As a trumpet, French horn, and keyboard player, C.J. Camerieri has enjoyed an active, diverse, and exciting career since completing his classical trumpet training at Juilliard in 2004. He has become an indispensable collaborator for numerous indie rock groups as a performer, arranger, improviser, and soloist and is a co-founder of the contemporary classical ensemble yMusic. yMusic’s debut record was named Time Out New York’s #1 Classical Record of 2011, the same year that Camerieri won two Grammys as a member of Bon Iver for the band’s sophomore record, which later reached gold status. He is currently the newest member of Paul Simon’s band, joining for 2014’s “Paul Simon and Sting: On Stage Together” tour.
CJ began working in alternative music as the trumpet player and keyboard player for Sufjan Stevens in January of 2006. He then went on to tour the world as a member of Rufus Wainwright’s band in 2007-2008 before starting yMusic with Rob Moose in the spring of 2008 and later joining Bon Iver in 2011. C.J.’s discography includes well over 100 recordings, including current and forthcoming releases by Bon Iver, yMusic, Sufjan Stevens, Rufus Wainwright, David Byrne, Antony and the Johnsons, Martha Wainwright, Loudon Wainwright III, Gabriel Kahane, The National, Julia Stone, My Brightest Diamond, A Fine Frenzy, Baby Dee, Diane Birch, Joan Osbourne, Sean Lennon, Yuka Honda, GOASTT, Jesse Harris, She and Him, Harper Simon, Chris Garneau, Clare and the Reasons, Welcome Wagon, Anthony Coleman, ACME, New York Trumpet Ensemble, Argento New Music Ensemble and the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra.
B-flat Trumpet: Bach 37 (3C mouthpiece)
C Trumpet: Bach 229
E-flat Trumpet: Bach Artisan
Piccolo Trumpet: Schilke P5-4
Horns: Alexander Model 90; Conn 8D
Interview with C.J. Camerieri, New York City Trumpeter, Hornist and Keyboard Player
The interviewer is Stanley Curtis
SC: What are some of your early musical experiences?
CJC: I started playing the piano at the age of four. My dad is a middle school band director and has always taught private lessons at the house. I remember begging him to let me take lessons from him starting at the age of 3 and his rule was that I couldn’t start until I could read all of the notes on the treble and bass clef staves. I convinced my mother to teach me how to read the notes in “secret” and, although I’m quite sure my dad knew what was going on, we surprised him one day with my new ability to read music. After that I mostly just remember giving piano recitals at the house, which were probably just excuses for my parents and their friends to have a good laugh at my unknowing (yet cute) expense.
SC: Who were you trumpet teachers?
CJC: My first trumpet teacher was my dad. He started me on trumpet in 3rd grade. I began studying at around the age of 10 with a man named Jim Mark, who was the high school band director in my hometown and also happened to be a good trumpet player. I then studied classical trumpet with Roger Blackburn from age 14 through the end of high school and jazz with Rick Kerber. Both of these men were exceptional trumpet players and great teachers who always encouraged me to pursue all types of trumpet playing and musicianship. They both always stressed being as well rounded as possible and being the guy who can always say yes to whatever gig I was called for.
SC: How did you develop your musical interests, tastes and skills?
CJC: I guess I was just always interested in all different types of music. Classical music seemed “easy” to me when I was young so I pursued jazz. I of course learned my lesson about classical trumpet playing being “easy” upon showing up to Juilliard as an overly confident 18 year old. When I moved to New York it was to be a jazz musician–I figured I would get my technique together at Juilliard and then pursue a jazz career. It was then that I really fell in love with playing chamber music. I had never felt that level of musical intimacy playing jazz or commercial music and was super-drawn to it.
Upon graduating from school I played all kinds of gigs. Broadway, ragtime, orchestra, jazz, a lot of free improvisation, big band, and contemporary classical chamber music–but I wasn’t feeling completely fulfilled musically. It was then I started seeking out singer/songwriters. Working with alternative songwriters provided me with the sort of musical opportunity I had always been looking for. I could improvise, write arrangements, play solos, play keyboards, learn new instruments like the French horn, play technically demanding parts on one song, keyboards on another, and then a poppy trumpet solo on the next. My first real gig in pop music was with Sufjan Stevens in Lincoln Center in January of 2006 and I was hooked for life.
SC: What are the challenges to playing horn and trumpet? Are there advantages to doubling?
