South Berwick native and UNH alumnus Josh Gagnon is currently a graduate student at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. He was in New York City recently playing trombone in Eastman's Jazz Ensemble at the Inaugural Jack Rudin Jazz Championship at the Lincoln Center, where he shared in the award for Outstanding Trombone Section. Seacoast Jazz Notes had the opportunity this week to speak with Josh about his experiences at Lincoln Center and Eastman.
When asked how a young man from South Berwick found his way to Wynton Marsalis's place in the city, he explained that while going to Marshwood High School, he played trombone in the concert band, jazz band, and the pit orchestra. He also spent time at the Portsmouth Music and Arts Center taking jazz lessons. In his words:
I grew up listening to Chris Klaxton, Matt Langley, and others from PMAC.
After high school, he studied music at UNH. During and after his Durham days, we started seeing and hearing him around town playing with the same PMAC cats that influenced him as a trombone toddler. When asked about Eastman:
Eastman has a reputation for excellence with a strong trombone tradition. My trombone teacher at UNH was Nicholas Orovich, and he knew Mark Kellogg, a respected trombone professor at Eastman, and suggested I contact him. That led to being invited to go to Rochester for their Summer Trombone Institute. I ended up taking a couple of lessons from Mark, and a year later, I moved there and started grad school.
What's it like being at Eastman?
The thing I like the most is all of the people I get to play with every day. There's no end to the amount of inspiring players there, especially the jazz trombonists that I'm working with all time. It's a strong group of people, highly motivated.
I'd imagine that if you're playing with or engaging with more experienced people, that makes you better.
That's 100% true. You can compare it to any discipline. If you were at a great math school, you'd be in the library all the time because that is where everybody else is. I feel motivated to practice as much as I can because everyone around me is passionate about practicing and getting better, honing their craft. It's one of the biggest reasons for coming here, to be in a focused environment for awhile.
I hear there's a great music scene in Rochester and imagine Eastman is a large part of it.
The independent music scene out here is, like the Seacoast, really powerful. There are always rising groups playing in the bars, and people host shows in their houses and at art galleries. There is no shortage of things to see and people to put something together with and play. Although, I do miss the community, the Seacoast Jazz scene quite a lot.
So you're heading back here, Masters in hand?
I'm starting a job with the Bowdoin International Music Festival in Brunswick, Maine, so I'll probably be living in Portland in May.
And we'll be hearing you around the Seacoast this spring?
Sojoy is a band that I play with, and I think we just got booked for The Press Room in June. That's on the horizon. Sojoy is my favorite musical project that I have been involved with. I love playing and hanging out with those guys.
Pretty much anything Jonny Peiffer is involved with, I'm likely to go.
Yeah, me too.
What's it like competing in Lincoln Center?
It wasn't a particularly competitive environment. Most of the people were there as much to listen to the other great bands. We were there with nine other top music schools, and we got to hear the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. That was a real treat. It was a really nice, not super stressful experience, being able to hang out and play some great music.
Within Eastman, how many sponsored jazz bands are there?
There are four and jazz ensemble is the top group.
So, let me get this straight, you're a trombone player in the top group at a prestigious music school that's respected for its jazz trombone players, and you were the one chosen to solo in a performance that won an award for Outstanding Trombone Group at the Lincoln Center.
Yeah, I guess so, yeah.
That's pretty damn impressive.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for sure.
I ended the conversation with Josh feeling old and relieved. Old because Chris Klaxton and Matt Langley are the first influences out of his mouth, and relieved in that talking with him gives me hope for millennials.
While he may consider his performance at the Inaugural Jack Rudin Jazz Championship at Lincoln Center a 'once in a lifetime experience,' I'm sure he is destined for many others.
He's just as humble and well-spoken as his words appear, and the man can play. His family has to get goose-bump proud on a regular basis.
There are some links to YouTube videos of the competition.
Jack Rudin Jazz Championship- Competition Part I 2020
Jack Rudin Jazz Championship - Competition Part II 2020
The Eastman set starts at 28:00 of Part II.