After decades of playing jazz professionally, Joey Sommerville knows that virtually no one in the audience is at his show to analyze his technique or figure out exactly how he plays a trumpet solo.
Mentorship with great Toledo musicians — men such as Clifford Murphy, Claude Black, and Eddie Abrams — taught the 1978 St. Francis de Sales graduate that his job is to move an audience, not impress it.
“The whole thing is energy and communication, it’s soul communication, it’s not just notes,” Sommerville said in a phone interview from his Atlanta home.
“I will err on the side of vibe and entertainment versus quote-unquote correct technique. I’m not trying to impress people or put myself in front of them and play and say, ‘Look at how smart I am.’
“I am trying to make people feel something every time I play. I consider myself a musician and an entertainer. It’s all about entertaining the crowd. Is there depth and musicality and substance to what I’m doing? Absolutely, but that’s not the point of it. It’s not an intellectual exercise it’s a show and a party.”
He will be in Toledo on Saturday night to play with fellow jazz man Marion Meadows at Forrester’s on the River. Their two shows at 7:15 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. are part of the African-American Legacy Project Legacy Weekend events.
Sommerville’s roots in Toledo are deep. He grew up here after moving from Detroit when he was in fifth grade. His father Joseph Sommerville, Sr., is a retired University of Toledo educational administration professor. His mother, Mattie Sommerville, taught in the Toledo Public Schools for more than 20 years and died in July at the age of 84 after a battle with cancer.
“The good part of it is that I got to spend a fair amount of time with her,” he said, recounting the month he was in Toledo this summer for what amounted to a family reunion as everyone pitched in to help his parents.
After graduating from St. Francis, he attended Ohio State University before transferring to Florida A&M where he received a degree in economics. During his post college years he was a working musician the entire time, living in New England where he played with the rock jam band Phish before moving to Atlanta.
He never forgot the lessons he learned from local jazz legends such as Murphy and Black, with whom he played in area jazz clubs during his formative years.
“They were great players but they also understood protocol and how to conduct yourself and how to entertain people. You can read books and go to classes all day, but there’s nothing like on-the-job training,” Sommerville said.
His music is considered “smooth jazz” but he said he’s not a believer in strict artistic limitations and he draws from world music, rhythm and blues, jazz, pop, hip-hop, and rock, noting that he’s collaborated with artists from South Africa, Brazil, and Venezuela.
“The whole boundary thing, genre thing is contrived, like putting a wall up,” he said. “I’m curious and I’m sort of from the Duke Ellington school of music: There’s good and bad. I like all kinds of stuff. I listen to music from all over the world.”
He has released three albums, including his most recent, 2011’s “The Get Down Club,” and tours all over the country. When Sommerville is not on the road, he lives in Atlanta with his wife, Jean. He has two adult children.
Anyone who attends the shows Saturday night can expect plenty of energy and a few surprises. And if Sommerville thinks things aren’t lively enough, expect a few changes of pace.
“The room and energy in the room dictate the songs and the next song you should play. I have a set list that I write out before every show, but I never follow the set list in order,” he said. “Oftentimes I will drop a song off the set list because it’s not appropriate for the energy in the room.”
The performances are part of the African-American Legacy Project’s Legacy Weekend. This year’s honorees are Wilma Brown, Crystal Ellis, Lola Glover, Joseph Sommerville, Sr., Samuel Price, and Myra Waters. Posthumous honorees are Daniel Mack and Robert Powell, Sr. Look for a story on the honorees in Friday’s Blade.
Reserved tickets for Saturday’s 7:15 p.m. show are $50 and that includes a 6:15 reception with Sommerville. General admission is $30. Reserved tickets for the 9:15 p.m. show are $40 and general admission tickets are $30. Forrester’s on the River is the former Navy Bistro at 26 Main St. For information on tickets go to asublimecreation.com/aalp or call 419-720-4369.
Contact Rod Lockwood at firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6159.