Interview with Jonathan Barnes, Jazz Trumpeter

Lars Halle Jazz Orchestra: Matt Gallagher (L), Jonathan Barnes (R). Photo credit: Dave Jackson
Lars Halle Jazz Orchestra: Matt Gallagher (L), Jonathan Barnes (R). Photo credit: Dave Jackson

Jonathan Barnes is a native of the Baltimore area. After earning a Bachelor of Music in jazz studies from Rowan University, he went on to study with Jon Faddis and Scott Wendholt at Manhattan School of Music, where he earned a Master of Music in jazz performance.

Splitting his time between New York City and Philadelphia, he has performed with diverse artists such as Bernadette Peters, Simone, John Fedchock, and Dick Oatts. In addition, he has recorded with the Grammy-nominated Bobby Sanabria Big Band and, most recently, for the soundtrack of Ken Burns’ documentary on the Roosevelts. Always willing to share his passion for music, he has taught masterclasses, private lessons, and courses in music theory and music appreciation at Rowan University. He joined the U. S. Navy Band in 2012 as a member of the Commodores Jazz Ensemble.

In his free time, Barnes enjoys biking, kayaking, cooking, and spending time with family.


Bb trumpets:

    • Benge 3X (gold plated LA body, raw brass Burbank bell)
    • Bach 37 (stock)

Bb Mouthpieces:

    • Laskey 75C for most styles
    • Reeves 43.5M 692s for Latin/lead

Flugel: Yamaha “Bobby Shew”. Flugel Mouthpieces: Wick 2FL; Laskey 75F

C trumpet: Bach 229 25H

Piccolo trumpet: French Besson/Kanstul. Picc. Mouthpiece: Laskey 65P


    • Straight mutes: Leblanc Vacchiano, Denis Wick, TrumCor metal, lyric stealth, and lyric
    • Cup mutes: Humes & Berg stonelined, Ray Robinson, Shastock, Denis Wick
    • Harmon mutes: JoRal aluminum & copper, Walt Johnson “Miles mute”, TrumCor aluminum
    • Plunger: Kirkhill is the name of the manufacturer of these toilet plungers. These are so hard to find but the shape is perfect!
    • Bucket: Humes & Berg, EZ Bucket, Soulo mute
    • Humes & Berg solo tone




Interview with Jonathan Barnes, jazz trumpeter.

The interviewer is Stanley Curtis


SC: Jon, thanks so much agreeing to do this interview!

JB: My pleasure!


SC: You’re a fantastic jazz musician, but you’re also a trumpet player—would you mind sharing with us what you do to develop your trumpet playing from day to day?

Bobby Sanabria Big Band recording session (from left to right: Shareef Clayton, Kevin Bryan, Jonathan Barnes, Andrew Neesley). Photo credit: Jazzheads (record label)
Bobby Sanabria Big Band recording session (from left to right: Shareef Clayton, Kevin Bryan, Jonathan Barnes, Andrew Neesley). Photo credit: Jan Sileo

JB: My fundamentals routine is very important to me on a daily basis. I feel that, if my fundamentals are working properly, then everything else (jazz, etc.) falls into place.

I like to break my practice up into several short sets per day (about 20-25 min each). I have found that this works well for two reasons. One, I can focus each session on a particular “problem” of playing, and two, it allows time for the chops to rest after each session.

I usually start my day with some lip flapping, massaging, and buzzing (gets the blood flowing), then go into Richard Shuebruk’s lip trainer exercises [Shuebruk’s Complete Lip Trainers]. These involve isolated attacks (removing the horn after each one and then replacing it one beat before the next attack) and interval studies. Then I’ll try to play through a simple lyrical etude, such as the ones by [Giuseppe] Concone. I used to do a lot more mouthpiece buzzing in my first set of the day, but changed over to the lip trainers. I feel like these help me to get my good habits going quickly, and with a minimal amount of face time, allowing for better endurance to get through whatever other playing I may have lined up for the day. I may switch back to more buzzing at some point, but this is working for me now. I think the important thing is to not get stuck in a rut, where I become complacent with any group of exercises and cease to maintain the proper focus required to play them correctly!

My second set of the day usually consists of one of the [Herbert L.] Clarke Technical Studies, or a short routine from Schlossberg’s method book [Daily Drills and Technical Studies]. Every once in a while, I’ll try to play through all of the etudes at the end of each Clarke study.

