Clarinetist Jonathan Jones won YTA’s Audience Choice Award in 2006 and 2007. He also won YTA’s Gold Medal in the Winds, Brass, Percussion, Harp and Guitar division in 2008 and the Silver Medal in that division in 2006.
He recently shared an update on his career with us.
It’s been 14 years since you won Young Texas Artists’ Gold Medal in Winds, Brass, Percussion, Harp, and Guitar. How would you say that your experiences with YTA impacted your music career?
I was still in college at the time I competed with Young Texas Artists. The town where the competition is held, the theatre, I enjoyed all of that, and I performed there for a packed house. That was such an inspirational thing early in my career, along with being able to do well, win medals in the competition, and get an Audience Choice Award. I remember being on stage and just feeling that energy from the crowd. So the competition itself was a great experience.
As far as how it impacted my career, the most memorable thing is that one of the judges was heading up The Living Opera in Dallas. He was impressed with my playing, and he invited me to play principal clarinet in the opera. It was really cool to get a professional opportunity like that.
I also played with the Conroe Symphony Orchestra as part of the prize; that was awesome. And of course, the prize money was excellent. That was something big for me. I’m really thankful for those experiences.
What have been some of your most memorable experiences since then? Why were they meaningful to you?
Honesty, I’ve been very blessed to have great experiences performing with great artists. Just recently, I played with The Who in Dallas, with the orchestra at the American Airlines Center. That was a super cool experience.
Over the years, I’ve been able to travel so much. When I was younger, I had this really amazing opportunity to perform Orpheus & Euridice by Ricky Ian Gordon in Italy. He’s a great composer. He has this piece for clarinet soprano and piano, and it’s a stage work where you actually are on the stage acting and dancing as Orpheus while you’re playing.
Another amazing thing has been my orchestral experience, getting to play in orchestras in Mexico, playing with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, the Dallas Opera, being principal clarinet with the Dallas Chamber Symphony. Also, I’ve been the principal clarinet with the Las Colinas Symphony Orchestra and Symphony Arlington for about the last 12 years.
One of the coolest things recently is I’m co-directing the Meadows World Music Ensemble at SMU (Southern Methodist University) with Jamal Mohamed, my mentor from when I was in school at SMU. World Music has been the other catalyst for my career: getting to improvise and perform around the world. Performing in Bali, going to Sumatra for the Lake Toba Festival, Taiwan for the Chinese Taipei orchestra, and then going to China to play as well.
So that’s been huge: World Music and Jamal, our duo and our ensemble. We’ve actually recorded an album. It’s been really cool because I’m also a DJ and producer. So when I’m doing this ensemble, the way we approach it is like very loose where we can move on a dime.
What are some of your goals from here?
As a DJ and producer, I’ve released some electronic music, very cutting edge, using my clarinet and my other instruments to create electronic dance music. And that’s my focus now.
Over the years I’ve learned as a freelancer that doing lots of things is great, but I want to start focusing on my brand, on projects that are mine. So I’ve been working on marketing, my social media following has been getting more prevalent. I go now by the producer name, JON JONEZ. It’s a play on my own name.
I’m putting myself out there, establishing myself, and I love being in front of the people where I can play my clarinet. And I can bring all those things that I’ve learned from Mozart to my experience in classical jazz, World Music, all of this stuff. And then I can bring it forward to relate it to the people in a new creative atmosphere. So I’m just searching for more opportunities to get on bigger stages and have more people discover my music.
What do you do for fun or to relax?
One thing that’s fun for me is actually just pursuing my DJ career, getting to advance and play at new places. So that’s fun, even though it’s work. That’s part of the problem of being a musician: You blend fun and work. And so you’re always working, you never can put it down.
But also for fun, I love to lift weights. I was Mr. SMU 2008. I love to do yoga. I love to snowboard. I love to play video games, sometimes, and watch movies, classic stuff. But I really love the outdoors. I’m an Eagle Scout, I was able to grow up camping, hiking, trekking, being outdoors. I also love to travel. And if I can make some music and travel that’s just been so the best stuff ever. I guess what it boils down to is, I just love to enjoy my life.
Have your musical tastes changed over the years?
It’s almost funny, when someone’s asked what kind of music they like, and they say, “I like everything,” people think, Give me a break. But, and I’m not being arrogant, when it comes to liking everything and playing everything, I actually do. I do classical and jazz. I’m deejaying hip-hop music. I’m playing Balinese flute music, didgeridoo, Italian tarantella music, Arabic music, Celtic music, Bulgarian wedding music, avant-garde jazz, drum, and bass. I’m doing dubstep bass music. I don’t play a lot of country, but I’d be happy to.
I think at the end of the day, music is just like food, right? If your favorite food is pizza, you still don’t want to eat it every single day, every meal. So with music, it depends on the occasion.
What advice would you offer young artists who are just getting started with their music careers?
That’s definitely a great question. I really feel that I had to figure out a lot of this on my own, trying to define my own path.
Number one, figure out all the possible ways to make money in the music industry. If you’re only chasing after one niche opportunity, whether it’s playing with the New York Philharmonic, principal cello, or whatever it is, you’re limiting yourself. You might want to have more options on the table. Get well versed in lots of things. Sign up for jazz lessons, even if you think you don’t want to do that. It’s going to make you a better player. It’s going give you a different perspective, even on your classical music, because whenever you play jazz and improvise, you’re looser. Now you’re able to make a phrase in Mozart more naturally, because you’re not thinking about it.
Every musician these days needs to have an idea of how to make a brand. If you want to be successful these days, you have to. You can’t just practice and win the audition. You need to be able to promote yourself. You need to know how to do marketing, you need to know how to do recording. If you can record yourself, now you can make your own album. You can record other people, you can make a business out of it, you can do videos.
You have to know how to be able to do social media, video producing, audio producing, just to make your social media TikTok content, you need to have just to have those basic skills. You need to be able to know how to run a business, basically.
Just because you’re good, doesn’t mean you’re going to be successful. If you’re trying to be in the classical world, go take lessons from every teacher, every school, and every orchestra you can. Get to be known. Check every competition that you possibly can get into. Put yourself out there.