Museum offers trumpeter Dontae Winslow a 'Big Event'

April 23, 1994|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Sun Staff Writer

Gospel music turned Dontae Winslow on to jazz. If that sounds strange, let the young trumpet player who stars in tonight's Big Event benefit for the Children's Museum tell the story himself.

"I used to go to gospel church [West Baltimore's Calvary Baptist], and liked that feeling you get, that adrenalin that pumps when you listen to good music. Once I got that feeling, I wanted to know how to create it and put it on other people," says the 1992 graduate of the Baltimore School for the Arts.

As a youngster, he sang some, tried the flute, then switched to the trumpet, the instrument that gained him entrance into the city's performing arts school in ninth grade.

"My friend Richard White [now a tuba student at Peabody Institute] said, 'The trumpet is easy, man, only three valves, you just push these three and you can be in there,' " he recalls -- although he soon learned the instrument was a little harder than that.

"I also tried to be a rapper, a basketball player, a football player, an actor and -- oh yeah -- a skateboarder. But for one reason or another, something distracted me with all that," he says.

Then a jazz band came to town -- a combo from the Berklee College of Music in Boston.A young trumpet player named Roy Hargrove led the group, which also included Antonio Hart, a well-known saxophone player and a former School for the Arts student.

"These people were not much older than me, yet they were bad," recalls Mr. Winslow. "Roy Hargrove was on trumpet, but he wasn't known then, he didn't have any records. When he played, somehow I got that same gospel feeling like when I was in church. I was going, 'Oh, man, get out of here. I've never heard a trumpet sound like that.' "

Jump forward a couple years. Mr. Winslow, then a junior, had been avidly listening to jazz recordings and was working on his own music by playing in jam sessions at local clubs. He saw that Mr. Hargrove was due in town for a concert and decided to show him "I wanted to do the same thing he was doing."

During a break, he persuaded Mr. Hargrove to listen to something. "I played him one of his solos from his second album, 'Public Eye,' and he went, 'Wow, man, take my number, I want to teach you some stuff.' "

Thus began a continuing instructional association with Mr. Hargrove, one of America's leading young jazz performers. Mr. Winslow plays a horn given to him by his mentor. He has also been discovered and supported by Wynton Marsalis, perhaps the best-known jazz trumpeter in the country today.

"Dontae's a rising young star, and we thought he was a good choice to rise along with us," says Beatrice E. Taylor, executive director of the Children's Museum.

The institution, currently at the Cloisters in Brooklandville, plans in 1997 to move to expansive new quarters in the former Brokerage complex at Market Center, near the Inner Harbor.

Guests at tonight's Big Event at 34 Market Place will get a preview of plans, participate in a silent auction and dancing, and, as the featured event, listen to Mr. Winslow and a band of local musicians he is assembling for the fund-raiser.

Mr. Winslow is now a music theory major at the Peabody Institute, where he enrolled last fall after spending a year in New York at the New School for Social Research in Jazz Music. Mr. Marsalis helped pay his tuition there.

Why did he come home to Baltimore?

"I wanted to get some more things together as far as the trumpet goes, classical stuff that would better my jazz playing, and you can get that at Peabody," he says. "I have to study music literature and music theory, from Gregorian chants all the way through Bach to Beethoven and Stravinsky, up to Louis Armstrong."

He thinks he wants to achieve the traveling and performing life of his idols, Mr. Hargrove and Mr. Marsalis, but concedes, "I've almost quit at least 30 times this year. It's hard to stay focused."

Indeed, Mr. Winslow's greatest public recognition to date has come through a non-jazz sideline. While he was at the School for the Arts, he appeared in a television public service announcement on AIDS that still airs periodically.

Standing in front of a brick wall, he plays "Taps" on his trumpet as tears stream down his face; the role made him "a little celebrity" in school.

"Everybody wanted to know, did I really cry? I said, 'No, man, it was saline they put in my eyes,' " he recalls.

His musical goals also contrast with the lives of some of his best friends who grew up with him in the neighborhood off West North Avenue. Several of them have become Baltimore City police officers.

"They laugh at what I do," he says with a chuckle. "They got real jobs, so to speak, and they think what I'm doing is some kind of game or something. But they're still proud of what I do."

CATCHING THE JAZZ

What: "The Big Event," eighth annual gala to benefit the Children's Museum

When: 8 tonight

Where: 34 Market Place

Tickets: $75

$ Call: (410) 823-2551

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