In addition to covering the performing arts in my On the Aisle blog, I am also a contributor on WISH-TV’s Indy Style, where I recommend shows and concerts the public should see. Of course, these days, due to COVID-19, most indoor performances are on indefinite hiatus at least until, according to popular wisdom, a vaccine is available. As an alternative, many performing arts organizations are offering virtual content, including live and recorded performances, workshops and classes.
Chief among the groups keeping audiences engaged virtually are the musicians of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Operating independently from the ISO, they are currently furloughed due to the pandemic, but during this time, they are staying front and center by presenting virtual performances featuring themselves in all manner of combinations. “Music in a Time of Distance” is the title of a video series, including one episode titled “Over the Rainbow” from “The Wizard of Oz,” posted on the group’s Facebook page. I was so moved by the performance that I featured the video on my most recent Indy Style segment. One of the musicians featured in the piece is Conrad Jones, principal trumpet of the ISO and a player whose solo performances I have enjoyed during his tenure with the orchestra that began in 2018.
Prior to his current position, Jones served as principal trumpet of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra. During the summer season, he is principal trumpet of Britt Festival Orchestra in Jacksonville, Oregon, under the musical direction of Teddy Abrams. Jones also performs at the Mainly Mozart, Strings, and Grand Teton Music Festivals.
Jones has been a featured soloist with the Indianapolis Symphony, Tucson Symphony, Strings Music Festival Brass Ensemble, Downey Symphony Orchestra and others. An avid chamber musician, Jones has appeared with various new music and chamber ensembles as well. More recently, Jones spends much of his time performing in the Indianapolis area and around the country with ISO bass trombonist Riley Giampaolo. Their chamber duo, The Two Gabagools, has performed recitals and educational concerts for a wide range of audiences and hope to release their debut album in 2021. Outside of Indianapolis, Jones has performed as guest principal trumpet with the Chicago Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, Arizona Musicfest, Detroit Symphony and other prestigious orchestras.
A native of Long Island, New York, Jones received his Bachelor of Music in Trumpet Performance at Cleveland Institute of Music before continuing onto the Professional Studies program at Colburn School Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles.
Hoping to learn more about Jones and how he is coping with the pandemic and its effect on his career, I reached out to him recently by phone and through emails. “I had no clue as a nine-year-old that the trumpet was a perfect extension of my personality,” said Jones, whose grandfather was a trumpeter and parents were music teachers and professional musicians. He started playing the cello as a four-year-old and later wanted to switch to drums. His parents said he could, but insisted he also play a melodic instrument, so he chose trumpet. “I don’t know if it was because my grandfather played trumpet and it was a subconscious choice or it was by accident, but I am really grateful I did because trumpet is one of the most versatile instruments, in that you can plug it into many styles of music fairly easily,” he said, emphasizing, “Little did I know as a four-year-old, I would end up playing classical music considering at the end of high school, I loved heavy metal and jazz.”
Jones’s list of favorites includes Barber Violin Concerto, Janáček’s Taras Bulba, Bruckner’s Symphony No. 5, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, Michael Gordon’s Natural History, Strauss’ Don Juan, anything by Tom Misch, Bach’s Mass in B Minor, Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5, anything by Jean-Philippe Rameau, Mathias Eick’s compositions on Ravensburg, and Shostakovich Symphony No. 7.
“It represents a way of connecting, in the most raw and real way, with people and to humankind in general,” Jones said when I asked him what music means to him. “Whether I’m on stage or in the audience, or whether a given connection is to the music itself or with the people it brings together, it’s an amazing force for good, no matter which way you slice it.”
As for his trumpet influences, he said, “My main, former teachers—Kevin Cobb, Mike Miller, Michael Sachs, and Jim Wilt. Those are the people who helped me shape my own specific sound and approach. I’m probably some kind of weird, Long Island fusion of all of them.” Others artists who’ve impacted him are Clifford Brown, Rolf Smedvig, Tom Stevens, Roy Hargrove, Wynton Marsalis, and Rafael Mendez.
Shifting to the topic of how he is coping with the pandemic, Jones said, “When I realized the pandemic was not going away anytime soon for the entire world, that is when I started thinking that I needed to come up with sort of a new, daily schedule for myself and find a way to make this as healthy of a time as possible.”
Joining Jones on lockdown on March 13 was Giampaolo, allowing The Two Gabagools an opportunity to continue playing and working together. “And what is a ‘Gabagool’ exactly?” I asked him. “We’re both Italian and when we decided to come up with a name, we couldn’t think of anything that sounded professional and official, but our choices sounded contrived, so we came up with The Two Gabagools. It’s Italian slang for a couple of knuckleheads who like to cook and play together,” he joked.
Besides working on the new album with Giampaolo, Jones is performing with his fellow ISO musicians on the digital content, for which he is also helping out with sound and video editing. In the end, he said, “I have just been doing my best to find a silver lining and trying to cultivate some type of musical engagement that helps me stay motivated and disciplined.” Jones and his ISO colleagues have also performed small, socially distanced, outdoor concerts and plan to do more.
Besides the suspension of live performances for the ISO, Jones has lost a lot of side gigs to COVID-19, including summer festivals in San Diego, Colorado and Grand Teton, plus a couple of concerts. “While it’s a bummer to lose those gigs, I realize many others are going through the same thing, so that keeps me humble,” he said. Citing certain performances, such as the summer Symphony on the Prairie concerts, Jones lamented, “There are certain emotional connections you have, either with the concerts, or repertoire, that define a particular time of year for me, so I feel the loss of that, plus being around my friends in the orchestra.”
Regarding what the pandemic has taught him, Jones said, “I’ve learned a little bit more about what I need to do mentally to motivate myself and have the kind of discipline to maintain the high standards I must have as first trumpet of the ISO. As much as you try, you can’t be in orchestra shape unless you are performing it, but I try to do my best.
“I miss the audiences and the people on stage the most, bar none. You can play or listen to music alone, but it’s more satisfying when you are playing with other musicians for an audience.” Jones said he also misses his ritual of “walking through the lobby of the Hilbert on my way in because I like to see the volunteer ushers and audience members. Because of my role as a soloist, I become very self-focused and self-absorbed, so it helps keeps me grounded.” He added that he also misses going backstage to see the other musicians, calling it “good for the soul.”
As for how the ISO contributes to Indy’s quality of life, Jones emphasized, “The ISO brings a unique element to the arts community and city. The variety of musical style we cover in an authentic way gives people with all different interests an opportunity to experience meaningful, live music all year round!” To him, the ISO means community. “The people of the orchestra, staff, crew, and the city have all blended into one giant family for me. I feel lucky to be in such a special city with such a special orchestra,” said Jones.
Wrapping up our chat, I asked Jones what he envisions ISO’s return to the stage will be like. “I can’t even imagine, probably even more epic than my imagination can muster. I really hope that happens sooner than later! All the musicians onstage love performing for our Indianapolis audience and supporters, but I can safely say our enthusiasm will probably be turned to 11 after this pandemic performance hiatus.”
In the meantime, the public can support the musicians of ISO by subscribing to their newsletter at isomusicians.org and keeping tabs on their (very socially distanced) upcoming concerts, many of which are fundraisers, by following them on Facebook and Instagram @isomusicians.