John Lumpkin II was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida. John’s mother is a Juilliard-trained opera singer. His late father, John Lumpkin Sr., was a Principal for a Duval County public school and a Minister. When you learn about John’s parents’ background, it is easy to understand why John so highly values his faith, education, and music. The church was then, and still is today, a beacon and source of community in John’s life. It is also where John first learned to play the drums after his mother encouraged each of her children to pick an instrument to learn.
John graduated from the University of North Florida (UNF), where he received a Bachelors of Music in Jazz Studies. While enrolled at UNF, John studied under Professor Danny Gottlieb, a prominent session drummer who has performed on over 400 albums and has been nominated for nine Grammy awards, of which Gottlieb won four. John continued his post-secondary education by obtaining a Masters Degree from Florida State University (FSU). At FSU, John followed the leadership of Associate Professor Leon Anderson, who is also the Director of Jazz Studies.
John is now a working producer and musician. He performs as a drummer of jazz, R&B, and gospel music. John is a sponsored musician, holding endorsements from SABIAN cymbals, Vic Firth drumsticks, and Remo drumheads. You can listen to John’s most recent album “The Devotion” through his website.
At the end of October John will be traveling to New York City for two performances. On October 21st John will perform “The Spiritual Side of Duke, Part 1,” which will be followed by “The Spiritual Side of Duke, Part 2” on October 23rd. “The Spiritual Side of Duke” explores the spiritual elements of Duke Ellington’s body of work and honors one of jazz music’s greatest legacies by paying homage to his “sacred concerts,” three massive works from Ellington that combine elements of jazz, classical, choral, gospel, blues and dance.
John is also a music educator. He has served on the staff of the University of North Florida and the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. John also operates the John Lumpkin Institute, where he instructs the next generation of musicians.
“Our mission is to give students the highest level of fundamental music education and performance amongst this generation. To have to the next generation carry on the diversity of music history with homage is what the Lumpkin Institute offers. We seek to achieve this by offering students the rare opportunity to be a part of a Jazz Youth Orchestra, studying repertoire spanning from Bach to the Miles Davis Quintet while challenging them to be creative innovators of modern music. Each student will develop an understanding of their role in music today and how to be effective communicators through the musical story they wish to tell. When we are able to learn from the past, we then can create a brighter future for the next generation. The Lumpkin Institute is a beacon of light within the community, guiding the next generation.”
John is the founder of the Jazz Discovery Series, which is hosted by the Ritz Theatre. The program imports nationally recognized jazz musicians to Jacksonville for “one-night only” performances in the historic neighborhood of La Villa. The 2016-2017 season started with a September 23rd performance by vocalist Sofija Knezevic. The remainder of the season includes performances by Patrick Bartley (12/01), Christie Dashiell(02/02), Andrea Murchison (04/08), and Charles Turner (06/03).
10 Questions with John Lumpkin II
You recently led a jazz clinic for students at Eugene Butler Academy. During that clinic you stressed the importance of taking advantage of opportunities when they arise. Can you describe your path to becoming a working artist and the opportunities that impacted your life’s trajectory?
Wow, that’s difficult to answer because their have been so many opportunities. Whether it was playing in church or doing a tour in Japan, the opportunity to play has always been there. The first major opportunity I remember was playing in a Jacksonville choir that was formerly known as the Willie Ross & New Youth Gospel Choir. I shared the chair with two other drummers that I really looked up too. In return they were willing to share with me their knowledge and understanding of music. That environment showed me that it takes discipline and hard-work to become a musician of value.
You teach music through the John Lumpkin Institute. Besides taking advantage of opportunities, what common lessons do you instill in your students to promote an enriched life and appreciation of the arts?
It’s important to be humble and to have disciplined. These two characteristics when combined together create a wealth of greatness.
You are quoted as saying, “drums are the foundation of all music.” What initially drew you to playing the drums and what drummers have influenced you?
My family in church initially inspired me to play the drums because they were playing music there, and some still do. My influences on the drums would be Jason Marsalis, Calvin Rodgers, Steve Jordan, and Dan Needham, to name a few.
