Q&A: Jazz student talks UMKC, future of KC’s music scene

So, what does the future look like for a soon-to-be UMKC Jazz Studies graduate? Senior Trevor Turla says it resembles one long jam session. He just wants to start playing.

A trombone player who says music has always been a part of his life, Turla is one of only two undergraduate jazz majors picking up his diploma this year. Recently, he spoke with U-News about his experience at UMKC, how it has shaped him as an artist and the future of Kansas City jazz.

Q: How did you get into jazz?

A: My dad is a painter and when I was really little, my mom had to go back to work. She is a professor. My dad, he had a studio at the house and he would paint. So, she’d be at the school, I’d be at home and he would paint to all the hard bop greats like John Coltrane, Monk, Miles Davis. He would listen to all that stuff. This was when I was in my infancy so I think that’s when it first really got started. Now, whenever I hear “Blue Train” my dad is the only thing that pops into my head. I started playing music when I was 8. I would say around sophomore year of high school I discovered New Orleans music, which hit me like a freight train. It was so clear to me that there was nothing else I could do with my life.

Q: Why UMKC?

A: Bobby Watson. That’s a huge one. I’d say almost nobody at UMKC realizes who he is. He has done so many things beyond just being a saxophone player. Not only has he had an illustrious career for himself, but he’s also helped other people in their careers and shaped this thing. He’s been in every facet of this industry; from writing music for movies to publishing albums, everything. He’s an inspiration. Funny enough, the first live jazz concert I ever saw before high school was actually a Bobby Watson concert playing with the jazz band at the school my mom taught at. It was kind of a cool connection that I ended up being able to come here.

Q: How has your experience at UMKC helped you grow as an artist?

A: I’d say generally, people come to school to learn and get certified. You can’t really be certified in jazz. With this degree I’m about to get, I could show that to people and they are going to say, “Well it says you play jazz, that’s a whole lot of good.” But what I think is special about UMKC, and what I have gotten here, is the amount of real-world knowledge. Bobby Watson is a direct student descendant of Art Blakey who is one of the greatest jazz musicians to ever live. He’s got all that experience under his belt, and he can give that to us and not a lot of schools can. Bobby finds people that want this. He finds people who are passionate about it, and that’s why I came to UMKC. I wouldn’t be able to play the way I do today if I hadn’t gotten the degree.

Q: How do you plan on making it in the jazz industry?

A:For 2017, jazz sales actually accounted for less than 1 percent of music sales across the board. The thing I think a lot of people misconceive about jazz is, like I say I’m a jazz trombonist, that means that I only do this one thing in this one box. I play the kind of thing you hear in the elevator going from floor to floor, and then you turn off your ears so you’re never going to buy jazz. What they don’t realize is that, of the six people that Bruno Mars uses as his front line, including him, like four of them are jazz musicians. Justin Timberlake’s band, a lot of them are jazz musicians. “To Pimp a Butterfly” by Kendrick Lamar, almost all of that was jazz musicians. This jazz degree and the jazz scene, as far as being a musician is concerned, gives you the tools to do anything. What jazz will teach you is how to not just improvise in music, but improvise in life. That is really the trajectory for jazz musicians, being able to play anything. Then when they come back home, they do their own writing. That’s where the jazz will bleed in.

Q: What do you see as being the future for jazz in Kansas City?

A:There are a few names in town that I think are really at the forefront of progressing the music. There are a lot of people playing jazz in Kansas City who are at the top of their game and are international names. They’re really pushing the sound. They’re doing something different with the sound so I think that’s the direction Kansas City is going. Eddie Moore and the Outer Circle, that’s a big one. Marcus Lewis Big Band, they’re doing a lot of stuff. The flip side of that coin is that I don’t think that the straight-ahead jazz and the stuff that’s always been played here will ever leave. There’s stuff other than the swing happening in Kansas City. But a lot of times, when a tourist comes to Kansas City, they want to see the Kansas City stuff.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A:I’m doing two bands right now. I’m doing the KC Latin Jazz All-Stars, which is a salsa band. I also do this Grand Marquis band, which is like blues, soul and New Orleans music. I just did two 45 vinyl’s and an album with these guys that will be coming out in April and the vinyl’s this summer. We’re doing music videos, and we’ve got some touring planned. I think we’re going to continue working that hustle. I really want to get my own project up and running at some point. I don’t know if I’m going to be in Kansas City forever. I may end up somewhere else someday, but as of right now, I’m pretty confident in the Grand Marquis. I’ve got this jazz degree and I’m going to figure it out, just like I sit down on a tune that I don’t know and just start playing. We’ll get there.


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