How Community Influenced My Growth as a Musician

with Aaron Janik

Interview conducted by Alison Evans


Southeast, rural Massachusetts is not where you would expect to find the most musical inspiration as a young developing student, but luckily for me, that couldn't be further from the truth. Picking up the trumpet in elementary school, I could have very easily had no legitimate guidance. My parents have minimal music expertise, and as a matter of fact, up until that point we barely even listened to music in the house. The Catholic church I attended was not even close to a real musical outlet in comparison to what I see existing nowadays living in the rich church music culture of Detroit where I lived for the past 4 years. So in theory, I could have had NO ONE around me to oversee my growth and development as a musician. 

 My first mentor was Hannah Moore, my elementary school band director. Although she was primarily a trombone player, she could play every instrument beyond a sixth grade level, making my development that much more possible. Having her, combined with the fact that many of my friends chose trumpet, made the act of learning fun. But after two years had gone by, I found myself not practicing or playing the trumpet because I didn't need to; I already knew what I needed to know for school. Hannah recognized this and made the first two moves that influenced my musical life: she opened my ears to Maynard Ferguson (while at the same time, my father bought me a Clifford Brown album, giving me an amazing introduction to the wide world of professional trumpet playing and trumpet philosophy and showing me how much there really was to learn), and she recommended that I study with a private teacher on the side. Enter Jack Martin, my musical father and probably the most important person in my musical story.

     

Jack’s trumpet pedigree is top notch, and as I move though the world I am continuously in awe of the blessing it was to have been able to study with him through all my formative years and into college. Jack’s teaching is still a model for me today, as he quickly recognized a key characteristic of mine: I already liked trumpet so he didn't have to make me like it! As a result, he chose to make my life difficult by using our lessons to focus only on things that were hard for me. Jack NEVER catered my lessons to what I wanted to do, and for the next eight years, almost every lesson, we sightread classical duets together. His rule was that he would never stop; if I got lost, it was my job to find my place again by looking at his part and keep playing. Unbeknownst to me, in those eight years Jack provided me with easily collegiate level sight reading ability, something I did not realize until I got to college and could sight read music faster than just about every wind instrumentalist in both the classical and jazz programs. 

     

But it wasn't just Jack. Where I’m from, when you got to seventh grade, you moved into a new school: the junior high school, which was three towns worth of kids put together instead of just one! This is where I met my best friend Mack and his family. Mack was an amazing drummer from another town who's mother is an elementary school band director and a great clarinetist and saxophonist, and his father Bob owns a music shop (Symphony Music Shop in Dartmouth, MA) and is a fantastic trumpet player. They became my second family. I was amazed at Mack’s talent for how young he was, and we quickly became best friends. For the next six years, we would sit in his basement listening to classic jazz, R&B, and hip hop records without saying a word, just taking it all in. I was lucky to have Mack because he was extremely well-educated even at this young age, and he exposed me to music critical to the jazz and soul idioms that I may have otherwise not heard. Who knew that 14 year old white kids in rural Mass were listening to Voodoo, Worldwide Underground, and One Up, One Down all in the same sitting! At the same time, my junior high school band director, Jim Farmer, literally forced me to improvise for the first time in seventh grade, a moment that to this day is probably the most important and formative moment in my entire musical career. Without Jim there to force me to learn along with talented and competitive friends forcing me to push myself, I would not be where I am today.

     

For all of junior high school and high school, I was pushed not by my instructors, but by my own peers. In eighth grade we created a funk/soul band that played all the classic Tower of Power, Earth Wind & Fire, and Stevie Wonder hits. This led into high school, where we established an incredibly talented jazz band from top to bottom with the help of another absolutely incredible figure in my life, our director and drummer Stan Ellis. Together, our big band and combo won dozens of awards at jazz competitions over the next four years, pushing me and my bandmates (many of whom went on to pursue music in college) further and further. Without that team of peers pushing me to be better, there is no way I would have made it to college as prepared as I was.  Throughout that time, Jack recognized that I had a love for jazz, and although he educated me about the culture, history, and musical language of jazz, the vast majority of the playing in our lessons was still classical duets and transpositions. This forced me to continue to learn the correct way to play the trumpet which was invaluable. Many can play the trumpet but can’t improvise, and many can improvise but cannot really play the trumpet with correct technique. I was blessed to be taught both simultaneously.

     

Because of the incredible degree and quality of education I received in those formative years, I realize now that students in that 12-18 year-old range need to be exposed to as many genres of music and levels of musicianship as humanly possible in an effort to make them competitive in today’sAaron  industry, and as music programs are being cut by the day, this is becoming harder and harder to do. To this day, every time I am in front of a group of students in this age group, I try and show them music they have never heard before, and in masterclasses, my group will perform for them in as many different genres as time allows and we stress most importantly that music is a team sport; you must take inspiration and drive from your peers to be better and you must work together and trust one another to really get better at music. Even at the professional level, you cannot succeed without a team, something I was blessed to learn all the way back in junior high school.  We also provide the students with scholarship information that they might not have otherwise known about, showing them that there are people and organizations out there that want to help them achieve their musical dreams and aspirations!

    

 In addition, I have created a website called HornFX (www.horn-fx.com) that is designed to educate young wind instrumentalists about how to hook their instrument up to effects pedals commonly used for guitar and bass. I believe that if you show young people that their band instrument isn't applicable in just band; rather it is valuable across all genres, it will make them want to pursue their instrument that much more. Effects allow my trumpet to be so much more versatile than just a trumpet, and I wish I had HornFX as a resource when I was a kid.

     

It is clear to me now how blessed I was to be a part of a community of students and adults that took an active interest in my musical future and success, and I attribute literally all of my success in the music industry thus far to them. I hope to continue to give back in my own way to the music communities in any way that I can, and I thank each person in my own community for giving me the talents and the wisdom to share with others. 

Interested in using pedals with your wind instrument? 

Check out Aaron's website Horn-Fx.com for more.

 

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