By Edward Anderson, NOLA Art House Music
As John Michael Bradford prepares for his first year at NOCCA, the city’s premier high school conservatory, one thing’s for sure: This is a young person who has discovered his passion in life very early and has committed himself to it. If you consider John Michael’s Jazzfest schedule alone this year, you’ll know that this young man who is just preparing to enter high school has been busier than many established musicians twice his age.
I met John Michael right after the storm, when he knew barely anything about jazz. In the mold of many young jazz musicians, he was extremely polite and somewhat shy … that is, until he began to play his trumpet. Early on, even before he really knew what he was blowing out of his horn, he came across as a natural musician. There was an intuitive logic in his phrasing and maturity in his brazen sound. There was an immediately evident great joy that music brought this kid. It permeated his soul.
Much of the credit for John Michael’s early success has to be given to his mother, Angela, who has been more of a cheerleader than a stage mom. There is no “ Joe Jackson” story here, no “cutthroat” manipulation to get her kid opportunities; nor is she the intimidating coach standing over her son’s shoulder, demanding long hours of daily practice. Angie is just aproud mom who tirelessly zips her son around every weekend to his trumpet lessons and gigs and acts as his most trusted advocate and critic.
Of course, John Michael doesn’t need to be forced to practice: He loves to play. In fact, his weekends usually consist of a mixture of jazz performances, ranging from street parades to private events to club appearances (this is New Orleans, and besides, his mom is always there with him; his only refreshments are cokes and fruit punch).
“He had a bunch of brass band gigs during the (Jazz and Heritage) festival weekends,” says Angie. “He also sat in with Ashlin Parker at Irvin’s Playhouse, Pat Casey and the New Sound at Sound Cafe, and Shamarr Allen at the Balcony. He sat in with Jeremy Davenport at Jazz Fest and even got a standing ovation. He played a big party at City Park, played for the Jazz Fest Gala, performed with the Don Jamison School of Music at Jazz Fest …”
There’s actually much more, but I think you get the point.
Trombonist Sam Williams of Big Sam’s Funky Nation proved to be one of John Michael’s first mentors and encourager of his musical ambition. His family and John Michael’s family wound up living together for a period of time after Katrina. According to John Michael’s mother, “I remember one day during our evacuation that Sam was driving us somewhere, and John Michael started singing the licks to one of his songs. He sang every lick perfect, and he’d only heard the song a few times. Sam commented on this, and said, ‘This boy has a great ear.’ This was one of many signs of things yet to come.”
Though only in the eighth grade, John Michael has studied, shared the stage and received advice and encouragement from a host of stellar artists, including Wycliffe Gordon, Nicholas Payton, Branford Marsalis, Shamarr Allen, Sam Williams, Leroy Jones, Kent Jordan, Wendell Brunius, Donald Harrison, Bill Summers, Treme Brass Band, Trombone Shorty, Glen David Andrews, Jeremy Davenport, Kermit Ruffins, James Andrews, and the list goes on and on and on…
This past weekend, John Michael once again demonstrated his exceptional talents, coming in second place at the Seeking Satchmo Competition held by The French Market and the Jazz Institute at the University of New Orleans. First place this year went to senior Doyle Cooper, another great on-the-rise trumpeter. Of course, John Michael would have liked the “full glory” of first place, but considering he has four more shots at it, I’m sure he’ll get there. I also have a feeling he won’t be needing all four.