On Tour with Bruno Mars and Trumpet Life Lessons

an Interview with Jimmy King


Was trumpet your first instrument?

Jimmy King: I was always drawn towards the trumpet, but I was not able to play it when we began music in school because we had too many trumpets at the time. I started out on saxophone, and ironically, my brother ended up playing the trumpet. I was like “Oh my goodness my brother gets to play the trumpet and I don’t?” It wasn’t until 7th grade when my director asked me if I wanted to switch to trumpet in the band, that I was finally able to start playing. After that I never put the trumpet down.


What were your early inspirations?

JK: My first real trumpet lesson wasn’t until my senior year of high school. Before that I just read music in the band, and listened to a bunch of CD’s, learning to play them by ear. I listened to a lot of trumpet artists, especially Dizzy Gillespie, and the Joe Henderson Big Band album. That is the one I would play on repeat. I forgot who the trumpet section was, but it was a legendary section. I would listen to that all the time, and that was when I knew this is what I really want to do. I actually put the trumpet down for 2 years in HS to play football. I wanted to try something different, but then my middle school director moved to my HS to teach and it was at that point that I decided to return to the trumpet, and that’s when played in the jazz band, concert band, and symphonic orchestra.


Was music your focus in college?

JK: I went to Morehouse College. I ended up trying out about 6-7 different majors in the span of a year and a half. I was really trying to figure out what it was that I really wanted to do. During that time, I ended up meeting 4 other guys that were really passionate about practicing and being better musicians. From there, we came together and formed the group Jazz Specs. That’s when my passion turned to a reality. I could really do this for a living and make money at it. It was the 2nd semester of my sophomore year that I committed to trumpet performance. That is the beginning of where I’m at now. 


What were some of the inspirations and setbacks that you faced? 

JK: The people I was playing with at the time and in the jazz band were a constant inspiration. One of the seniors when I was a sophomore, Kameron Whalum, was playing with a bunch of artists and touring. And from him I realized that was something I wanted to do, so he was that inspiration and push. Though, along with that, the setbacks were that as I practiced towards that goal, I was in a rush and was trying to run before walking. Especially because I didn’t have traditional lessons growing up, there were a lot of things I needed to change in my playing. The traditional lessons in college really helped me understand the amount of work, commitment, and consistency in your commitment that it would take. Though that realization made me question if this was what I really wanted, every day I woke up and wanted to get better and practice, so that is what kept me going.


After college, what were the opportunities that ultimately lead you to Bruno Mars?

JK: I started playing with a lot of different artists in Atlanta while working on my Masters degree at Georgia State University. One of the artists I played with a lot was PJ Morton, and it was through that connection and Kameron Whalum, that I got my first opportunity. After a show one night, PJ said “The next opportunity I get, I’m going to put you guys on.” About a year or year and a half later, he called Kameron and me and said “Do you want to tour with this guy Bruno Mars?” At the time Bruno didn’t have many hits out. So he was brand new. I remember saying, “Who is this Bruno Mars guy?” And then, we said yes. That was the beginning of that. It was as easy as saying yes and taking that opportunity.


Coming from jazz clubs, were you excited about devoting the foreseeable future to a commercial role? 

JK: I really enjoy playing behind an artist, and I really feel like that is a different muscle to work. A lot of people don’t like to play other people’s music, but it brings me joy to bring other people’s creations to life, as well as bring my own creations to life. It wasn’t until I was able to do things at the level Bruno was able to, that I said “I wanna start putting my thoughts and my vision not only into fruition, but onto a record.” That is when I really started looking at myself as an artist. That’s when James turned into Jimmy.


You just released a new EP. When did you start working on this project?

JK: I was actually working on my own music since before I started touring with Bruno. In the Jazz Specs, we were all technically artists in the group, so we all shared the load. That was what really started the artist side of me, I just didn’t really know how to express it at the time. I’m currently working on expanding from the 3 songs in the EP to an album and I’m hoping that will be done middle of next year. Recording the EP gave me the push to see if I could to this. To hear myself on wax, to hear how it sounded, gave me the confidence to say, “Ok, let’s finish the album and see how it will all fit together.” I’m now really excited to see what the next chapter and the next possibilities are that will come from it.


What is your best advice for...


Commercial Musicians: 

Don’t just be a great player, but be a great person because if you are on the road or entering the scene for the first time, you want to make sure you are not the guy that everyone is talking negatively about. You want to be the person who brings the positive energy and vibes on stage in addition to great playing. When you are surround by people for 90 days or even a year, it does get taxing if you are not the right personality, even if you can play great. It’s crazy, I hear my friends talk all the time- “Yeah, he’s a great player but I just don’t like his attitude”. You never want someone to walk away and say they don’t like your attitude, because you won’t get any phone calls.

Creating your first EP:

Take a chance and put your music on record. I know it’s easier said than done. The main thing is that you don’t want to put any doubt or fear in your mind, or to make any extra obstacles for yourself that will block you from what you are supposed to be doing. Take a chance on yourself and see what happens. That’s my best advice. God has given you this gift to share with people, so you should share it.

Trumpet Advice:

I’m still learning! For me the book that really opened things up for me was the Tongue Level Exercise method by Claude Gordon. On the jazz side, I’ve been really paying attention to Barry Harris. He has a lot of stuff on YouTube. Barry Harris has broken down Jazz Improve into the most simplified steps as I’ve ever heard, and I’ve been really shedding on that. Those are the two trumpet methods that have meant a lot to me.

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