“Water Babies” by Miles Davis was the first jazz album you purchased. What are five jazz albums you’d recommend to someone who isn’t versed in jazz music and what would you suggest they listen for as they play those albums?
1.) “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis
2.) “Dumaine Street Blues” by Glen David Andrews
3.) “Urbanus” by Stefon Harris
4.) “Black Codes (From the Underground)” by Wynton Marsalis
5.) “Jamison” by Jamison Ross (Jacksonville born)
When listening to these albums for the first time, I recommend doing so in a setting that allows you to listen to them by yourself. Music is extremely social and much of my community revolves around music. However, listening to a new album by yourself allows you to better comprehend what you’re hearing. I also recommend listening to the albums through a good set of speakers. Lastly, I recommend clearing your mind of any expectations and simply listening.
New Orleans, Chicago, Kansas City, and New York are several US cities known as hotbeds for jazz music. What influenced you to remain in Jacksonville as you embarked on your career as a working musician? Additionally, what in Jacksonville’s art and culture scene do you feel deserves to be highlighted?
The simple fact that I wanted to help build a jazz scene in Jacksonville, FL. Jacksonville hosts one of the most generous and largest jazz festivals in the world, the Jacksonville Jazz Festival. The 2017 Jacksonville Jazz Festival is scheduled for May 25-28, 2017 and occurs over 15 blocks in Downtown Jacksonville.
What role has community played in your development as a musician?
Community has played a HUGE role in my development. From the church I was raised in and the schools I was taught in, to my extended family within the Jacksonville area and the supportive environment they cultivated. Every element of my community has taught me that I must strive to always be learning and to apply righteous principles in my life. I must also show others how to do the same through leading by example. I consciously choose to attend every church service and every gathering of family and friends because those community events nourish me as person and as a musician.
What have you learned about yourself through your career in the arts?
My career in the arts can only ultimately be expressed by the life that I live. Therefore, it is not just my career in the arts, but my life as a whole…and my life is not an easy one. I look to spread goodness to all people, while also raising a family of my own. God has given me a great ability and I am fortunate enough to be surrounded with family, friends, and educators that have help guide me along my career. In that same light, I try to guide others.
What is the Jazz Discovery Series and what led to its creation?
The Jazz Discovery Series exhibits the next generation of jazz to the city of Jacksonville. in 2009 I presented the concept of the Jazz Discovery Series to the personnel at The Ritz Theatre, which is located in the historic Jacksonville neighborhood of La Villa. I thought The Ritz Theatre would be a great venue because La Villa was once such a vibrant scene that it was known as “The Harlem of the South.” They passed on the offer though because programmatically they were headed in a different direction.
Several years later I met Lydia Stewart, the Museum Administrator at the Ritz Theatre and Museum. Lydia presented me with the opportunity to host a Tribute to Kansas City Jazz. This opportunity led to a meeting with Liz McDonald, the former Director of the Times Union Center for the Performing Arts. On my behalf, Liz presented the idea of the Jazz Discovery Series to SMG, the organization that manages The Ritz Theatre and Museum, the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, the Prime F Osborne III Convention Center, EverBank Field, the Times Union Center for the Performing Arts, and Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. SMG liked the idea and felt The Ritz Theatre would be a good venue to host the program.
You are sponsored by Sabian, Vic Firth, and Remo. How did you gain these sponsorships and what does being a sponsored musician entail?
When meeting different artist over the years you also meet staff members from various companies. These interactions sometimes leads to endorsements. Being a sponsored musician is an honor. As a sponsored artists, you carry the name of a brand that put in immeasurable work, patience, and diligence to help produce the sound that you carry. The work of a sponsored musician entails clinics, performances, and creating value for the company through your art.
Jazz is one of the few musical genres that was conceived in the United States. How do you describe the current era of jazz and what does it mean to you to be a working musician preserving a part of America’s art history?
The current era of jazz is very rich. The access we have to communicate and collaborate with each other is unbelievable. The creative possibilities are endless! As a working musician, I still have much to learn, both in life and as it relates to history. I take great honor in the path I’m on, the path of preserving the music that carried our country through oppression and depression and is still alive and relevant today.
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