Sean Jones hasn’t been the Mahoning Valley’s secret for a while now.
The Warren G. Harding High School and Dana School of Music graduate is one of the most respected jazz trumpet players in the world. He spent several years as the lead trumpet player in the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, hand-picked by a pretty good trumpet player who leads that group – Wynton Marsalis.
Last year, he was selected by former Miles Davis sidemen Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Marcus Miller to join them for a European tour celebrating Davis’ legacy. The group will play two shows in April at California’s Disney Hall, which may lead to a U.S. tour later this year. And he just returned home from the Jazz Cruise, where he played in an all-star band whose trumpet section also featured Arturo Sandoval, Randy Brecker and Byron Stripling.
While his reputation extends far beyond the Valley, Jones hasn’t forgotten his roots.
Jones now leads the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, and he will bring the ensemble to Youngstown for a concert Friday at Stambaugh Auditorium.
“It’s pretty amazing that I’m leading this organization that I came up through the ranks of,” Jones said. “When I was YSU, I remember being with Kent Engelhardt, one of my professors at the Dana School of Music, riding up in the car to Cleveland and being mentored by those guys, and now I’m leading the band. It’s come full circle.”
He also is coming full circle at Stambaugh, a venue he first visited as a concertgoer, not a performer.
“I remember seeing (former ‘Tonight Show’ bandleader) Doc Severinsen at Stambaugh about 13 years ago,” Jones said. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow, it would be pretty cool to play here, a historic venue with great acoustics.'”
Jones played Stambaugh a couple years ago with his quintet, and Friday will be only his second concert at the venue.
The CJO concert is called “Jazz & Other Genres,” the same program the orchestra will perform on Saturday at Cleveland’s Hanna Theatre. Jones said he put the program together as a way to show how jazz has influenced and been influenced by other musical genres.
“Jazz embraces every type of human being on Earth and those cultures,” he said. “It’s important to keep that tradition alive and celebrate it.”
Jones said he believes jazz is a reflection of America, a nation filled with immigrants from different countries who came together and created a country with a national identity all its own.
The program will feature jazz arrangements of rock, blues, funk, gospel and R&B songs, including the music of The Beatles, Frank Zappa and Earth, Wind & Fire.
That concert could be the start of a new tradition.
“I’d like to be able to create a long relationship with Stambaugh,” Jones said. “I realize some people in Youngstown can’t get up to Cleveland. We’d like to spread our wings and get further out in northeast Ohio and eventually the whole country.”
Jones is in his third year and conductor and artistic director of the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, and the ensemble has shown remarkable growth during his tenure. Attendance is up 300 percent since he became artistic director.
“To be a leader, you have to have empathy, understand the needs and feelings of others,” Jones said. “You can’t be afraid to try different things. You have to let the vision lead you. Some leaders say ‘This is my idea, this is how we’re going to do it,’ and that’s not necessarily the case. The vision is the leader, and it takes a leader to understand the vision needs to be implemented. And our vision is to bring jazz to a broader audience.”
In addition to his work with the CJO, Jones continues to focus on his own career. Along with the Davis tribute shows in April, Jones will be going back into the recording studio for his next album.
“It will feature a lot of different trumpet skills,” he said. “I really want to focus on my performance as well as my compositions. I’ve been with the same trio, we’ve been together for five years now, and I really want to showcase what we’ve been doing.”