Jon Gordon: Staten Island, NY.
VOJ: Can you tell me a little about how you got into music in the first place?
Jon Gordon: It’s a complicated story. I actually wrote a book about it, titled For Sue. And when I was a kid, I always saw these pictures of a man called Bob Gordon with a baritone saxophone, who I understood was my father. Turns out he wasn’t. He was my mother’s first husband. We had Bob’s records, and he’s on Clifford Brown’s first record as a leader. I believe it was Clifford Brown’s first record as a leader and had the original versions of Daahoud and Joy Spring that were arranged by Bob’s best friend, the West Coast tenor player named Jack Montrose, who I later met. Bill Charlap and I recorded a tune that Jack wrote and had brought to a date with Bob that was untitled. Bob really loved it and asked if he would mind if they dedicated it to Sue and call it “For Sue.” And Jack said sure. And they had a two-saxophone group that they did a lot of things with back in the ‘50s in California. Bob died young tragically. My mother was a singer, and I never heard her sing a note in my life. But she told me a little bit about the scene out there and I think, as a small child, I just always felt a connection to that history because my mother had described it to me. Stories about Nat King Cole, and Miles Davis, and seeing pictures in later years with band leaders like Alvino Ray. So I heard these stories and somehow music, it was my understanding what my father had done. I didn’t know it was misinformation. It sort of inwardly in my psyche laid the template for music being affiliated with my father and my family. And we listened to music when I was a kid. We listened to a little bit of Bob’s music, but just a little, I think it was too painful for her. We listened to Sinatra and Glen Campbell and we had some Beatles records that I liked. This was in the ‘70s. I just think that I associated music with something that was healing and transformative as a kid. I saw that reflected in my mother when we listened to these records. And I felt it too. You know, we were poor, and we didn’t have too much. So we sat on the floor and we had a record player, and that’s all we had in that room in the apartment. But we had whatever we had. Six records and a record player and it seemed like magic. Seven or eight years old, you know.
VOJ: So once you started playing, how did your musical interests branch out from there?
Jon Gordon: I asked all through third, fourth and fifth grade, when they were asking kids to be in the band, to be in the school band. But they wouldn’t let me do it. I was in choir. I finally got to junior high and I got to start saxophone. There were a few of us that were in the beginner band in sixth grade that made it to the advanced band, which was called the morning band at our junior high school in Staten Island. We had a great educator, a man named Larry Laurenzano. He was tough, but we knew that he loved us. And that was the beginning of playing music with people and really being inspired and having fun and being in a community. We still talk about it. Almost 40 years later. It’s like people are talking about, “Man we need to have a morning band reunion”. Walk down Forest Ave to Joey’s Pizza like we used to do after performances, which doesn’t exist anymore. We had a sense of community. That was really fostered by Larry Laurenzano, who was a great educator. He also wound up getting me free lessons at the end of junior high school. He gave me a junior high school saxophone to take to high school, because I was always taking one of our school horns home to practice and I couldn’t afford to buy one. He gave my friend, Tyrone, a tuba and he gave me a junior high saxophone for each of us to use at Performing Arts High School with. My audition piece was selections from Rocky. We were not sophisticated. But we had some spirit about it. We enjoyed it, and it was a way out. Particularly, in my situation, I needed a way out of where I was. So music was that. When I got to Performing Arts, within the first week, a few days, Bill Charlap walked in and couldn’t read music but he’s playing all these solos from Keith Emerson of ELP, and Rick Wakeman from Yes. Real impressive rock piano and keyboard things. And we had really, truly amazing young 13-14 year old classical players in our year who had been practicing six, eight hours a day for eight years. So it was like “Whoa.” The bar was raised way high very quick. I didn’t always have time to practice as much as I wanted to do, that was a real problem for me in high school and college. I was commuting three to four hours a day, I had jobs for much of it. But I was always involved in going to some ensemble someplace. Taking my lessons at the local Jewish community center on Staten Island. Larry said to me one day near the end of junior high, “Jon, are you Jewish?” I said, “No.” And he said, “Well neither am I. I’m not sure of Caesar DiMauro, but he teaches at the JCC and I got you a scholarship there.” It was amazing. He’s given me a horn to use, and now he gets me free saxophone lessons for