Jazz in Arizona: An Aspiring Engineer Shares his Bassoon Journey. Interview with Garrett Jones.
Garrett Jones is a bassoonist, composer, multi-instrumentalist, and acoustic engineer residing in Tempe, Arizona, USA. He is a proponent of improvised music, jazz bassoon, and any cross-genre musical inventions.
Garrett was first interested in playing the bassoon as a unique challenge, and first started on bassoon by his middle school band director in 6th grade. He has played continually since then, and was fortunate enough to continue his bassoon studies while completing a physics degree at the University of Illinois.
We had the chance to interview Garrett Jones in January 2022.
BB: Hi Garrett! Thank you so much for taking the time for this interview. What you are doing with the bassoon is really inspiring and so different from other bassoonists! Can you share a little bit about your story and how you got into music?
Garrett: From a very young age, I loved music. There weren't any musicians in my household, but I loved singing along to the radio, and would generally attempt to play whatever instrument was put in my hands (although not always successfully). Like many other kids growing up where I did, I was surrounded by country music and thought that country singers lived the coolest lives. After all, who wouldn't want to make a living traveling and singing country songs?
BB: When and how you heard about the bassoon? Did you play another instrument before the bassoon? If so, what made you decide to switch to bassoon?
Garrett: I first heard of the bassoon at a performance of the 8th grade band at my elementary school. I can't say I was particularly interested in the bassoon from that visit. In fact, I can't say that I really wanted to play the bassoon originally - in the sixth grade, I was addicted to playing guitar and wanted to play bass in the orchestra to further develop my skills as a string player. Because of a scheduling conflict, I ended up in band class, and that's where the bassoon looked like an enticing challenge. If someone in my class was going to take on this strange, cumbersome challenge of the bassoon, I figured, why not me? My band director was very supportive - I think he was just happy to have a sixth grade student enthusiastic about bassoon with hands big enough to play it!
BB: What was it like playing bassoon for the first time?
Garrett: The thing I most distinctly remember is how it tickled my lips - which made practicing a bit tricky at first. Once I got past that, I loved it! The fingerings in the range I was playing in were straightforward enough that I could start playing melodies that I wanted to play, and who doesn't love getting their hands on a new instrument?
BB: In your opinion, what makes the bassoon similar and different compared to other instruments?
Garrett: Lots of ways to approach this one...there are plenty of ways to compare bassoon's similarities to other wind instruments in certain ranges, but it's the bassoon's unique abilities that keep me playing it. Few instruments offer that kind of control over timbre (as well as such fascinating timbres to choose from) as the bassoon does, and few instruments can shine in as many ranges as the bassoon does, but it's in articulation that I think a lot of the bassoon's magic is. There's something so dynamic about what the bassoon can do with articulations, and it's what makes the bassoon such an exciting instrument for use in jazz/funk/latin music.
BB: What was it like attending college and playing the bassoon?
Garrett: Choosing to continue my bassoon education in college, even while getting a degree in Physics, was one of the best decisions I've made. There are great friends to be made in bassoon studios, and rewarding opportunities to make music with others. During weeks of high-stress studying, when calculus exams were getting the best of me, it was wonderful to have a few hours set aside to just go make music, or watch others make music.
BB: Although you’re really passionate about the bassoon, your career goal isn't focused on music. Can you tell me a little bit about what you are hoping to do with your future career. How might the bassoon continue to play a part of your life?
Garrett: It's hard to tell where my career is headed now - even as an acoustic engineer, I've already changed fields once or twice. That being said, I'm excited for what kinds of music I'll be able to make as a bassoonist in the coming years, and know that I'll be a dedicated bassoonist for decades to come.
BB: One of the most interesting things about your style of bassoon is the type of music you play! May I ask what inspired you to play this style? Has this style been changing over the years?
Garrett: Once I gained the ears to really appreciate the beauty in jazz, and started down the path of learning the musical language, I don't think there was a way to confine making that kind of music to saxophone. There's something so captivating about hearing good, live jazz that just makes me want to put all my time into playing jazz myself! That being said, given how so much of the jazz idiom has been influenced by saxophone and trumpet playing, I never really felt the need to insert the bassoon as kind of a saxophone substitute - after all, what's the point? The goal for my playing is to find ways to make exciting original music that utilizes the bassoon to its fullest capabilities, which is leading me through many different styles of playing. There are so many things that the bassoon can do that most other instruments can't, and I think it's beautifully suited for improvised music.
BB: What are some of your favorite pieces to play on bassoon?
GJ: I really enjoy playing medium tempo jazz standards on bassoon - it gives me lots of ways to make the most of what the bassoon can do when I'm not scrambling on coming up with new ideas at breakneck tempos. Additionally, I think the bassoon works quite well for bossa nova when players work to learn the style, and I always enjoy playing A.C. Jobim compositions. And, while I think that the classical bassoon canon has stifled music making, and I try to avoid putting too much time there, the Saint-Saens Sonata is just irresistibly great music, and I play through parts of it from time to time.
BB: What do you think are some of the biggest challenges for musicians considering the bassoon for the first time?
GJ: Reeds! Definitely reeds. They make the experience of playing the instrument different every time we take the bassoon out of its case. They're endlessly aggravating, and for the beginner, very expensive.
BB: Any tips that you might have in general for musicians starting off on the bassoon, or for younger bassoonists who are trying to get better on bassoon?
GJ: As for any instrument, play things that you enjoy playing! You'll never put in the practice needed to get good at an instrument like bassoon unless you have a lot of fun playing it, so make sure that practice time includes things that are rewarding and entertaining. Additionally, listen to recordings of other bassoonists - it's very helpful for building a good sound concept, and beneficial for helping you open your mind to all that this instrument can do!
BB: Are there any memorable (happy, scary, sad, hopeful, funniest, etc.) bassoon stories that you would be willing to share from your life over the years?
GJ: The first that comes to mind would be when I put my cloth swab in the wrong end of my wing joint, and got it lodged so bad that [don't try this at home] it took a 12" concrete nail, a few ounces of food grade chain oil, and a tug-of-war between my father and I to get the swab out. Don't swab absent-mindedly!
To check out some of Garrett's videos, please visit his YouTube channel.