Courtney Jones, DMA, assistant professor of trumpet and artistic director of jazz at Florida Atlantic University, recently made history when he played with the Gateways Orchestra in its debut at Carnegie Hall in New York City. The Gateways Orchestra performance was the first time in history that an all African-descended orchestra was invited to play the iconic venue.
Founded in 1993, Gateways has become the nation’s most prestigious all Black orchestra, performing classical music by both canonical European composers as well as African American and other Black diasporic composers who have enriched the tradition since the 19th century, but who often do not get the exposure they deserve. Gateways’ musicians come together from all over the country to perform at several venues across the United States during the year.
“To be a component of an ensemble, consisting of some of the world’s best classical musicians of African descent, while witnessing history in the making, was healing, personified through vibrational frequencies and a mutual collectiveness,” said Jones.
Jones’ Carnegie Hall debut featured Brahms’ “Variations on a Theme by Haydn;” Florence Price’s “Symphony No. 3 in C Minor;” “Sinfonia No. 3 by George Walker,” the first African-American Pulitzer Prize for Music Laureate; and Grammy Award winner Jon Batiste’s world premiere for piano and orchestra, “I Can.” The concert ended with a moving rendition of James V. Cockerham’s Fantasia on “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” bringing the house to its feet for several standing ovations in recognition of Gateways’ stunning achievement.
“I feel fortunate to have experienced such a moving, historic concert and I am incredibly proud of our remarkable trumpet professor and artistic director of jazz,” said Michael Horswell, Ph.D., dean of the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters at FAU. “To be selected to play with the best classical musicians, nationally and internationally, at their Carnegie Hall debut is an honor that elevates not only Dr. Jones’ national and international reputation, but the stature of FAU’s Department of Music, as well.” said Michael Horswell.
The Carnegie Hall concert was the culmination of a week of performances at other iconic venues in New York, including at the Eastman School of Music, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cooper Union’s Grand Hall, among others. Jones’ Gateways Brass Collective, a quintet of the Gateways Orchestra, was a favorite of the festival, especially for bringing its sounds to the galleries of the Met and to the historic stage of Cooper Union, where the likes of Frederic Douglas and Abraham Lincoln had given consequential speeches in the 1800s.
According to Jones, each member of the Collective either teaches at the collegiate level, currently performs on Broadway or with prestigious groups/ensembles, and regularly delivers educational clinics and masterclasses for students in elementary through high school, college/conservatory, and beyond.