years. A lot of musicians have said things to me like, “Music saved my life”. And “I’m standing on the shoulders of dozens of people that you’ve never heard of that were like angels for me that came out of the woodwork.” And that’s really the case for me. I had so many people that did those kinds of things for me. Families that I lived with a little bit in junior high and quite a bit in high school and college. Just to have a safe, sane space with food and things like that. That’s what I needed. And people were really kind and really generous. So I think the world kind of opened up my first years of performing arts, studying classical saxophone with Caesar DiMauro. I never really had a classical saxophone set-up. I just had a middle of the road set up. I had a lot of bad habits in how I was playing the horn. And I slowly, in high school and college, started to recognize them and get them a little better. But it was not an overnight process, I’ll say that. By the latter part of high school, by the middle of junior year in high school, Jay Rodriguez played me some Irakere records that that Paquito [D’Rivera] was on. And he also played me and our friend, Curtis Haywood, some Phil Woods records. And when I heard Phil, I just about lost my mind. I was playing the Charlie Parker Omnibook as part of my lessons. This was the ‘80s. There was no YouTube and all that. And we had three or four jazz records at that point. I think we had a Ben Webster/Gerry Mulligan record… that might have been it. We only had a few records in the house. We had been thrown out of a couple of places that we had lived in when I was a kid and all the family photos and records and toys were long since gone. But I think somebody had given us a couple of records. So I remember listening to that one. But when I heard Charlie Parker the first time on a record, it had seemed like an old, scratchy kind of record and I didn’t get it. When I was 13, 14, 15, I had played in a couple of jazz ensembles. I didn’t know anything about harmony, about II-V-I, though I had learned my scales with Caesar. But the light went on when I heard Phil play, and I went like, “That is why I’m playing the instrument.” So I got very inspired, I started going to clubs through a friend’s mom in the city, again, another person who just completely opened all these doors for me and it was amazing how kind she was. I was finishing up at High School of Performing Arts and finally, by the end of junior year and start of senior year, made some progress as a 16 year-old classical saxophone player. But not really… not like how the legit cats do. But I love the Ibert, love Glazunov, love the Creston. I got to perform the Ibert Concertino Da Camera with a brilliant pianist at school named Chunga. I got to perform the Glazunov Concerto in senior year with our school orchestra and the Jewish Grossman orchestra. I won a scholarship from the Goldman band to perform the Creston Concerto. Which I never played with them, but they still gave me the money. And I’m reaching a certain level that I had been aspiring to with all these incredibly advanced classical peers around me that I had been trying to be able to hang with them a little bit. But I was really falling in love with jazz and dedicating myself in that direction. I also met Charles McPherson around that time, end of high school, when Bill Charlap and I and another friend at PA had gotten a gig at Augie’s. And he came in and started talking to me. I was 17 and I had followed Phil around for a year and pestered him enough to finally give me saxophone lessons. So all of a sudden I’ve got Phil Woods and Charles McPherson around me. And if I could have picked two guys on the planet, to have some exposure to at that age, those were the two right guys. I was also sitting in from the middle of senior year of high school at Sweet Basil. You may have heard of it, it was a great club in New York. I would sit in at a jazz brunch with Eddie Chamblee, who was a great tenor player. Really a kind man. The whole band was great. Ernie Hayes, Jimmy Lewis, and either Belton Evans or Khalil Mahdi on drums. All those guys really took care of me. I went in there and played with them, maybe half the gig for almost eight years or more. Most Saturdays. If it wasn’t Eddie, it might be Percy France on tenor or Harold Ousley. Sometimes I would go on Sundays and play with Doc Cheatham. I was also playing in a band of teenagers led by Don Sickler called Young Sounds, and The McDonald’s Big Band led by Rich De Rosa and Justin Di Cioccio. All those guys were great educators and musicians and taught me a lot! Simultaneous to all this, another one of my musical fathers came into my life, Eddie Locke. He had a huge impact in my life. He was a great jazz drummer. He was mentored by Papa Joe Jones and he played for many years with Coleman Hawkins and Roy Eldridge and actually got me on a gig with Roy Eldridge when I was 20 that I’ll never forget. I just lucked into a lot of good people man. In my life and through friends, and in the music, that really embraced me and took care of me. I’m a lucky guy.
