May 28, 2024

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Interview with John Bailey: For me, and I would imagine most folks, love is the most meaningful experience in life: Video

Jazz interview with jazz trumpeter John Bailey. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

John Bailey: – I was very fortunate to have grown up in East Lansing Michigan, just five minutes from Michigan State University’s campus. MSU provided a richly diverse culture, and the opportunity to take advantage of a college level music education while attending middle school and high school.

I am the youngest of five children.  All of my siblings took music lessons, played instruments and/or participated in chorus.  I had access to LP’s of all types of music at home and began listening to them from the moment that I learned to operate the turntable.

JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the trumpet? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the trumpet?

JB: – My sister Janet played the trumpet and I simply followed suit when I reached the 6th grade.

My first teacher, Laurine Celeste Fox, worked with me for 1 year while finishing her Undergraduate studies at MSU.  Without her patience I don’t know if I would have continued.  I really couldn’t even sustain a pitch during those first months!  She is now an accomplished Conductor here in New York.  We just recently reconnected after 40 years!

For the next 3 years my teacher was a wonderful teaching assistant at MSU named Miles Davis (yes, Miles Davis).

Miles was an incredibly dedicated  teacher.  He would personally compile transcripts of lectures/masterclasses by people like Bobby Shew, Maurice Andre, Arnold Jacobs and Bill Adams into binders and give them to his students.  The binders would also typically include fundamental exercises from a wide variety of sources, jazz solo transcriptions, orchestral excerpts etc.

He was humble, unpretentious and passionate about all forms of good music.  He treated me like I was his little brother.

He also worked at the local used record store, Wazoo Records.  Every few days I would drop by and he would recommend amazing records. I always bought what he suggested, took them home and absorbed what I heard.

It was then that the records themselves became my greatest teachers, culminating in 4 years of personal inspiration with the great Ira Sullivan.

Ira taught me how to be an artist; to have an attitude that is focused on serving the music itself, and to be open to all musical possibilities.

JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound? 

JB: – Like most musicians, I modeled my sound from an amalgamation of many different sources.  Early on it was Miles Davis, Donald Byrd, Maurice Andre, Lee Morgan, Timofei Dokshizer, Booker Little, Bud Herseth and a long, long list of others. In college I found some equipment that helped me get the sound I was hearing and I’ve been playing it ever since. 

JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm? 

JB: – As a trumpet player one must maintain physical skills on a daily basis.  I have found that playing classical etudes is the best way to stay in shape.  Once that is established I simply close my eyes and play.

Re: rhythm-I believe all jazz musicians should practice the drum set.  As musicians we are all drummers anyway so why not go to the source? 

JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now? 

JB: – Since I was a little kid I have always been drawn to rich harmonic progressions with lots of chromaticism.  The music I’m writing now is still inclusive of that but integrated with more use of contemporary harmonic concepts and a deeper investment in minor seconds. 

JBN.S: – What do you love most about your new album 2018: <In Real Time>, how it was formed and what you are working on today. 

JB: – The idea behind the compositions for “In Real Time” is ’60’s Jazz music infused with Brazilian Popular Music.  The goal was to present music that is inspired by a wide range of influences but works well as a program.  I believe that goal was accomplished.

As I write the music for the next album there seems to be a desire for more rhythmic complexity.  Some of the new compositions feel more edgy, less reflective.


What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

JB: – That would differ from tune to tune, but generally speaking 25/75. One without the other

Leaves me empty. 

JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us? 

JB: – Here in New York we just lost a very important recording studio, Systems Two in Brooklyn.  It’s a devastating loss to jazz artists everywhere.

I have so many wonderful memories of recording there with jazz greats like James Moody, Kenny Burrell and Ray Barretto just to name a few.  I will miss the beautiful vibe of that room and working with Joe and Nancy Marciano. 

JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old? 

JB: – Teach, teach and keep teaching until you drop.  It is up to us, the artists, not just to bring the music to life but to share it with children in person!  

They will not be exposed to it in the main stream media.  We live in a corporate culture which has waged war on powerful art in all forms.  In America this has always been the case but it intensified deeply during the Reagan administration and has been a run-away train ever since.

Jazz music, when played well is extremely powerful.  When children hear and see it played before them they are transformed forever.  The old standards are still valuable because so much of it comes from Broadway shows and movies that are kid friendly.

But hold on to your seat; there are new standards!

We also live in an age of prolific artistic achievement in all styles of music!  Here in New York I am blown away by someone or something every time I go out.  The music is here right now! Ripe for the taking!

If we take the music to the kids personally, and we all participate, it will reach them in perpetuity.

JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life? 

JB: – Jimi Hendrix and Gary Bartz (and I believe Charlie Parker) said “music is my religion.”

Timofei Dokshizer said “ I’m a musician, and my purpose on Earth is to bring people happiness.”

I feel that way too…

For me, and I would imagine most folks, love is the most meaningful experience in life. 



JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be? 

JB: – Official recognition by the United States of America of the atrocities of slavery and appropriate social action by the federal government, and whatever other organizations necessary, to halt the continuation of the institutional slave/owner mentality, including a national day of atonement, etc.

Jazz music is the single greatest artistic achievement in American history.  It belongs, in large part, to African-American men and women.  My country, which I love, will never fully heal until it officially faces the reality of its ugly past.  The long-term rewards for doing so will yield untold riches, artistically and otherwise.  This will eventually happen-it must happen-but I want it to be a reality NOW!

JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days? 

JB: – Everything from Bach to Bird to Puccini to Al Green, Stevie, Pops, Dizzy, Brian Wilson…  Anything involving Elvin Jones and/or Thad Jones, Kenny Dorham and on and on it goes!  As long as it’s good music I’m in!! 

JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go? 

JB: – I would like to have been in New York in ’57.  What an amazing, prolific year for Jazz music! 

JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself… 

JB: – What do I hope for?

I hope that you and your readers continue to enjoy all the great music out there and that “In Real Time” brings a smile to your faces!

JBN.S: – Thank you for answers. 🙂

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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