This article by Natanga Smith appeared in Barbados’ Nation News.
DON’T LET JOMO SLUSHER’S SMALL SIZE fool you, he plays one of the baddest horns in the land – the trombone.
Why is it the baddest? According to music writer Nick Coleman: “Trombones are difficult, awkward even. In a world that prizes compactness, speed and flexibility, trombones are slow, cumbersome and not awfully flexible. Trombonists need to be fit. They need good joints, jaws, strength, stamina. Trombones do power, they do grandeur, they do riffs, they do brooding, they do tearing calico.”
Dennis Rollins, Grover Mitchell, Joe Nanton and Wycliffe Gordon are a few of the famous trombone players, but while Jomo isn’t a worldwide name, yet, he is looking to create his own milestones.
The 25-year-old is curently enrolled at Berklee College of Music which he said “continues to be my biggest challenge and a very rewarding experience.”
Jomo was born in Belize and raised in Barbados with an older brother (“my father is from Belize and my mother is from Trinidad so I did not grow up in a typical Bajan household”). Past student of Louis Lynch Secondary and Combermere, he has an assosicate degree from the Barbados Community College’s music programme.
Jomo grew up with parents who were big music enthusiasts, exposing him to many different genres, but jazz was what he heard the most.
“My musical journey began with listening. There were a few jazz albums that my father listened to almost every day to the point where I had memorised them. My family moved to the United States when I was seven and the school I attended there had a mandatory music programme where every student had to learn an instrument.
“I always wanted to play either the saxophone or trumpet, and saxophone was my first choice but there were none available as it was the most popular instrument. So I went for the trumpet but even after a few weeks I couldn’t make a sound out of it. I was ready to give up but the teacher suggested I try playing the trombone and it came so naturally to me. I haven’t looked back since although I still wish I could play the saxophone,” he said, chuckling.
The initial push to pursue music came after he noticed that his peers and teachers saw a lot of potential in him, giving him constant encouragement.
Fiddling with his trombone, he related that when he began to “entertain” the idea of a career in music, “I already knew I had my mother’s full support. My father, on the other hand, was convinced that music couldn’t be anything more than a hobby. It’s definitely still a work in progress.”
“Music has always been one of my favourite things but I’m not sure if I can honestly say music is the career path I always wanted. From my experiences at BCC and Berklee, I can say now that a career in music will help me achieve many of the goals I have but maybe I’ll have a chance to explore other careers and discover new things.”
Jomo’s skills have seen him being fortunate to work with a lot of musicians he has admired.
“I wish I could mention them all, but the first names that come to mind are Esperanza Spalding, Tia Fuller, Stefan Walcott and Nicholas Brancker . . . all whom I have had an opportunity to work with and I have learnt invaluable lessons from.”
He has also travelled to places such as Trinidad, Suriname, St Lucia, Grenada and cites a memorable one as Cuba with the Barbados National Youth Orchestra in 2004.
“Since I’ve been based in Boston I have performed a lot there with various groups, as well as in New York. This past summer I was fortunate to perform at Umbria Jazz Fest in Italy.”
Seeing Jomo performing with his trombone and Audio-Technica clip-on microphone (“no effects pedals as yet”), you can see he loves what he does.
“My main reason for performing is the experience; sharing moments with fellow musicians, with the crowd, and having the ability to express myself . . . . . Every time I perform the experience is different, and I think that is how it should be.”
Back home on break from school, he recently performed at City Nights with two of his close friends, Kevyn Lynch and Romaro Greaves, and the trio blew away the audience.
Is being a musican harder work than he expected? “I wouldn’t say it is any harder than I expected. Being a professional musician means being an entrepreneur, which of course is a big challenge. I think a good piece of advice is not to be afraid to think big and take your work to the next level. There is a difference between simplicity and being mediocre.
“Being a musician provides a kind of freedom that doesn’t exist when you work a 9-5 job. However, that doesn’t mean that we don’t work crazy hours and sometimes wish we had other, more stable careers . . . . On the other side the big negatives for me is that in music, life doesn’t follow the typical track of degree, job, marriage, house and so on. The most difficult part is seeing peers in other careers following those usual milestones and knowing that my path is a lot more uncertain.”
Jomo is currently “taking some time to do some self-discovery and find new inspiration. I am working on some original music that I plan to release next year and also working on some music with members of the 1688 Collective to be released early next year.”
In five years’ time he will be 30 and Jomo doesn’t see short-term goals.
“In five years’ time I see myself based in the Caribbean, having my own band as an established songwriter/performer, and working with both local and international acts.”
How is that for blowing his own trombone?