VOJ: Can you tell me a little bit about going to Manhattan School Of Music and what you learned there?
Jon Gordon: They were kind of just getting the jazz program up and going when I first started there. I was 17 in September of 1984 when I started there. They didn’t’ have a jazz undergraduate program at the time so I played a semester in the big band. There was a graduate program. But I wasn’t really that involved in jazz yet. I was studying with Joe Allard, which was great, as a saxophone student. Being able to study with Joe Allard was an incredible experience. I took some comp for non-comp major classes with Giacomo Bracali and Ludmila Ulela, who was a really famous composition teacher. I learned some classical music history, which I had done quite a bit at of Performing Arts. But I got some more with a great teacher named David Noon, who I’ve been in contact with quite a bit in recent years. Another classical music teacher from Performing Arts that I’ve stayed in contact with is Jonathan Strasser. Justin Di Cioccio led a jazz program at Music and Art, but there was no jazz in Performing Arts. After they joined, it became Laguardia School of Arts. Justin was there. He later took over at Manhattan. But I knew Justin through the McDonald’s band, which at the time I was finishing high school and starting college, I got involved with. I was not that heavily involved with the school at MSM my first year there. I took a semester off to start my 2nd year. Took classes I felt like taking during my third semester, but by the start of my third year, September of ‘86, they began the undergraduate jazz program and I joined that program. I had a great year with Bob Mintzer. Bob is great. We could have just brought the clarinet or dealt with classical stuff, or brought the flute or just dealt with comp and arranging… what a great teacher. What a great year I had with Bob. Then I studied with another teacher there and I had a really nice association with Richie DeRosa, a great musician, a great drummer and composer and arranger. And I had a number of classes with him. I made some nice associations. Ben Perowsky and Kevin Hays… Bill Mobley and Pete McGuinness. A lot of talented people. A tenor player named Bud Revels there at the time. A lot of really nice associations amongst the students. Garry Dial was a returning student. He actually got me on Red Rodney’s band subbing a little bit. I gigged some with Red when I was 21 in 1988. So I had a lot of nice associations that came from there. But a lot of my education was going on in the clubs. Hearing music and sitting in.
VOJ: Who were some of the big names at the time that you were able to see live?
Jon Gordon: There are a lot of people that impacted me. I remember hearing Oscar Peterson live at the Blue Note, which was very expensive, but… $50 in the ‘80s… hard to come up with. But it was amazing. There were a lot of great things you could go and hear for very little money at the time. Mike Stern is still playing at the 55 Bar on Mondays or Wednesdays. I remember going and hearing him. Charlap said we had to go this, and I think it was maybe late December of ‘85. And I was like, “Wow, that was great.” I remember going to the Vanguard. Hearing Joe Henderson live completely blew my mind. Hearing Hank Jones, so… I’m sure I saw him duo with Red Mitchell a number of times at Bradley’s. That was very impactful. Hearing Benny Carter live. Hearing Sonny Rollins live… that was really amazing. There were so many things that really blew me away at that time. But hearing Phil a lot, those few years especially when I was going to hear music and Tom Harrell was in the band. Man that was incredible. Hearing Tom at that period, and hearing Phil in that period, and also McPherson. Those three guys were very impactful. Very inspiring to me at the time. And Joe Henderson, who I maybe, to me, if I had to pick one improviser in my life that I saw live that blew my mind most, especially as a teenager. Joe Henderson with Ron Carter and Al Foster at the Vanguard was just wow. And the energy of the three of them. That was amazing. Then Barry Harris had a club called Jazz Cultural Theater and there were sessions there on a regular basis. I remember being there and sitting in with McPherson and Barry being there, and just smiling at me. He didn’t talk to me much at the time, he just came up and gave me a smile, which meant a lot. I’ve since gotten to know him and been around him a little bit. He was kind enough to go to a record gig of mine where we recorded a song of his. There were so many great people. Hearing the Vanguard band when it was the Mel Lewis orchestra, right after Thad [Jones] left. Getting to play with Mel in other groups. Dick [Oatts] actually called me to sub in the band when I was 19. It was a long story, it didn’t quite happen.. I had just gotten a clarinet that day. Dick later called me some years later, what a thrill to play with those guys. But I got to talk to Mel Lewis a lot as a teenager. I think that’s what really impacted me the most around that time. I got to talk to people like Mel and Milt Hilton and Benny Carter and Clark Terry and… Jay McShann. I just found myself in some circumstances, on some gigs or sometimes in clubs, with the ability to talk to some of these people. Just being around their energy and being around that history was invaluable. And what I normally say to young people that are getting into the music, if you can and go… now there’s less of those folks around, sadly. But that connection to the music and the history was very powerful to me. I think that’s what I feel the most blessed about. And what I feel the most confident about as a teacher, whatever my strengths and weaknesses are. The fact that I got to be around those people, I feel like that I have something to offer because of that blessing. Being around them a little bit… I’m not them. I’m certainly not trying to compare myself to them. But in lieu of them being able to impart something, the fact that I had so many people like that that were kind to me and talked to me was invaluable.
VOJ: Can you tell me a bit about when you first started studying with Phil and how that was for you?
Jon Gordon: As I said, I had pestered him for a long time. He finally agreed to do it. And I was excited and nervous and he couldn’t have been nicer or more supportive from the minute I got to his house. Phil was known for having a little bit of a gruff manner, but he was all heart. I think he didn’t suffer fools gladly, but he loved supporting young people that loved the music. One time, I think it was my third lesson third or fourth lesson. Kim Parker and he picked me up at the bus station. And she just said, “Phil has been up all night. He’s heartbroken. Bud Johnson died last night.” And Bud Johnson, like Zoot [Sims] and Al [Cohn] had been mentors to him. Phil said to me in the car going back, he said, “Look man, you better know why you’re playing this music. Because I’ve known too many who lived and died for it. And if you’re not trying to change the world, I’m not interested.” And I know that can sound like some pretentious, overdramatic B.S. But it was like, “Thank you.” Because all we can do is go about our work. But we can have a goal. We can have a dream. And when we hear music that we love that changes the world for us, we might as well at least aspire to something like that and aim high. You’re probably not going to get beyond your dreams. So you might as well make them big. And Phil was very passionate. Very committed. He felt very blessed that the people that cared about him and took him aside… if he was out of line or drinking too much, being too surly. And there’s a famous story about Dizzy [Gillespie] and Art Blakey taking him aside, and spending a whole night-long talk with him, “Man we believe in you. You can play. So don’t be walking around with a frown on your face or whatever, getting yourself into trouble. You have got a gift, and nobody is going to take that away from you.” So that meant the world to him. And I feel very similarly. I didn’t have necessarily the same exact kind of dynamic, but that means a lot when people are like that with you. Especially people like that. And I think he felt a certain responsibility and a certain kind of… I mean Benny Carter came up to me and said to me, “You know, in the whole history of the alto, I think Phil is the guy we should all be emulating.” The king! So look, I’m so blessed that my first hero took me in. We spent all day together at that one particular lesson, which was maybe the third or fourth lesson, in from 11:00 in the morning to 11:00 at night. We often did a lot of varied things. It wasn’t just about jazz language and the saxophone. He’d put on some Stravinsky and say to follow the score, tell me to play me the opening to the Rite of Spring. Or, “I’m going to play you some 20th century obscure classical composer you don’t know”. Or, “Let’s listen to some Charles Ives, let’s sight read some Bartok violin duets”, etc. Sometimes you think “Okay, well I’m going to play my horn, and I’m going to study Bird solos or Trane or whatever.” But as he said to me, “Man, Bird listened to everything.” Bird would sit down and ask him, “What do you think about this whole secondary Viennese school with Schoenberg, Berg and Webern? Are you listening to that music and what do you feel about it?” These were the conversations that he was having. And he also said, what