That jazz-oriented conservatory programs can turn out exceptional musicians should be obvious, at least when you consider players like Joshua Bruneau, a graduate of the Hartt School’s Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz. The 26-year-old trumpeter’s debut recording, Bright Idea, finds him retooling the hard-bop template for the 21st century, and sounding appropriately focused and smart.
But jazz is still part of the oral tradition, and Bruneau notes that his education in the unlikely jazz mecca of Hartford, Connecticut, extended well beyond the classroom.
“My tutelage there was very, very, very important, because not only was I learning about music history and things like that that everybody needs to learn, but I was also out playing gigs regularly,” Bruneau explains in a telephone interview from a Vermont hotel. “So it was really hands-on training.”
Those club dates were also a chance for the young musician to perform with some of the legends who invented his chosen style—a different kind of education, and one Bruneau is especially grateful for.
“We’re in a time right now where a lot of our musical masters—people that we all grew up admiring and even idolizing—are passing away,” he notes. “Recently, Horace Silver passed away, and there’s been a few others, and when one of those people passes away, that’s like a library of information that you can’t get back. I’ve been fortunate enough to hang around and play with people like Curtis Fuller and Harold Mabern and George Coleman, and get their take on the history—because it’s not history to them; they actually lived it. It’s very important for young musicians to be around people like that, any way they can, and just sit and listen.”
“Fuller’s Blues”, the opening track on Bright Idea, is dedicated to one of those mentors, and Bruneau says it’s a way of paying trombonist Fuller back for giving him his first high-profile New York City gig—and for a particularly important lesson.
“He’s got a lot of great stories,” the trumpeter says. “He told me recently that he was playing with Billie Holiday when he first came to New York. I guess Lester Young was very ill and couldn’t play, so he called for Curtis to replace him on the gig. So he got up on-stage and there was media there and everything—you know, he was the new kid in town—so he tried to play everything he could in order to prove himself. And Billie Holiday came over to him after the set and said, ‘You need to learn how to edit your solos. You’ve got to leave them wanting more. You’ve got to give them a reason to come back. You don’t have to play everything you know on every solo.’
“That really struck a chord with him,” Bruneau adds, “and it really struck a chord with me as well.”
Although he’s now a teacher himself, Bruneau continues to learn from his elders—including another great trombonist, Steve Davis, who’ll join him on-stage at Pyatt Hall this weekend. Expect to hear great midcentury modern jazz, with just the right number of notes.
The Cellar Jazz Society and the Hard Rubber Music Society present the Joshua Bruneau Sextet at Pyatt Hall on Friday and Saturday (December 5 and 6).