An Interview with The Talented Jazz Musician/Elementary School Band Director/Photographer: SEAN LONGSTREET!
Posted On 21 Sep 2015
Tag: A minor Case of the Blues, All Access, All Access Music, All Access Music Group, Andrew Bird, Artist Interview, Beaumont, Big D, Bird Land, Bryant Parks, City Solitude, Claremont, Cool Jazz, Craig Yancey, Darren Smith, Diamond Valley Arts Center, Dr. Jeremy Brown, Eli Marcus, EWI, Find Your Flow, Find Your Flow Tiny Desk, Flying Robots, Gatsby's Fiddle, Hemet, Hemet High School, Her Eyes, Hippie Cream, Iron and Wine, Is Jazz Dead, iTunes, Jazz, Jeff Elwood, Jeff Tower, Jim Youngstrom, Jimi Hendrix, Jodie Fisher, Kelly Corbin, Kenny Burrell, Kenton Youngstrom, Kurt Rosewinkel, Looping, Los Angeles, Mike Amorelli, Mt. San Jacinto College, Nick Drake, On My Way, Pat Metheny, Paul Murphy, Peter Curtis, RCC, Reflections, Reggie Watts, Roberto Catalano, Sam Houston State University, Sean Hagstrom, Sean Longstreet, Short Night, Soft Skies, Sonic Soul Quartet, Sufjan Stevens, The Brian Setzer Orchestra, The Cat the Hag and the Longstreet, The Fifth Street Stomp, Tim Flores, Tim Flores Productions, University of Redlands, Wes Montgomery, Wesley Houdyshell
Sean Longstreet is an active educator, guitarist, composer an photographer from Southern California. He studied jazz guitar and music education at the University of Redlands, and instrumental conducting at Sam Houston State University. He is currently a full time band director for the six elementary schools in the Beaumont unified school district. He is also currently an active musician and composer.
He performs as a freelance jazz guitar player with many local musicians including Paul Carman, Marshal Hawkins, Craig Yancey, Jeremy Brown and Kelly Corbin. He is in several groups including the jazz ensemble, the Sonic Soul Quartet, a guitar trio, The Cat the Hag and the Longstreet, Hippie Cream, and Gatsby’s Fiddle with front-man Wesley Houdyshell. He performs solo as a “Looping” artist incorporating guitars, percussion, flute, ukelele, and bass to create unique live original compositions that blend elements of jazz, rock, blues, and minimalism.
Musically he is influenced by Andrew Bird, Reggie Watts, Wes Montgomery, Jimi Hendrix, Pat Metheny, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Iron and Wine, Sufjan Stevens and Nick Drake.
He studied with Jeff Tower, Peter Curtis, Kenton Youngstrom, Jodie Fisher, Paul Murphy, and Jeff Elwood. His guitar playing (and a little trombone playing) can be heard on Hemet High School big band albums, Cool Jazz (2002), Soft Skies (2013), and on RCC’s, A minor Case of the Blues. His compositions, “5th St. Stomp”, and “City Solitude” can be heard on the upcoming big band album from Jeremy Brown’s Jazz Album.
Learn more about Sean in the following All Access interview:
After reading through your bio, the first question that immediately comes to mind is how on earth do you balance everything that you do?
That’s always the challenge. I seem to flow from one activity to the next, and if I’m not taking care of my immediate needs, (like sleep) I’m prepping for whatever is coming up. I do manage to get some quality time in with friends and family. I don’t spend time watching TV or movies. Instead I spend most of my time doing what brings the most fulfillment, that being primarily things related to music, both making it and teaching it. Being outside and getting some fair amount of physical exercise regularly is also important. Between music, friends and being on adventures, I have plenty to keep me occupied and happy. That being said, I definitely overload myself with too many activities and go through periods of purging.
How did you get involved with being a full-time band director for 6 elementary schools? What is that experience like for you?
I always knew I wanted to be a music teacher as well as a performer so shortly after graduating from the University of Redlands with my teaching credential and degree in music education I landed this job teaching elementary band. Initially I had no intention of wanting to teach at the elementary level because I thought I would want to teach high school or maybe even middle school, but definitely could not handle teaching the basics to a bunch of little kids. Turns out this is been a perfect gig for me for the past eight years because I have developed a very strong program and I love sharing my appreciation with music with others. My first elementary students are entering their first year of college as we speak, and I’m very proud. Also teaching at the elementary level allows me to have more time on nights and weekends than I would if I was teaching at the high school or middle school level. I don’t have to do the marching band and big competitions throughout the year.
You stay very active with several different jazz ensembles around LA. Can you pick a favorite and why that one in particular? Do you get to play different styles of jazz music with each group?
I think I have three current favorites- I’ve been performing the longest with a group called the Sonic Soul Quartet based out of the inland Empire area. That group is with Craig Yancey who is a fantastic saxophonist from Hemet who had a 30 year career playing in Las Vegas and Dr. Jeremy Brown on drums, who is the department chair for the music program at Mt. San Jacinto College. We all contribute our originals to the group and put on a very engaging in life we show. We’ve been performing together for seven years. Dr. Brown plays drums on my current album, “Reflections”.
There’s also a guitar trio based out of Redlands with Sean Hagstrom and Roberto Catalano. Roberto is from Italy, has a PhD in ethnomusicology from UCLA, and teaches for several local universities. This ensemble offers something different from the more formal jazz bands, though our music is also very jazz influenced. In addition to jazz standards we like to focus on more guitar oriented compositions by Pat Metheny and Wes Montgomery, and anything that Kenny Burrell did, also throwing in our own compositions into the mix.
