Graham Reid | | 4 min read
Leroy Jones speaks exactly as you might expect from a New Orleans-born trumpet player. That slow drawl with vowels dragging easily, that slightly raspy whisper so familiar from that other great trumpeter born in his hometown.
And when he laughs he also sounds like Satchmo, the great Louis Armstrong.
Yet Jones is different from so many of his trumpet-playing peers. He tours with players from Finland, a country where he occasionally stays in summer and at other times when the Northern Hemisphere jazz festival season is at its peak.
"But New Orleans is my home. I haven't really lived in Finland. The longest I've been there is three weeks, although often I'm there three or four times a year.
"I've been around the music scene in New Orleans and in the past 10 years the scene here has got even more healthy.
"There are different new bands coming up, brass bands playing New Orleans-style brass music, as well as many young and aspiring jazz musicians moving to the city wanting to soak up the culture and heritage, even to the extent of becoming students at the University of New Orleans when Wynton Marsalis was teaching."
At 46, Jones can reflect on a lifetime of music that began when he started studying trumpet at age 10. He played in school bands and at 13 was leading Danny Barker's young Fairview Baptist Church Brass Band, which performed at church and social events, funerals and second-line parades in the city.
The Fairview band evolved into the Hurricane Brass Band and some members went off to form the famous Dirty Dozen Brass Band.
Jones was one of the new generation of players who have been instrumental in reviving New Orleans music. He also did "a very brief stint at Loyola University's Conservatory of Music", which he recalls with amusement.
"What that means is I don't have a degree - and I was actually only there for a semester. It's a learning thing, being on a bandstand, and you have that experience of playing with older musicians because you can go to the school and be in the music department, but when you come [out] you are unable to even run a gig. It's a business out there.
"And a lot of schools teaching the history of jazz think that this music started after 1940, which is just not the case."
He attributes the growing interest in New Orleans jazz to two factors: Wynton Marsalis in the Eighties and the Ken Burns' television documentary series Jazz in the late Nineties.
"It was a series like that made it easier and more acceptable for the average person to get an understanding of the history of the music in this country.
"As a musician I've been travelling abroad - my first trip to Europe was in 1982 when I went in a band, then later took my own group to France. There's always been an appreciation of jazz abroad and there still is even today, more so abroad than in the United States."
Jones has travelled widely, often with his own band - he mentions in passing six weeks in Mauritius and various places in Switzerland - but also as a longtime member of Harry Connick Jnr's big band.
He has been with Connick for almost 14 years and his own quintet opened for Connick on his tour in 1994. Jones also appears on Connick's albums (he's on the just-released ballad album Only You) and he has to fit his band's work around Connick tours and sessions.
"But we have a regular Saturday night gig at Donna's Bar and Grill here in New Orleans in the French Quarter and we also travel to European festivals as well as gigs in Colorado and club dates in Chicago and New York.
"It's all sporadic and we don't get to perform as often as we like together but we try to get in as many engagements as possible."
Jones has also recorded three albums under his own name. His most recent is Back to My Roots, released two years ago, which is a loving tribute to his hometown that ends with a seven-minute version of When the Saints Go Marchin' In.
Jones has an endearingly warm and good-natured style with a clean tone, and the album contains mostly his own compositions in the manner of classic New Orleans music.
But then again, it's been in his blood since birth, through those school days at St Leo the Great Elementary School and St Augustine High and those weekends practising in his parents' garage in St Denis St.