Bad on the ’bone

Jon Hatamiya

Photo By mike iredale

Davis Senior High School senior and burgeoning 17-year-old trombonist Jon Hatamiya is having the most fun and musically productive summer of his life. In July, he completed a 10-day, eight-performance tour with the prestigious Monterey Jazz Festival’s Next Generation Jazz Orchestra. In August, he was the sole trombonist to participate in the intensive, highly selective Brubeck Summer Jazz Colony held at the Brubeck Institute on the University of Pacific campus. The next gourmet serving on Hatamiya’s plate is an appearance September 20 with Next Generation and guest trumpeter Wynton Marsalis on the arena stage of the 2009 MJF itself. Amid this compacted flurry of challenge and growth, Hatamiya took time to share his thoughts on these events and his instrument of choice, which master J.J. Johnson has called the “most ungainly, awkward and beastly hard instrument you can imagine.”

Heard any good trombone jokes lately?

I’m not really a fan of trombone jokes. Some of them are pretty funny, but you can use them on any instrument. They are just basically musician jokes. I’ve heard all the classic ones, like, “What’s the difference between a dead squirrel in the road and a dead trombonist in the road? The squirrel was probably on his way to a gig.” I’ve heard all those but none that really stick out, I guess.

Why the trombone?

Because both my dad and my grandpa played it, so I wanted to continue the tradition. They both told me it was a fun instrument. Neither of them continued after high school, but it was something that sounded really cool and they both really loved it when they played. So I just picked it up.

What is the most difficult part of playing the trombone?

I think technically it’s a harder instrument to pick up because you do have the slide, and just by nature you are not going to be able to play as fast right away. A lot of playing fast on the trombone, it’s a lot of tonguing ability and training, whereas on other instruments you can slur a lot of it, the valves are the keys. I know that when I’m up against a trumpet or saxophone, they are going to be able to play a lot faster no matter what, so it makes me think a lot more melodically in my solos as opposed to being flashy.

How did you get interested in jazz?

The reason I started playing jazz trombone, got into jazz, was because of J.J. Johnson. And he’s still my favorite. I listen to him a lot. I really don’t think anyone can top him. But I try to listen to as much stuff as I can. I like Frank Rosolino, some new guys, Robin Eubanks. I know him pretty well, actually. I play in a group in San Francisco, the S.F. Jazz High School All Stars, and Robin plays in the S.F. Jazz Collective, and they came out and worked with our group and I’ve kept in touch with him.

What was the audition like for the Next Generation band?

I did it last year and didn’t make it. Basically, they give you a set of requirements. They make you play blues, normally some type of Charlie Parker blues. And then they want you to play an [Duke] Ellington or [Billy] Strayhorn ballad and then a transcription of some solo you like that shows your technical abilities. Also, you can improvise on another tune of your choice.

Do you have a mentor?

I’ve been taking private lessons from Joel Elias for four years. He’s a classical teacher. He teaches at Sac State, and he’s a principal trombone in the Sacramento Philharmonic [Orchestra]. I was primarily a classical trombonist up until my sophomore year, and I still take lessons from Joel and it’s definitely helped me a lot. I think I consider him my mentor because he’s really helped me improve at playing the trombone, not only the technical aspect but also in my musicality and stuff. Even though it’s classical, I think it still applies to how I play jazz.

I imagine you are really looking forward to being on the stage with Wynton Marsalis in Monterey.

Oh yeah. Not only is he an amazing jazz musician, but he is an amazing classical musician, too. I’m trying to pursue both, so he is someone that I definitely look up to, because he’s done so well in both genres, which a lot of people say is impossible to do, but he’s proved that it is not.

What were the highlights of your Next Generation tour?

We started out in Kansas City and rehearsed for three days in the hall actually where Count Basie’s band used to rehearse. We played one gig there, and from then on pretty much every day were on the bus going to a different city and playing a gig every night: St. Louis, Chicago, Cincinnati. We were in Pittsburgh for three days. We finished in Washington, D.C., where we had a performance in the Kennedy Center, which was really, really awesome.