When New Orleans native and new “American Idol” judge Harry Connick Jr. gave a concert in Baton Rouge in 1999, he introduced Leroy Jones as “the next great, true genius to come from New Orleans.”
A singer and trumpeter, Jones toured the world with Connick and his orchestra from 1990 to 2007. His two Columbia albums, 1994’s “Mo’ Cream from the Crop” and 1996’s “Props for Pops,” were a direct result of his association with Connick.
“Of all of the musicians who I’ve worked with, especially ones of his status, Harry is one of the most unselfish people I know,” Jones said. “Seventeen years on the road with him was inspiring. There aren’t many people who have as much fame as he has who would share the stage in that way.”
Scheduling conflicts between the multiple New Orleans-based groups Jones performs with and Connick’s touring schedule compelled him to stop touring with the star. Nonetheless, they still make music together and Jones, for instance, is among the New Orleans musicians featured on Connick’s latest album, “Every Man Should Know.” He participates in the album’s gospel-meets-second line song, “S’pposed To Be.”
“Harry and I were talking and I said, ‘Man, now you’re not worrying about what genre you want to be placed under. You’re doing music just the way you wanna do it.’ That’s a great album and he’s being true to his roots. Not just jazz, but the whole R&B, New Orleans funk scene.”
In Jones’ absence from Connick’s concerts, the singer has begun playing trumpet himself.
“If you listen carefully, you can hear my playing in there, man,” Jones said with a chuckle. “He’s been studying me.”
Jones doesn’t play by genre lines either. But, yes, he is deeply versed in his hometown’s jazz traditions, thanks most of all to his late mentor, singer, guitarist, banjoist and raconteur Danny Barker, as well as such local, obscure musicians as Waldren “Frog” Joseph, Teddy Riley, Jack Willis and Thomas Jefferson.
“I grew up in the city listening to the different voices, the different sounds of each instrument,” Jones reflected. “The trumpet players that I’ve heard, people have forgotten about them in New Orleans, but I’m so glad that I heard them while they were still alive.”
Being a musician who came of age in the mid-20th century, modern jazz affected Jones, too. Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis all contributed to the exquisitely shaped and expressed notes and beautifully lyrical passages that Jones plays today.
“They weren’t from New Orleans but, fortunately, they made recordings,” he said.
In New Orleans, Jones plays venues such as Preservation Hall and Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse. Unlike quite a few of his musical peers in the city, who prefer to work close to home, Treme resident Jones knows Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport well.
He and his trombonist wife, Katja Toivola, perform widely with the Leroy Jones Quintet, the New Orleans Helsinki Connection, the Original Hurricane Brass Band, the Spirit of New Orleans and New Orleans’ Finest. Their recent international touring includes Brazil and Toivola’s homeland, Finland. They’re just back from Moscow, a first for them both.
“When you’re talking about New Orleans, a lot of talented individuals are, I think, not ambitious,” Jones said in his nonjudgmental way.
“But it’s good to get away, not just for musicians, but for people in general,” he added. “When I step outside of the bubble, I can get a better picture of the city and the situation. It is really refreshing to get away; and then I can say, ‘OK, now I know why I live in New Orleans, why I love New Orleans.’ ”
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