he learned from Charlie Parker was, not that he studied with him in the formal sense, is that the first thing that Charlie Parker would always ask was, “Did you eat today?” When he saw the young guys, especially the ones that were scuffling… “Did you eat today?” And if you hadn’t eaten, he’d take you and buy you some lunch. You hear about the struggles with substances and all that, but this was a really a great guy. This was a great man. This was a great artist, and he knew things. He could be mildly conversant in several languages. He knew about wine. He knew about food. He knew about art. He knew about classical music. He was interested in things. Percy France told me, similarly, he and Bird used to hang out. They were good buddies. And he said, “Man, we’d just walk through town, sometimes with our horns. And we’d walk by past an Irish bar. And you’d stand outside and check out the music. And Bird would go in and sit in with these traditional Irish musicians. Then we’d past a Greek restaurant and we’d hear that. And Bird would go sit in with those guys. He was just listening to everything, reacting to everything. He was kind of a sponge and intrigued by it all.” That’s similar to what Phil told me about Bird, too. Like he was into cooking. He was just into a lot of things. Yeah, it’s about dealing with bebop and jazz and Trane and post-Trane and knowing the history. But you’ve got to live. You have to experience things. Know something in this world. So it was a very deep education about what it means to try and be an artist.
VOJ: Once you left school, were you able to entirely support yourself from playing?
Jon Gordon: Pretty fortunate that with the exception of two months when I was 23, that I worked in a law office pushing paper around. I was always able to eke out a living somehow. So I’m blessed.
VOJ: After you left school, what was kind of the next step for you? What was the next major thing you did?
Jon Gordon: I’ll say this. I left school December of 1988. I was 21 at the time. And I hadn’t quite finished my degree because I had done eight semesters, not understanding that I was going to have to finish the degree without the TAPP and Pell grant money that I had been using towards paying for much of my college tuition. And I didn’t have any money. So I said, “Alright.” And circumstances there were such that I thought it was maybe time to move on anyway, so I just continued to go out to clubs that were inexpensive and listen and sit in where I could. I was occasionally getting calls for some things. But I would say, 22 to 29 was a lot of scuffling. Hoping to get called for bad wedding gigs and I did do an off-Broadway show for about 15 months. ‘91 and ‘92. It was nice to have a steady paycheck for a while. It was Oliver Jackson and Earl May, Art Barron and myself were the house band. I was 24 and 25 at the time. There were some things I was going and doing in Europe a little bit. Some festivals that brought me over. That was good. Some touring I did over there. But there was nothing major. The first CD I had, that I think had had any redeeming qualities to it, I did when I was 25 with a relatively small label called Chiarascuro. Some of the same folks that ran the Oslo jazz festival. They were also involved with some jazz cruises at the time, this particular couple and this company they represented. The first jazz cruise that I was on was ‘91. I played with Maria Schneider and John Fedchock’s band. Got to meet some amazing people that week. Similar to what you’re doing with this book. I have just a whole book’s worth of stories from hanging out with Jackie McLean, Ben Riley, Milt Hinton and their wives at meals every day. Plus all the other people that were on that cruise. I had made a couple of records in Europe. One as a leader, and one as a sideman before that. It was what it was. I started to work with Maria Schneider around that period and some other people, I started to get called to sub at the Vanguard in my mid-20s. Some gigs came through. Ron McClure called me to do a record when I was 24. I started to get those kinds of calls. I was touring some with T.S. Monk. Rufus Reid called me for some things with Tana/Reid. Things dribbled in in dribs and drabs through my 20s. But it was a struggle. The streets weren’t paved with gold and Rose petals. “Do I have a horn to sell this month to pay my rent, or what am I going to do?” It was what it was. I saw a nice interview with Dave Binney recently. He was saying, “Man it was never easy. It’s not like ‘Oh wow, the good old days.’ What, when certain people couldn’t vote?” There was more work for musicians in the ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s. But I don’t think it was ever easy.
