatility helped you in your own career?
Berklee prepares you to be able to play any type of music because it provides a solid pedagogical foundation. That’s extremely important and that’s what we’ll do at the camp. That’s part of my personal philosophy. I’ve played music on the stage of Jazz at Lincoln Center, with various orchestras and with a variety of funk bands. I’ve played with Steely Dan. I think that because I’ve been that diverse, I’ve been able to have a vast résumé and have been able to connect in a lot of different networks.

How do you impart career readiness at such a young age?
We want to show students the importance of going to a college. Although knowledge is more prevalent now than it’s ever been in history, there are certain things you can’t get by googling. The apprentice sort of model for learning is best in a collegiate settting that’s one-on-one. Also, when you're able to be around a group of people in a scheduled format, it can give you the discipline you may not have for yourself. This brass program will give a little taste of this in a compressed format.

What’s the main takeaway for students who enroll?
We want to show you options: this is what your career could be like and we also want to show you how to get there. We want to give students a very solid pedagogical foundation and a sort of a road map that they can follow for their daily practice. Students will be able to hang with us. We’ll eat lunch together, we’ll hang out together, we’ll talk informally. It will be a nice vibe. Just come with curiosity and we’re going to share with you. We also want to learn from the students.