A regular at Preservation Hall in New Orleans and a member of the New Orleans Jazz Hall of Fame, Leroy Jones is a featured performer in the Harry Connick Orchestra. He has performed on every continent and in every major US. city and now he is heading out on his first major UK solo tour. He plays 1 Nov, Royal Hall, Harrogate and 11 Nov, RNCM, Manchester.
You have been called the keeper of the flame for New Orleans jazz. Do you consider that your main purpose?
It’s flattering to be dubbed with such titles as this. But in reality, I’ve never considered myself as the keeper of the flame for New Orleans jazz. What I consider my main purpose is to present the music from New Orleans at a high level, with hopes that it will inspire the musicians around me and bring pleasure to my listening audience.
How has music shaped the city and how vital has it been in times of hardship?
Music is the lifeblood of the city. The unique culture of New Orleans, music being one of its main components, has always shaped the city into the magnet it is for attracting visitors, musicians, artists and simply music lovers from near and afar. It is and has been vital to spiritual and mental stability during times of natural disaster and hardship, even back during the antebellum period, when African slaves chanted work songs and moaned the blues and spirituals to help ease the physical and mental burden of their servitude.
How do you manage to pay homage to the artists that have come before you and remain relevant for modern listeners?
I think I manage to pay homage to artists that have come before me and remain relevant for modern listeners by not copying them verbatim or performing the music in a repertory manner. For example, I might play and sing a song that was done by Louis Armstrong decades before I was even conceived. But I’ll never try to put on a gravelly voice, grip my trumpet with a white handkerchief in my left hand, nor attempt to repeatedly play phrases he originated. Growing up in the middle to latter part of the 20th century, my playing is an accumulation of various genres of music. This fact in itself helps to make what I play relevant for modern listeners, still allowing me to pay homage to the earlier pioneers of jazz.
What does it mean to you to be able to introduce UK audiences to this music live?
To introduce this music to UK audiences live gives me an opportunity to share the only true art form that originated in the United States, arguably New Orleans being its birthplace. Ultimately, jazz is happy music. The band and I look forward to putting a smile on many faces.
You’ve played with the likes of Danny Barker and Harry Connick Jr over a career spanning five decades. How does it feel to be fronting your own tour and albums now?
Has it really been that long? Perhaps so, since I began to gain experience leading a band in 1970-71. So maybe not quite five decades. It’s an exuberant feeling to be fronting your own tour and producing your own albums. But mind you, headaches can occasionally accompany that success.
How important is collaboration in jazz?
Collaboration in jazz, or any musical form, is important in that it brings musicians of various cultural backgrounds together on the same playing field. Jazz is a universal language. Music in general is an essential vehicle for socialisation.