Usually one of the last things I work on in any day that I practice is lip flexibility. I alternate between Irons, Colin, Arban, and Shuebruk.

Other things I try to touch on each day are tonguing (usually worked into the Clarke studies), orchestral excerpts, and etudes such as those by Charlier, Bordogni, Bousquet, Arban (the “Characteristic Studies”), and others.


SC: What about your approach to studying jazz on a routine basis?

JB: My jazz practice routine is pretty hard to nail down. When I was first learning the language of jazz, I would practice scales every day. Major, three typical forms of minor, dorian, mixolydian, bebop, octatonic, whole tone, etc. I would take as many of these as I could through the cycle of fourths in order to get through all 12 keys on each scale. I would practice these with the articulation pattern as described by John McNeil in his book (can’t remember the title!) [The Art of Jazz Trumpet]. Essentially, doo-doo-yoo-doo-yoo-doo-yoo-doo-yoo…, keeping the eighth notes as even and connected as possible. It is important to try NOT to swing the eighth notes. Let the articulation itself set the style, and keep the eighth notes straight. In college, I also did a fair amount of transcribing of solos. I eventually learned that it worked best for me to learn them by ear and memorize them in my head first, then write them down second. I found that, when writing them out as I learned them, I was unable to ingrain them as well. Also, I learned lots and lots of jazz standards by listening to recordings and attempting to learn them by ear as much as possible. If I got stuck, I would consult a lead sheet. Again, I found that I was able to ingrain them better in this way. Trying to learn them by memorizing a piece of sheet music does very little for one’s ear training!

These days, my jazz practice is much more about listening. I listen to the music all the time (as I did in college), but have found that by training my ear well during my college days, I can pick up a lot more now just by listening. Often, I will take conceptual ideas that I hear during a solo and try to apply them in my own way. Some of the more technical things I will practice from time to time include triadic patterns (over upper extensions of chords), pentatonic patterns, and intervallic patterns (a la Woody Shaw). This is great ear training and helps me to get out of playing the more conventional scalar lines that we trumpet players love to play. I think personal taste needs to guide what you decide to practice. If you like bebop, transcribe bebop lines and tunes. If you like more modern sounds, practice pentatonics and larger interval lines (fourths, fifths, sixths, sevenths). I personally like a little of everything, so I try to incorporate as much as I can into my melodic ideas.

Click here for Jon Barnes’ transcription of Woody Shaw’s solo on “Isabel the Liberator”

Click here for Barnes’ technical analysis of Shaw’s solo

A huge aspect of practicing jazz is to get familiar with playing chords and bass lines on the piano. Once I began studying this IN EARNEST, my ear became much more open. There are so many different chord colors and variations that it is not enough to know how to play the “right” mode on the “right” chord. Off the top of my head, I can think of four or five different colors to play on a major seventh chord. This came from learning how to voice chords on the piano.

Presently, something that I do much more than transcribing solos is to transcribe tunes. I have been trying to learn modern (such a broad term!) tunes by ear. For example, some of the composers I really like are Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and Tom Harrell. I’ll often write the tunes out and then try to analyze how they constructed the tune. Form, harmony, melody, rhythm, etc. Learning how to voice chords on the piano was a major help in learning to transcribe tunes. You will become familiar with how certain chords sound and then they become (sometimes instantly) recognizable when you hear them in a tune.

Click this link to hear Jonathan play a solo on “Zavo Brulo.” After listening, click the back arrow to come back to the interview (this is an original chart by Rob Holmes recorded for an upcoming U. S. Navy Band Commodores album; the changes are based on Alan Brandt’s 1952 tune “That’s All”)

JClick this link to hear Jonathan soloing on “La Cosa Latina.” After listening, click the back arrow to come back to the interview (this is an original chart by Phil Berlin recorded for the upcoming Commodores album)

SC: You are now making a name for yourself as an arranger for the Navy Band Commodores Jazz Ensemble.

Musician First Class Jonathan Barnes
Musician First Class Jonathan Barnes

JB: Big band writing was something that I had not done much of before joining the Commodores. I had one class in undergrad and one class in my master’s that focused on arranging, but the master’s class focused more on small group arranging. It is also very hard to hear the results of one’s writing in college when there are not very many opportunities to get with a big band during class! So, when I got the gig here, I knew that I’d like to work on big band writing once again. It’s amazing to have (readily available) a group of musicians who can sight-read and play at such a high level.



SC: What is your method for writing a big band chart?

