Michael J. Jones is next on the list, the third of five personnel in the HMQuartet (check out the Quartet page to explain five members in a quartet). Out of the quartet, Michael is the only marimbist to use the traditional cross-grip. However, that is not the only unique attribute that Michael has compared to other members of the group. His job is to teach lessons full-time in Frisco, Texas. He primarily teaches his students marimba but also does other percussion lessons as well. For now, check out Michael's YouTube page, but in the future, HMF will also add a personal website for Michael to the blog when it is completed.
What was the key factor in your career as a musician?
MJJ: There are many factors that contributed to my music career. My maternal grandmother was certainly responsible for providing musical inspiration early on. I grew up listening to her playing organ and piano at home. After having five children of her own who had no interest in music, she was thrilled to sit at the piano with me for hours and teach me how to read music. From when I was about six, I remember watching her prepare for recitals and then I would attempt to play all of her pieces by ear myself. This eventually turned into long sessions of improvisation that became an expressive outlet for me.
By the time I was in sixth grade, I had chosen to play trumpet in middle school band for three years. Though I loved the experience of being in band and making music with others, I felt absolutely no connection to the trumpet. I spent those three years envious of the percussionists in the back of the room. I was drawn to the variety of instruments and the physical nature in which they were played. Fortunately, my band director agreed to let me switch to percussion in high school as long as I took private lessons to prepare for auditions. After several months of lessons and focusing on snare drum playing (my favorite instrument at the time), my teacher (Fred Boyce) gave me his copy of Keiko Abe’s “Marimba Fantasy.” Listening to this CD totally changed my life! I had never heard anything like it before. I was so mesmerized by the sound of the five-octave instrument and Keiko’s energetic/improvisatory style that I sat and listened to the CD on repeat for several days after school. I soon began to focus on marimba more than any other instrument. It became my voice.
What individual or group of people guided you in your passion for music?
MJJ: I’m very grateful to have studied with some incredible artists. My teachers, Fred Boyce, Drew Lang, Akie Takada, Brian Zator, Keiko Abe, and Nancy Zeltsman all played major roles in guiding my musical passion. My time spent with Nancy Zeltsman was, perhaps, most meaningful, as she really pushed me to look for a way into the music behind the notes and to always concentrate on refining my musical imagination and ear for music. She also exposed me to an entirely different approach to playing the marimba - a uniquely expressive one - and I would certainly credit her with my concept of sound.
Where has been your favorite place to perform?
MJJ: In 2011, I had the opportunity to study in Japan with Keiko Abe for the summer. On my last night in Tokyo, I performed a solo at Yamaha Hall on a concert with Keiko and some of her other students and guest artists. It was an amazing experience!
HMF: Who is your favorite artist/ composer and why?
MJJ: This is a very difficult question! I’m presently interested in the music of Julie Spencer. Her pieces are always fun to play and I love her use of jazz harmonies and Latin rhythms. My favorite marimba artist is Fumito Nunoya. I feel he has the perfect balance of technical precision and musicality. His repertoire includes many standard marimba pieces, which I feel are accessible to many types of audiences, as well as many wonderful transcriptions/adaptations/arrangements. I’m currently listening to his album “The Sower” on repeat.
If you had unlimited time and money, how would you spend it?
MJJ: I would definitely spend it on travel. Visiting other countries and experiencing different cultures is something I really enjoy and have always wanted to do more.
Give a list of upcoming musical/ marimba projects.
MJJ: I’m preparing to perform a recital of solo and duo works at a local percussion and marimba camp hosted by my former teacher, Drew Lang. I am also planning collaborations with a few other artists. I’ve really enjoyed performing marimba in mixed chamber settings, especially with woodwinds, and hope to schedule a few performances before preparing for the HMQ fall tour!
The HMF Blog interviews featuring our people are compiled and prepared by our 2017 intern, Scott Eiklenborg (a percussion student at Wartburg College, Waverly, IA).