VOJ: So in ‘96, you got quite a lot of attention for winning the Thelonious Monk International Saxophone Competition. Could you tell me a little bit about that experience?
Jon Gordon: That definitely opened some doors. Earlier that year, Ronnie Scott came to Visiones when I was playing with Maria and he hired me to come and play in his club in London, which I was gratified by. That allowed me to make some more connections. I had played some festivals with people and met and been around some good people, for sure. But what I say to my friends and students, anything like that with a grant or a competition, it involves a great deal of luck. The best thing you can do is just go and have fun with it. I was there with Ralph Bowen, and Joel Frahm, Jimmy Greene, John Ellis. You can’t play the saxophone better than any of those guys play. So many of those things that those guys could do I wish I could do now, let alone then. And Mark Turner told me he didn’t make it to the semi-finals. I called his house around then. His wife, Helena picked up and I said, “Well if it was up to me, I would just have given it to Mark.” I’ve always been a great admirer of Mark. I love what he does. There are so many people you root for. I could go on a long tangent to talk to you about many of them. Many of the people I’m gratified to see have gotten acclaim like Mark Turner or Bill Charlap. Ed Simon or Maria Schneider or Jim McNeely or Scott Robinson. Ken Peplowski, who is a friend and somebody I admire a lot. Aesthetically, I love the whole history of the music. And a guy like Scott plays the whole history of music on every instrument you’ve ever heard of. He’s just kind of an unparalleled genius. I love to see people recognized. I’m very gratified that I had my little 15 minutes, or whatever. It certainly didn’t make me rich and famous. But it helped a little bit for a while. So some of the things that I was doing in Europe opened up a couple of other doors. I was able to go over there and work a little more in Europe. I’m thankful that those of kinds of things. Simultaneously, some nice things did come in. I got a nice festival that came in, in Virginia through that. There was a club that opened in DC in the famous Willard Hotel near the White House. And the club was called The Nest. I played there a few nights. Some musicians in Philly and D.C. kind of brought me down and got me on a couple things. So things opened up a little bit. Still, it wasn’t like I could bring a band on the road or had a major label deal. But things got better. I think we’re in a time and place, the last 20 plus years, and certainly now, it’s only more so, where it’s just about us creating a body of work. Creating hopefully our own scene. I’ve been thankful to work with some wonderful people and sort of combine forces with some folks that… like in recent years, working with Alan Ferber or his brother Mark who’s a wonderful drummer. Alan is a great trombonist and composer. It’s led to various associations such that… some former students helped put together a little tour in Korea in the fall and Alan was going to be there with a woman I knew, Young Joo Song. And she was quite well known over there and I started doing some more gigs with her. That’s just all those kinds of connections that we make over the years. I’m thankful that I got some associations like that through peers and former students. That’s kind of what it is. But I did, I was in Europe a lot. I would say, mid 20s to late 30s. Less so in the last ten or twelve years. Based on some political stuff and other things, I think I’m not the only musician, the only American jazz musician that’s not going to Europe quite as much. I think we’re seen a little differently in the world, unfortunately, than we were pre-Iraq invasion and things like that. I think that’s part of the dynamic. But to your question about the Monk competition. It did open some doors. And I was thankful for that. And I remember [Joe] Lovano came around to me at that time. And I had taken some lessons with Joe and I had seen Joe on the scene. He had always been so great to me, such and inspiration and so kind. One lesson that I had with Joe was just amazing. I’m just such a fan and an admirer of his on every level. He was like, “Don’t worry… you’re just out here. You just do what you’re doing. Don’t worry if it doesn’t make you a household name or anything.” I said “No, no.” I wasn’t expecting it would necessarily do that. So, but you know, I just did what I did and some good things continued to happen and some doors continued to open and that kind of led me into the different associations that I developed in my 30s and some records that I’ve made on ArtistShare over the last 10 years or so.
VOJ: Can you tell me about a moment where you got discouraged about what you were doing, and how you got out of that?
