Q&A with John Raymond: ‘That Minnesota Nice’

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Flugelhornist John Raymond appreciates the change of pace after moving from Brooklyn to Bloomington, Indiana, for a teaching position.

(Photo: Matthew Johnson)

With his aptly named trio, Real Feels, 32-year-old flugelhornist John Raymond plays like he’s wearing his heart on his sleeves.

A supreme melodist and improviser, he emits a sinewy, warm tone that’s undeniably emotive without being fussy. “I’m sure it’s that Minnesota nice,” he said with laugh, while referencing his upbringing in Golden Valley, a suburb west of Minneapolis. “When I started this band with the decision to go with the flugelhorn and play this kind of music, it all came from the same place of me harkening back to my roots in some way. I’ve never really been somebody that has been about flashy, in-your-face music. Predominately, I’m more into subtlety, nuance and tone—providing a musical environment that’s really inviting, warm and joyous.”

On Raymond and Real Feel’s new disc, Joy Ride (Sunnyside), they teamed with ace producer Matt Pierson to concoct a collection of evocative originals and wisely chosen pop tunes—all of which soundtracks some of the leader’s triumphs and loses from the past five years. The high-points include becoming a father and moving from Brooklyn to Bloomington, Indiana, where he’s now a jazz trumpet professor at Indiana University’s Jacob School of Music.

Raymond went into further detail about some of his recent life experiences that shaped Joy Ride, as well as how he’ll continue working with drummer Colin Stranahan and guitarist Gilad Hekselman, both of whom remain in Brooklyn. Raymond also shared his experiences working with Pierson and talked about getting the jazz bug while growing up in Minnesota.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

Talk about some of the joys and pains that you experienced and are referenced in the liner notes of Joy Ride.
There’s something about this album that feels like it was three or four years in the making. One experience for us happened in 2013. My wife and I were going to a church in Brooklyn, and we had a super messy divorce with this church and with our best friends. They all basically turned on us. That was something that I’d never experienced before. It shell-shocked us for probably two years. It took us a while to come out of that. It resulted in the loss of a bunch of close friendships. And it changed a lot of things in terms of how I see beauty and how I experience the world. I know my perspective is pretty limited to this point. But that [experience] was a big one.

Parenting was one big experience. It’s an amazing journey; it’s one of the greatest gifts that I think I’ve ever been given—to be a father. But it’s incredibly humbling and challenging on a daily basis. I remember earlier on when we had our daughter, Nora, in 2015, those first nine months of life with a newborn were crazy, not just because of newborn stuff, but in adjusting my lifestyle to make it work for us as a family.

A lot of that life stuff is coming out a lot clearer in my music. It feels as though the older I get, things are becoming more of one and the same. There’s not a compartmentalized version between life as a musician and life as a husband and father. It’s all the same. I’m finding that I start approaching everything with the same mentality. The life stuff and my music are becoming more unified in that sense.

What happened between you and the church that caused such a big riff? It sounds a bit like the R.E.M. song “Losing My Religion.”
In the long run, the experience has really strengthened my faith a lot more. It took us a second for us to get our bearings. But essentially what happened was my wife, Dani, and I were a part of a very small church in Brooklyn that was probably 75 or 80 people. It was an incredible community of people. We were very close with everybody. I was part of the leadership of the church because it was so small. Me and a couple of the other people that were in leadership brought some concerns to the pastor that we had about repeated patterns with him. Not anything like adultery, but in how he treated being a disciple or growing in faith. He also exhibited patterns of anger.

[The pastor] kind of flipped out. Basically, in him communicating that with the congregation, he threw us all under the bus. He got everybody to come onto his side [of the issue]. Long story, short: It was “Wow, what just happened? We were just trying to be honest.” He just took the issue to a whole new level.

Another major experience was moving from Brooklyn to Indiana, where you’re now a professor of jazz trumpet at Indiana University. What are the pros and cons of your new location?
In a lot of ways, I’m not that torn between leaving Brooklyn and living in Indiana. It’s been really great. I’m from Minneapolis and my wife is from central Wisconsin, so we’re Midwesterners at heart. To some extent, moving to Indiana feels like coming home. It feels great to have a house; it feels great to have a car and some of the simple conveniences that we didn’t have in Brooklyn. And the job has been amazing. So, the transition so far has been really great. There are definitely times when I miss the hang and being able to go to the Village Vanguard whenever I want. But for the most part, we really love to move.

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March 2019
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