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 Gilad and Colin still based in Brooklyn, how to you plan for the trio to continue?

We’ve never been a band that rehearses a lot. We’ve always tended to work things out live. We would talk about certain things and maybe had some little rehearsals, if we have the luxury. I do all of the booking for the band. So, I’m in touch with them all of time.

After not playing together for a few months, when we do get a chance to play together, we get that feeling when you see an old friend and you don’t need to catch up because there’s this deep understanding, trust and history. So, we just pick up where we left off.

Talk about working with producer Matt Pierson, who has a knack of introducing a lot of pop repertoire to modern jazz musicians.
Working with Matt was pretty easy. I didn’t know how much he would offer in terms of suggestions or changes. I’ve worked with someone like trumpeter John McNeil, who produced one of my records a few years ago; he changed a whole bunch of stuff. His changes made the record a lot better. I ended up being very grateful for those changes.

But Matt didn’t change a whole lot. He really saw what was there in the band. I think one of his main goals was to highlight our collective sound. Matt specifically helped with some of the covers in terms of offering suggestions like encouraging me to play a melody more clearly. He really likes melodies to stand for themselves. That had a lot of impact on things. We had talked after we had finished recording and he said, “This is really a melody heavy album.” I think I like that.

Explain why you opted to not include bass or piano in your trio? Do you ever miss that extra chordal anchor?
To me, this group feels like a chord-less trio—like bass, drums and trumpet. So, you feel a sense of freedom. Ultimately though, I also feel a huge sense of responsibility, because as a horn player, I have to communicate the harmonies a lot differently. I never feel like I’m missing anything in terms of instrumentation, especially because of the way that Gilad plays guitar and some of the effects that he’s using. Sometimes, he can essentially be a bassist and guitarist at the same time.

There are a couple of tracks on the new disc that we did some multi tracking. But when we play this music live, there’s obviously no multi-tracking involved. We are looping a lot of things: Gilad will loop a bass line or I’ll loop certain effects. So, our music never feels empty.

On Joy Ride, you continue selecting intriguing pop, folk and gospel songs to recast. The new disc features makeovers of Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill,” Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” Paul Simon’s “I’ll Do It For Your Love,” Bon Iver’s “Minnesota, Wi.” and the gospel hymn “Be Still, My Soul.” What do you look for in other genres to incorporate into your own repertoire? And has there ever been a pop tune that you loved, but you couldn’t cover?
There is one song that I really wanted to cover—another Bob Dylan tune, “It’s Alright, Ma.” It’s a really intense song. But what I realized when trying to chart it out was that the song had no melody structure. It had a cool chordal, harmonic thing happening, but it didn’t have a melodic thing happening.

So, for me, it’s been finding songs that I’m really melodically attracted to. The Paul Simon tune, “I’ll Do It For Your Love” is something that I’m very melodically drawn to, but there’s also some really interesting things in there harmonically. Or like Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill”—that was one of the tunes that Matt suggested—which wasn’t really on my radar. I was able to take certain parts of that song and made them the seed from which everything else in the song grows from. Sometimes, I will do that with direct melodic material or direct harmonic material. Sometimes, I will do that with just the vibe of a song like “Times There Are A-Changing,’” which has a certain pastoral vibe ... but it has a lot of political intensity to it. When I listen to the original Bob Dylan recording, I feel like it missed a little grit that I want from the song. So, that’s what inspired me to do different things with the arrangement.

Talk about growing up in Golden Valley, right outside of Minneapolis. How did you get the music bug, then the jazz bug?
It’s funny: I grew up in a family that never had music on. We never had it on around the house. I never remember going to concerts. Apart from growing up in a Lutheran church, which was as white-Minnesotan as it gets, there was no music happening in our family.

I don’t really know what it was. I started piano lessons when I was about seven. And I remember for whatever reason being very drawn to jazz. I only had a piano teacher who taught classical music. So, in 5th grade, I started playing the trumpet; I wanted to play in the jazz band. I had some great band directors and private lesson teachers.

My parents from the very beginning really encouraged me. They provided me with a lot of opportunities. There are a lot of high school bands that did those renowned jazz camps around the country—I didn’t do anything of that.

I went to school, initially in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. But I basically practiced for eight hours a day for five years. That was my life. In a lot of ways, I approached music very naïvely. I wanted to play it; I wanted to write it; I wanted to play music in any capacity that I could. When I look back, I’m pretty grateful because it didn’t scare me off. Music has always been a sacred thing for me. I love music so much, and I want to keep it that way.

Did you explore the Twin Cities’ music scene much?
A little bit. I didn’t so much in high school. But when I was going to school in Eau Claire, I got involved very quickly with a bunch of gospel artists from Minneapolis, like Darnell Davis, who wrote a lot for Ricky Dillard. Darrell is an incredible writer, producer and musician. I started playing, writing and recording for a couple of groups there. We would go on little weekend tours. I hung out with a lot of gospel musicians, pretty much during my entire time at Eau Claire, which was five years.

The gospel music sort of got me into the Prince scene a little bit. I never got a chance to meet him or see him. But I definitely started going down that path of playing and listening to the Minneapolis Sound.

In terms of the jazz scene there, it was kind of the same thing. I never got into it much in high school. It was really when I had gone to college that I recognized that the city had an incredible local jazz scene.

The Twin Cities is a very unique place. There’s a lot happening. But at the same time, there’s this constant struggle of not having enough venues, especially if you’re a jazz musician. In typical Minneapolis fashion, the jazz scene is very much under-the-radar. You have to kind of be on the inside to know about it. But that’s what kind of makes it cool. DB

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