Violinist Juliette Jones credits an injury with shaping her career.
While completing her degree at the Peabody Institute she was told there were four avenues available to a classically trained violinist: “you’re either going to be a soloist, or play in an orchestra, or play chamber music, or teach.” Jones wasn’t interested in any of these fields, so while recovering from an overuse injury she worked on other techniques on her instrument.
“I actually was having to shift my technique to meet my body. I found that certain ways I was shifting my technique was appropriate for other styles of music.”
Jones found her place working with hip-hop producers in New York. From there she has branched out into a broad collection of genres, always retaining her grounding in the classical world.
“Classical music became a tool in my tool bag, rather than just kind of the end-all. On any given day it can go from folk and Americana to hip-hop, gospel, and blues.”
She’s currently the concertmaster for Broadway’s production of the musical Pretty Woman. But Jones will also be in Nashville this week for choreographer Camille A. Brown’s production of ink at OZ Arts. Her connection to the project had to do with more than just her playing.
“Camille was looking for a string player of color — particularly a black woman who could play violin and help to tell this story in ink.”
ink is the final installment of a trilogy by Brown that particularly relates to, as she says, “the reclaiming of African-American narratives, by showing their authenticity.” Jones particularly enjoyed the collaborative process of composition, creating gestures in music the way a dancer would through movement.
“As a musician I feel less of a separation of art form. When the dancers are inside of their expression, I feel sound so clearly.”
The amplification of individual voices is particularly important to Jones, whose production company Rootstock Republic has the stated mission of expanding the definition of what it is to be a string player — not only musically but also by increasing the visibility of underrepresented groups in the orchestra.
As of 2014, African-American players filled only about 1.8% of the seats in American symphonies — a statistic that hadn’t changed in the 20 years in which the League of American Orchestras collected data. Her goal has been to create a platform for these underrepresented players to work but also to lift up their own community.
“We can use art as a lens to uplift these missions — uplift these visions.”
Jones suggests that aspiring musicians shouldn’t be afraid of reaching out to artists in the age of social media.
“Reach out to folks who inspire you — you never know, they may reach back to you.”
But even if an aspiring performer doesn’t see an apparent predecessor, it’s OK to be the first.
“You can be that groundbreaking individual to say, like, ‘Hey, the time is now.'”
Juliette Jones will perform at OZ Arts on December 14 and 15 as part of Camille A. Brown’s ‘ink.’
Music: ‘Sinnerman’ from ‘Dear Nina’ by Drea D’Nur and Rootstock Republic – reorchestrated and arranged by Juliette Jones
Since publication Juliette Jones has clarified two points: the ‘four paths’ a musician can take were never directly stated at the Peabody Institute, though this was the ‘beaten path’ for classical players at the time. And while she did work with hip-hop producers, it was a facet of her multi-genre work when she got to New York.