JB: My process for writing a big band arrangement is to start with a written outline of how I’d like the chart to progress. I never think about this being set in stone, and I’ll often change lots of things along the way, but it does help me to get an overall idea of how I’d like to proceed. It might look something like this:

  • Intro-ensemble
  • A section- small group of mixed horns
  • bridge- saxes
  • last A- brass
  • sax soli
  • solo section (backgrounds last time)
  • interlude-bones
  • solo section (with send-off)
  • shout chorus
  • head out
  • outro


Essentially it’s just a rough written sketch. This works for me, but not for everyone! I would encourage any young writer to find the process that works for them.

Things I think about, as I’m actually writing the tune, are pacing (building up to a climax, resolving the climax, etc.), voicings (what kind of colors do I want to portray? open, tight, ethereal, etc.), color combinations (unique instrument groupings, mutes, rhythm section pairings with ensemble), and range. As far as melodic lines in the arrangement are concerned, I like to use motifs from the original tune in the soli and shout sections. I will often sing soli sections back to myself and make changes accordingly. I like to write solis as if I’m playing a solo myself over the chord changes.


SC: Who were your influences on your playing?

JB: One of the earliest jazz albums I can remember owning was Arturo Sandoval’s I Remember Clifford. Shortly thereafter, I got Clifford’s Study in Brown. This would have been around 9th or 10th grade. Clifford Brown was definitely one of the catalysts in getting me interested in jazz, but I remember being incredibly intimidated by the lines that he would play. I had many limitations on the trumpet itself, so I never even attempted trying to play what he played. I don’t even think I knew that transcribing a solo was something that jazz musicians would do!

My high school band director, Joe Fischer, was a huge influence in getting me interested in jazz. He was able to get Jazz Band established as a class during the day, so I loved going to that on a regular basis. He would play different recordings for us and have us read all sorts of charts. It was around this time (late high school) that I began attempting to improvise in any serious manner; however, I still had no direction in practicing improvisation. I began taking lessons with a jazz trumpet teacher (Gary Dailey) my senior year of high school. He helped set me on the right path regarding some chop issues I had, and began to open doors for me regarding improvisation. I believe he was the first one to introduce chord-scale theory to me, and I believe that he also taught me about transcribing. Regardless, I don’t think I transcribed my first solo until my freshman year of college.

Enter one of my biggest influences: George Rabbai. George is on the adjunct faculty at Rowan University, where I did my undergrad work. George has played with all sorts of big names in jazz, including Woody Herman, Rosemary Clooney, John Fedchock, and Michael Feinstein. He is probably the most tasteful jazz trumpet player I have ever heard, and definitely has the best ears of almost anyone I have met. George introduced me to practically all of my major influences in jazz trumpet: Blue Mitchell, Kenny Dorham, Donald Byrd, Freddie Hubbard, Chet Baker, Clark Terry, Art Farmer, Woody Shaw, and the list goes on! He would assign transcriptions to me, and then check them over fastidiously during our lessons. He never missed a wrong note that I may have overlooked! George also furthered my knowledge of chord-scale theory although he plays primarily by ear himself. My fondest memories are hanging out with him listening to those Sinatra recordings with Nelson Riddle’s arrangements. We would talk about swing, style, and the importance of melody. We still do to this day!

SC: If you had to pick just one trumpet player who influenced you the most, who would it be?

JB: If I had to pick one jazz trumpet player as my biggest influence, it would have to be Blue Mitchell. I have always loved his sound, phrasing, and melodic lines. Some of my favorite recordings include Blue’s Moods, Smooth as the Wind, and Boss Horn.

Click here for Jon Barnes’ transcription of Blue Mitchell’s solo on “I’ll Close my Eyes”

SC: Jon, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on jazz and trumpet playing!

JB: It was a pleasure!


4 responses to “Interview with Jonathan Barnes, Jazz Trumpeter”

  1. Denis DiBlasio Avatar
    Denis DiBlasio

    Great interview Johnny! Bravo!

    1. Jon Barnes Avatar
      Jon Barnes

      Wow, thanks Denny!

  2. george rabbai Avatar
    george rabbai

    Great clinic. Everyone should read this especially your trumpet practice routine. great rhetoric, you speak so well and explain very clearly.
    Thanks for the tremendous flattery. I am so proud of your accomplishments and I’m not even related to you, Haaa!! george

    1. Jon Barnes Avatar
      Jon Barnes


      You’re the best!

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