Jon Gordon: I never got discouraged for long, but we all got our butts kicked musically. I definitely had some moments, where, “Wow, these were some hard chords” on some gig. I remember there was a night – I used to go to the Blue Note jam session, which was at like two or three in the morning. And there was a trumpet player named Ted Curson who had worked with Mingus who was leading the jam session. And I think he played C Jam Blues in Db. So it was Bb on the alto, and I didn’t realize it until I actually started to solo. I had pretty good relative pitch, but I didn’t register right away. I was the first soloist and I think I didn’t even play on the head. I got up, and it was really fast.. But I was like, “Okay.” I just got my butt kicked, but that’s part of it. I have to say, music was always my self preservation survival technique. This sort of sacred space in my life and in my mind. Definitely I had a lot of times where I was really hard on myself. Really frustrated. But I never felt like I had someplace else to go. Just had to stay here and deal with this. I think what frustrated me more than anything else in my formative years was that I just had to work. I had to have a job. Like twenty to thirty hours a week, a lot of times in high school and college. And that was hard. I didn’t have time to deal with practicing in a way that I would have liked to. I wish I could have just said, “I’ve got four to five hours every day that I’m going to go deal with music.” I just didn’t’ have that. I missed a lot of lessons, but I think that maybe was frustrating to me in a big picture sense of, I need the time and energy to put into my instrument. I don’t know that there was a moment, like one specific moment where I was like “Ugh. Now what do I do?” I was just always like, “I’m just in here and if I have to fight with myself or ask for help or just be lost for a little while, but I’m just going to keep looking.” Because music was all I had.
VOJ: That’s inspiring. Do do you have any words of advice for a young musician who may be considering pursuing a career in this music?
Jon Gordon: I remember Art Blakey saying to me, “Just remember, we’re blessed to do what we do.” I never got to play with Art, but he was kind and spoke to me a number of times. He said, “You know, the people who are working 40 hours a week. Those are the ones who are really paying dues. Sitting at a desk doing the same thing every day. We’re really blessed to do what we do.” I think that’s important to remember – That we’re blessed to even be able to attempt to do this. Sometimes I say to my students, “We get to come and listen to our favorite recordings and try to learn from them and emulate that and hopefully we can inspire other people the way we’ve been inspired.” I get paid to come to work to do this? Teaching has definitely become a big part of my life in the past ten plus years. As it often does for many dedicated players. Because you can have some great gigs. But you’re not going to have any pension or health care from those $60 nights at you name the club. But I think you do this because you have to do it. You pursue any art form because you need it. Because you love it. Now we also need people who just love to listen to the music. And we need people that want to work to facilitate it. That want to do work, have somebody like Bret Primack, the jazz video guy. All the video work he does. Or someone like Don Sickler, who is an amazing trumpet player and who is also a publisher and amazing producer and composer and arranger. There’s a lot of ways you can make a contribution. There are great jazz educators that I meet all the time. I met a couple of amazing jazz educators on tour with Mark and Alan in the fall. We met a guy named Paul Luchessi who has a high school jazz program in Fresno. And Bob Athayde who runs a junior high program in Lafayette, California. And man, we walked into these schools and Paul Luchessi said, “John is the composer ofParadox.” A hundred or something kids started to applaud. “What? You guys know that? I’m so blown away.” You do this because you love it and hope many some others may as well. You do this because you need it. There are a lot of different ways you can be a part of this music and love it and make a contribution that’s personal to you. If you go with that spirit, good things will come for you. If you go into it with an assumption that you’re a genius and that you’re entitled to something, it’s a little tougher. There is a very small chance that you might be really brilliant and really talented. It’s very unlikely you’re a genius, but, if you’re ready to work at it hard and you want to listen to music all the time and you want to learn about it and you want to be around the people who do it, you’ll find your own way. You’ll find your way in it. And if you want to make it as a player, which is very difficult, as Art Blakey said to me, “We’re blessed to have the opportunity to do this.” So just keep that in mind. And you’ll find your way. And there’s a lot of good people out here that want to help you grow and to help the music to continue to grow and evolve and go find those folks and be around them and carry it on… carrying the tradition on in the way with what it is that you have to offer. Find some good people in the music that will believe in you and they’ll help you do that.
More info on Jon Gordon can be found at his website