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Staff Spotlight: Josh Lawrence

Posted by:  The Philadelphia Orchestra and Ensemble Arts on April 24, 2024

Photo Credit: Ola Baldych

We have multiple artists on staff – dancers, singers, actors, standup comedians, producers, and in the case of our Manager of Jazz Education Programs, Josh Lawrence, a GRAMMY® nominated trumpeter. In his role with our Education and Community Department, Lawrence manages all Jazz for Freedom school concerts, the School Ensemble Program, the Ensemble Arts Jazz Collective, and masterclasses. Though he is a relatively recent addition to our staff – having been hired in November of 2023 – he is no stranger to our organization. From November 2013 – June 2014, he participated in our Jazz Residency program with the music ensemble Fresh Cut Orchestra. Throughout Lawrence’s expansive career, he has achieved recognition in the jazz scene as a trumpet player, composer, bandleader, and recording artist. With a master’s degree from the Juilliard School in New York, multiple awards, and two GRAMMY® nominations under his belt, he now inspires the next generation of jazz musicians in the Philadelphia region.  

Lawrence has recently been imparting his expertise on the ten Philadelphia high school music students who comprise the Ensemble Arts Jazz Collective. The program, which kicked off in February to honor Black History Month, will culminate with a performance at Chris' Jazz Café on Tuesday, April 30, intentionally scheduled to fall on International Jazz Day. Lawrence will join the young musicians onstage alongside Director Jamal Jones, bassist Dan McCain, and other teaching artists in an evening dedicated to the centennial of Max Roach, who was a pioneering jazz drummer.   

In honor of April being National Jazz Appreciation Month, we interviewed Lawrence to learn more about his musical background, his history with our organization, his love of jazz education, and his upcoming performance with the Ensemble Arts Jazz Collective. 

imageg4slx.pngPhoto Credit: Ola Baldych 

Question: Can you describe how you first started playing the trumpet? 

Answer: I am a product of music in public schools and picked the trumpet in 5th grade (a rental Bundy horn) and had my first lessons at a summer music camp at Burlington Community College with the great Philadelphia trombonist Clarence Watkins. I fell in love [with] practicing and how I could get better at [trumpet] just by putting in time. Also, in the 90s, there was a whole lot of trumpet in the culture: Earth Wind and Fire, Michael Jackson, the film scores of John Williams, and of course Wynton Marsalis. WHYY and WRTI were my first windows into the world of music. 

Question: You and the Fresh Cut Orchestra came to the Kimmel Center as part of our 2013-14 Jazz Residency Program. Can you describe that experience and how it impacted your career? 

Answer: It was a big stepping stone for me personally. Fresh Cut Orchestra started with a commission from the Painted Bride...which led to a Pew Grant and the Kimmel Residency. The piece I composed, “Presence,” ended up on my first album as a leader with Posi-Tone Records and was the title track to Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band’s first Smoke Sessions release, which earned us our first Grammy nomination. It also led to a New Jazz Works grant from Chamber Music America. 

imagepk805.pngLawrence addresses students from Spring Garden School during a workshop for “Jazz For Freedom” 

Photo Credit: Creative Outfit 

Question: Has jazz education always been something that you were interested in pursuing? 

Answer: I gravitated towards this later and my passion was kindled while teaching in Anthony Tidd’s Creative Music Program at the Kimmel Center. We had amazing students and when I moved to New York, I knew I wanted to make jazz education a bigger part of my practice. This ultimately led to me pursuing my master's degree at the Juilliard School and landing the Director of Jazz Studies role at Interlochen Center for the Arts. 

Question: What is your favorite thing about your job here in our Education and Community Department? 

Answer: The people. We have an incredible team on staff and our teaching artists are stalwarts of the Philly jazz scene. I’m absolutely thrilled to bring all my experiences in the world of jazz back home to Philly and invest my talents in the community that supported me and made me who I am as a human, [an] artist, and teacher. 

Question: Can you tell us more about the performance happening at Chris’ Jazz Café on Tuesday, April 30? 

Answer: The repertoire celebrates the centennial of Max Roach and the [Ensemble Arts Jazz Collective] students have been studying his music and have [had a] masterclass with violinist Diane Monroe (who was in Max Roach’s Double Quartet and the Uptown String Quartet), drummer Nazir Ebo (who is an alumnus of Tidd’s Creative Music Program), and vocalist Laurin Talese [who dove] into the vocal style of the great Abbey Lincoln (Roach’s partner in many of his iconic works). The student collective will also be joined onstage by a teaching artist combo featuring me and Jamal Jones on the front line. 

Come enjoy an evening of stunning jazz music with Josh Lawrence and the Ensemble Arts Jazz Collective on Tuesday, April 30 at Chris’ Jazz Café. Tickets are available here. 

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