An Interview with John Raymond

I’ve been a fan of up-and-coming trumpet player John Raymond for a while now, pretty much ever since he became a Nextbop artist. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Raymond and ask him some questions I’ve been wondering concerning his life and career. Though Raymond can easily be given the title “up-and -coming”, he is by no means an amatuer. Not only was he a finalist of the 2009 National Trumpet Competition, but his debut album, Strength and Song, was produced by legendary trumpeter Jon Faddis. If you haven’t checked out John Raymond yet, then you will after reading this interview.

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Jared Bailey– First off, I wanted to congratulate you for an awesome album.
John Raymond– Thanks a lot, man! I’m really glad you dug it
Jared Bailey– Definitely. I feel as though enough people don’t know [yet] who you are or where you came from. What’s your story? Why the trumpet? Why jazz?
John Raymond – I’m originally from Minneapolis, MN – or Minnesnowda as they say. I started playing in fifth grade and I really started to take things seriously when I was a junior in high school. I was even recounting a defining moment for me to one of my students that I teach yesterday. I remember getting a bootleg of Nicholas Payton concert when he came through Minneapolis. Nick’s always been a beast of a trumpet player but back then in the early 2000’s his sound/ideas, etc. were straight FIRE. So this friend played this recording of “Wild Man Blues” for me that he did. His arrangement has him taking all these solo breaks and he absolutely DESTROYED the tune. I mean, just ridiculous, and that’s when I knew – I wanted to play trumpet like that. Obviously it’s molded to different things over the years but that was pivotal for me.
Jared Bailey– Awesome! The move to NY was because of college?
John Raymond– yup. I actually visited NY in high school thinking about undergrad out here and I hated it! *laughs* but then I visited again in college and it started to grow on me. When I came back to audition for grad schools in the fall of ’08 I was hooked.
Jared Bailey– Sweet. I look forward to checking out NY myself. Is that where you met your band?
John Raymond– Yup, all except for the pianist Javier Santiago. We actually grew up together in Minneapolis and have played together for almost 10 years I think.

Jared Bailey– Can you tell a little about your personnel?
John Raymond– Yeah, definitely. In addition to Javier, Gilad Hekselman typically fills the guitar role in the band. When I first moved to NY I would check out Gilad on Mondays at Smalls with Ari Hoenig almost every week. After a while hearing him, I quickly realized how Gilad had this thing in his playing that I heard in myself, the way he uses space, it really lets the music breathe in a special way. Gilad never forces anything, and because of this, he really allows the music to transcend in a way that resonates with me that not many other musicians do; the bass chair is one I’ve used a lot of different players on lately – Joe Martin, Linda Oh, Ben Williams. I’m still trying to really hear what I want in that role, so I’m not totally sure yet if I could say there’s one “specific” person I go to regularly. All are amazing in their own right and bring something different to the table. Lastly, I’ve been having Otis Brown III on drums. I met Otis through Adam Larson, a good friend of mine and incredibly saxophonist/composer. Besides being an all-around beast on the drums, there’s just something about Otis that made me really want to play with him from the first time I saw him. I think its his sensitivity. He can DEAL when he wants to but he’s such a great listener that he’s never overpowering the thing with all these musicians to, I should say, is that, honestly, I’ve really wanted to have people play my music that I look up to and admire musically. All these guys are people that I feel like I’ve already learned so much from, and for me that’s part of the joy of this whole thing. I have the opportunity to play music that I really enjoy with people that are constantly challenging me and helping me grow and blossom into a more mature version of myself, musically speaking. That to me is second-to-none – worth it in every respect, no matter what happens with performance opportunities, tours, albums, etc.

Jared Bailey– I totally agree. That’s a beautiful thing man. What I like about you is that you have a style that’s sort of a middle ground between the extremes of older jazz and the places where the new guys are taking it. You already spoke on Nick Payton, but who else has been a big influence?
John Raymond– Clifford [Brown] for sure. I’m a HUGE Tom Harrell fan. HUGE *laughs*. As far as modern people too, definitely Terence Blanchard in a certain way. I’ve also been really, really getting into Lee Konitz. His phrasing, weaving lines….between him and Tom Harrell is a combination that I’m trying to explore as far as influences go, and then also incorporating more modern influences as far as harmony and rhythm goes too.
Jared Bailey– Yeah. I had the opportunity to hear Tom Harrell last year. He’s incredible.
John Raymond– Man, absolutely stunning. His melodies are beautifully crafted. and phrasing out the ears… He’s been huge for me.

