I’m going to do something a little bit different here. I’m going to take off my hat as the JEN president, and I’m going to speak to you as the educator, the performer, and the trumpet player, Sean Jones.
I want to speak to you briefly about my idea of protest. For my entire career, I’ve decided to go into academia to be a voice of reason in the classroom. When I was coming up, there were tons of musicians, artists that were in the classroom that did great work, and they were real with the students. But there were also a lot of musicians and teachers that rested on their laurels; kind of just went with the flow, didn’t really care that much. So I wanted to be one of those musicians that had the respect of the artists that were out in the field playing and making the music and writing and doing all those things, and bring that experience into the classroom.
So, 20 years later, I find myself at the Johns Hopkins University, Peabody Conservatory of Music and Dance. And the reason I find myself at this institution is not because I didn’t like my other jobs. I absolutely loved being at the Berklee College of Music. But the reason that I’m here is because I could not stand seeing the oldest conservatory of music and dance in the country without a viable jazz program. So I decided to leave a wonderful position at the Berklee College of Music and go into this institution, knowing that it would be an uphill struggle. Now I sit here and the new jazz wing, we went from a department that was six to 47 over the course of three years. And I’m not saying that to brag. I’m saying that because I could have made one or two decisions. I could have stayed at Berklee College of Music and said, wow, that’s such a shame what they’re doing down there at the Peabody conservatory–tsk, tsk tsk– or I could say I’m going to go there and hopefully make a difference.
Now we are faced with a similar decision in my view, with the Jazz Education Network. I joined this organization a few years ago because I heard several grumblings about things that weren’t necessarily “ranked” with the Jazz Education Network. So instead of me being on the outside, looking in and saying, Hey, get it together, JEN, I decided that I was going to join the board.
Then I was asked to be president. I knew it would be difficult. I didn’t know it would happen in the middle of a pandemic, but here we are. And I feel that we’ve made wonderful changes during this time. Not because of me, but because of the entire vision of the entire board and all of you.
And I’m asking all of you to consider that as we go to Texas this winter. We know the political environment in Texas, and we know the difficulties that are happening there regarding women’s rights, regarding voter registration. And for me, the best way to protest is to go to the place where the issues are.
I want to remind everyone that the people of Texas are not the politics of Texas. We are a broad organization that serves so many different people, and that includes the people of Texas. And we want to be there for them. And regardless of what side of the aisle you’re on, what side of the protest that you’re on, we are all in this together. And again, me personally, I want to be there in Dallas, Texas to offer support for those that would like to protest and for those that also see things differently than me.
I have decided in my lifetime that I will be the bridge, the literal bridge between people. It’s hard to do that, y’all, it’s very difficult to do, especially when the views that are being discussed, you’re on a certain side of them. I deal with this personally, I have family members that are affected by these laws. So for me, I want to make sure that I’m a part of the solution by going and being a part of the change at ground zero.
I want to tell everyone that, you know, whatever your decisions are regarding whatever your politics are or the way that you protest, we need you to do that. And you have a right to do that. I’m simply speaking to you as a fellow jazz musician, a fellow educator, and a fellow human being. I personally have decided that I want to go to the places that require change.
In the words of the late great Donald Bird, one of the things that he told me to change my life, he said, “Do not go where the work is being done. Go where the work isn’t being done and do the work.”
And that’s what I’m asking all of you to do.
Let’s go do the work. Let’s be there for our brothers and sisters in Texas. We’re all in this together, And I hope to see in January.