Can you talk about you experience working with producer Tim Flores? What has he brought into your musical career?
It has been very fun and rewarding to work with him over the past year and a half, to learn from the other musicians that Tim has brought together and to see this album come to fruition. Darren Smith has been with us the longest and offers so much tone, foundation and heart. He’s been essential to the growth and development of this group. I started working with Jim Youngstrom a year ago a little over a year ago and I’m glad we got to feature him on the album. His song “Short Night” is one of my favorites.
Recording this album was a real pleasure, and organizing our live band has been a real treat for me. For instance, the touring group has the addition of Bryan Parks on saxophones and EWI. This has been a blast. He and I met in 2002 at Riverside community college in the jazz band. He’s got a very unique voice on his instrument, and chops for days, plus he does something really special and unique on the EWI.
You heard that in the live performance of “Bird Land”. Bryan Parks brought Eli Marcus into the group, and he is a fantastic bass player from LA, though he and Bryan met and performed in groups together at the Berklee School of Music. His chops are impressive but another thing I like about Eli is that he is currently working on his phd in music education. He has a lot of depth that may not be evident on the surface. He’s humble and I like that. Performing with this group has taken my playing to a new level and I’m excited to continue gigging with them as we’ve only recently met and gotten know each others playing style. People responded so well to this combination of musicians it’s quite exciting.
Working with Tim Flores on this has been a creative boom. For the first time I let someone else take control of the project. Not only was he part of the creative process, he pushed us to perform at the best of our ability. To think outside of the box. Then to expose ourselves with honest musicianship. Tim has a good ear, if we were off, he called it out. “Reflections” is the results of all of our hard work. This entire project would not have happened without his dedication and investment .
Can you talk about your recent album with Tim Flores Productions? Can you elaborate on his intent to create a jazz album with a vintage recording feel? Do you think you all succeeded in doing so?
Working with Tim on this project has been very fruitful. I like that he had a vision of wanting to recapture the energy and spontaneity of all old the recordings before the use of in-studio multi-tracking and overdubbing. This album captures and reflects the dynamics of us working together, and the fun atmosphere in the room. He’s very hands on with us, and is always part of the discussions about the structure of out songs and sets. He has a vision but he is also open to what the group wants to do. We even collaborate on the song writing level. He presented me with a melody, a video he sent to me over the phone where he played this slow melody.
At first I didn’t really hear the context but then, in between songs at one practice session in Claremont, I sat down and gave the song some structure by adding chords and finding a good groove. It came alive when we set the song up with a 7/4 time signature and a slow straight-8th note feel. That’s how “Her Eyes,” was written. It’s one of my favorite songs to perform. I’m proud of that collaboration.
How is this record’s music different than anything else you’ve released before?
This is the first actual jazz album I’ve released. I have other albums available on iTunes, and they are definitely jazz-influenced, but nothing that resembles a proper jazz group. My previous releases have been more soloistic endeavors and less collaborative. Working with Tim Flores pushed my chops to new heights. “On My Way” is very loop-oriented.
I’ll paste some here for reference:
Find Your Flow Tiny Desk submission-
Fighting Robots: Check out the 3 – 5 minute mark.
The last couple minutes are pretty interesting too.
The opening song, “The Fifth Street Stomp” is probably the piece I am most particularly proud of. It’s got a very fun groove, bluesy set of changes to blow over, and the melody as good energy and direction. “City Solitude” is my second favorite, an introspective soulful piece written to feature a horn player.
Can you describe your personal method for putting a jazz track together? Where does the inspiration for the music come from exactly?
For me, a jazz song comes around when I am inspired by a particular musician friends, groove or feel of a certain song. “The Fifth Street Stomp” was written for drummer, Jeremy Brown to feature his second-line groove. “City Solitude” was written with Craig Yancey in mind because he is such an expressive and soulful player.
What was it like working with Jim Youngstrom from The Brian Setzer Orchestra? And what about Darren “Big D” Smith?
I talked about Darren in a previous question but would reiterate what a fantastic player he is and what a fantastic guy he is too. I enjoy having him around and I’m grateful for his contributions to this project. Sonically, he offers a lot to the characteristics of our group. His bari sax playing is foundational.
Jim Youngstrom is such a fantastic musician. He is definitely the most professional and experienced player on the album. He’s very down to business and dependable. His piece, “Short Night” is another one of my more favorite songs I’ve been performing lately.
What is Mike Amorelli’s documentary “Is Jazz Dead?” all about? How did it all come together? What was it like working on a documentary?
This documentary came about because Mike was involved with the technical process at a very early level. He recorded early rehearsals and documented the arc and progression of this project. It captures all of us, Tim Flores included, collaborating on something that is of shared value and importance, bringing new and inspired music to contemporary audiences.
What do you hope is the message of your music?
I think we bring a message of spontaneity and openness to our playing. Music these days is so refined, produced and corrected and all the human-ness seems to be stripped away.
Where can people see you perform next?
Our next gig will be September 20th at the Diamond Valley Arts Center in the Hemet, California. It’s at 123 and Harvard Street and we’ll play from 6:30pm until 9:00pm. We will perform songs off of the CD, as well as jazz standards too.
I’m committed to being a patron and participant in the arts, specifically music. I’m grateful for all my collaborators and any fan who takes time to listen to anything that I’ve been involved with over the years. This is why I make music and also why I teach for a living.
I like to end my emails with the following quote:
“The arts are a fundamentally important part of culture, and an education without them is an impoverished education leading to an impoverished society. Studying the arts should not have to be justified in terms of anything else. The arts are as important as the sciences: they are time-honored ways of learning, knowing, and expressing” -Hetland and Winner