Jared Bailey– Every time I see you promoting a gig, it’s in NY. Do you get the opportunity to play other areas often?
John Raymond– I play regularly back in the Midwest, but so far not really. One thing I’m working on for the next year or so. I feel like I want to really establish myself here in NY though. I feel like if I do it that well, then opportunities elsewhere will hopefully open up.
Jared Bailey– That makes sense. How’s that been going?
John Raymond– You know, I’ve been super blessed this fall with some awesome opportunities. I know it’s a thing where everyone has to hustle for opportunities to play, and that’s true, but man, in all honesty, you can hustle all you want but sometimes the doors just don’t open, and that’s ok. When they do open, you realize that it ultimately wasn’t you that made it happen. So I’ve been grateful for everything this fall – definitely been a sweet little run and I’m hoping to keep things rolling for the spring.

Jared Bailey– Sounds like things are looking up. I look forward to coming to hear you live. How did the Gerald Clayton feature come about?
John Raymond– Thanks, man. You know Gerald is actually a big modern influence for me as well. I started to get to him slowly as I would go see him every time he played in the city. I’ve just fallen in love with his approach to the piano, his approach to music, etc. I just asked him one day if he would play a tune on the record and he was cool with it! I remember recording the tune with him and, as he played the intro by himself before the band came in, I thought “wow, this is exactly how I envisioned this sounding”.

Jared Bailey– It’s great to see the younger jazz community is looking out for each other. In my opinion that’s what’s going to keep this music going. What about Jon Faddis? Having him produce your album is an honor.
John Raymond– Yeah, absolutely, it is. Faddis was one of my professors at SUNY Purchase. When I first got there, I was wanting to make a demo CD for a competition or something, and when I told Faddis about it and showed him a tune of mine, he basically told me he would bring me and a band to the then Bennett Studios in Englewood, NJ, to record and he would pay for it!
Jared Bailey– What was it like having him as a teacher?
John Raymond– I was really honored. I actually only had him for a semester because he went on sabbatical while I was there too, but in that one semester he set the bar so high for me – with EVERYTHING (trumpet, composing, bandleading, business, etc) that left a huge impression on me.
Jared Bailey– Wow. We all need teachers like that.
John Raymond– That’s what he’s all about – making you reach for the next level so that, eventually, you get there.

Jared Bailey– Did you make the decision to become a “Christian/Gospel jazz artist” or were you just being transparent?
John Raymond– Good question *laughs*. Honestly, I’m just being transparent. I feel like every artist needs to be true to who they are, and frankly this is going to come out in the music one way or another. For me, I’m a Christian and so it would make total sense that my songs and playing reflect what I believe. That was kind of the theme of the whole record for me, wanting to establish who I am first and foremost.

Jared Bailey– Exactly. Now that the foundation has been established, any new music in the works?
John Raymond– I’m still writing for this band with guitar and piano – just tunes here and there that are coming to me. I’ve also been writing and conceiving a lot of ideas for a quartet too – might be the next record I do, and playing a lot with a chordless trio in the city. We do kind of a blend of all these tunes, some covers and others too.

Jared Bailey– Any other groups you playing with at this point?
John Raymond– Not regularly at this point.
Jared Bailey– That’s pretty awesome that you can make a living playing your music. Playing with others is great, but I think that’s the end goal for a lot of us.
John Raymond– I love playing my own music. I want to keep doing that by all means, but part of it for me is that, as a trumpet player, and still being relatively new to NY it’s been hard to get sideman opportunities. I think you need to have a really distinct voice on the trumpet for people to go out of their way and say “i want him in my band”. Modern examples: Ambrose [Akinmusire], Phil Dizack, Mike Rodriguez, just to name a few. All have their own thing that people can then hear in their bands. It’s just something for me that I’ve been developing and I feel like I’m really getting closer to, and I really hope it leads to more sideman opportunities.
Jared Bailey– Ahh. That makes sense.
John Raymond– I am really eager for the mentorship, learning opportunities, and to just make music with people more seasoned than me.

Jared Bailey– Final question: What do you want your legacy to be?
John Raymond– Wow, really good question. My legacy… That’s a layered question for me. On one hand, I would love to be known for being an artist who was intensely devoted to creating music that more and more accurately depicted who I am. I think that’s an ultimate goal of any dedicated improviser and certainly one for me. I truly believe that when someone creates music that is deeply personal to them, however that looks, then it resonates with people in a really memorable, lasting way, but for me, ultimately, I don’t want my legacy to be all about me. I don’t necessarily want to be “one of the best of all time” or anything like that. (Make no mistake, I want to be devoted to my craft with the same intensity that the BEST possess, if that makes sense.) But I guess I’ve realized that, for me, the bigger purpose for me being a musician and doing what I do lies in the relationships I get to develop with people (musicians or not). I really think it’s here, in our relationships with people, where we’re really able to connect with someone on a deeper level and develop a bond that goes even beyond the actual music. I guess I want to be known as someone that made music that 1) completely transcends and reaches people in a deeply profound way, but also that 2) I made music that allowed me to connect with people in a way that supersedes everything else.
Jared Bailey– Couldn’t have said it better myself. Thanks so much, John.

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