CJC: They are truly two different instruments. It’s really fun for me. Learning to play the French horn has been great for my trumpet playing. It gets me moving so much more air than I did when I was just playing the trumpet as the horn is twice as long as the trumpet. It’s also been great for my career. The horn is a more flexible instrument in an arrangement context as it can blend or cut through a texture where the trumpet mostly just cuts – so it’s been a great tool for the artists I work with who want the feeling and sound of brass without the distraction of brass!
SC: Tell me about your chamber music experiences.
CJC: My chamber music experiences these days are basically limited to yMusic…which is such a wonderful thing! In a more romantic sense though I like to think that a lot of the work I’m involved with in pop music is literally a chamber music way of making music with other people.
SC: What is it like being a New York trumpeter?
CJC: It’s fun and exciting. I love it although it’s completely exhausting. In the past two weeks I’ve recorded on 6 records, played 2 cd release shows, 14 Broadway shows, and written 2 arrangements. Tomorrow I fly to Wisconsin for a week to play French horn, trumpet, and keyboards on a new record with a group from the UK called The Staves that Justin Vernon is producing and after that I have 4 weeks to learn about 183 songs for my new gig with Paul Simon.
SC: What is it like playing on Broadway, accepting gigs and working with contractors?
CJC: It’s fun. Contractors are musicians too! They want to be around other fun musicians who sound good and are doing interesting things with their musical lives. A lot of people are walking around scared trying to find a way onto the next gig whereas the best musicians I know are working hard on their own skill set and letting the contractors call them. New York is full of amazing musicians doing amazing things. It’s such an exciting place to live.
SC: What are the social and political realities of Broadway that help someone get ahead?
CJC: Play well. Play all styles. Show up on time. Be enjoyable to be around. Easy!
SC: Yes, it seems easy, when you say it like that! Who are some of your favorite musicians?
CJC: Impossible to list….but here are randomly the first ten to come to mind. Louis Armstrong. Miles Davis. Clifford Brown. Bob Dylan. Jimi Hendrix. Paul Simon. Michael Lewis. Chris Thile. Justin Vernon. Neil Young.
SC: How did you get to play with Bon Iver?
CJC: I met Justin Vernon of Bon Iver while playing at Music Now in Cincinnati in March of 2010. My group yMusic, that I cofounded with Rob Moose in 2008, was playing a concert there and Justin was performing a solo show the following day. The festival organizers, Bryce and Aaron Dessner, asked the group to stay for the next day on the off chance that Justin would need some extra musicians for his show. I was a big fan of Bon Iver so I, of course, said yes. We had an absolutely incredible musical experience working with him and that concert is one of the most special and moving nights of my life. A few days later Justin called and asked Rob and me to come to his house in Wisconsin to work on his new record and the rest is history!
SC: What are some of the projects and recordings that you have done of which you are the proudest?
CJC: Bon Iver. That was such a special and magical record to work on…and I got to give one of my Grammy’s to my mom and dad, which was really a special thing for me to be able to do. The first yMusic record wildly exceeded all of our expectations and I think really showcases the group’s ability. That was the first time I ever put my own money and time into something and to get such a wonderful product and response was really wild.
SC: What advice do you have for an aspiring professional musician to do similar things that you have done?
CJC: Create your own brand! That’s it. I like to think I’m a unique musician in that I play both Trumpet and French horn (sometimes with effects pedals) and I can improvise, write, and arrange, and play keyboards. That is my brand. It’s been a lot of work. I took harmony lessons for two years after graduating college. I played some really bad concerts on French horn early on. The first few concerts I used effects pedals on I had major technical failures…but it was all worth it. Brand. As freelance musicians, we are basically products in a marketplace. The stronger the brand the more often you are called upon.
SC: What are your ambitions for the future?
CJC: My ambitions are fully behind my group yMusic. Our first record did well and got a lot of great press and we are so excited about the next record (it’s almost done being mixed)! We have a lot of exciting concerts this year and I think the group is really special. It’s literally 5 of my closest friends playing music written for us by our favorite composers. What could be better than that! Oh! Also, I’ve just become the newest member of Paul Simon’s band and we have a tour coming up in early 2014 with Sting, which should be incredible! Paul’s band is amazing and I feel so honored to get to work with such a legend. It’s hard to speak of something that hasn’t happened yet – but needless to say I’m quite excited.