Bursting to play for world

Sunday Snapshots

Trumpeter: Peabody grad...

November 16, 1997|By M. Dion Thompson

Bursting to play for world; Trumpeter: Peabody grad student Dontae Winslow has racked up an impressive list of performing and recording credits.

Dontae Winslow, up-and-coming jazz trumpeter and Peabody Conservatory master's candidate, buzzes a visitor into his Park Avenue apartment and immediately apologizes for not having any furniture.

A weight bench dominates his tiny living room. A CD rack and stereo take up one wall. It's a perfect grad-student arrangement, fine for now. But Winslow, 23, expects more coming his way.

He is opening at the Meyerhoff for Nick Ashford, Valerie Simpson and Maya Angelou. His rap CD, "Clinical Depression" is coming out this month. A jazz release is scheduled for spring, and there is an R&B project in the works.

"Jazz, rap and R&B. Can I do it? Hell, yeah," he says, brimming with confidence.

Last month he made the semifinals in the Thelonius Monk International Jazz Competition. He didn't win, but that's OK. Nicholas Payton, one of jazz's young lions, didn't even make the semifinals six years ago.

"Winning, that's a real slippery word," says Winslow, who sees God's hand at work in his life. That belief's tenets are tattooed on his body: "Divine Order" on the right forearm, "Protected By Angels" on the left.

A native of Baltimore, Winslow grew up around North Avenue and Pulaski Street. Music hit him early, coming in the form of his aunt's gospel singing at Calvary Baptist Church.

"It was like a euphoria, orgasm, Holy Ghost," he says. "I don't know what you call it, but you get that feeling and I wanted to give people that feeling."

An elementary school buddy suggested the trumpet. It only had three valves. It had to be easy. Winslow tried it, but couldn't handle the physically demanding instrument. He picked it up again in middle school and auditioned for the Baltimore School for the Arts. He says he was accepted on desire, not technique.

"That's the one thing you can't teach, the desire," he says, passing on a few words from fellow trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. "At the School for the Arts, I was late every day because I was staying up every night, transcribing Charlie Parker and John Coltrane solos."

A year after he entered the arts school, Winslow's musical world was blown apart by a young jazzman named Roy Hargrove. Then only 18, Hargrove seemed nothing special, until he brought the horn to his lips.

"He played more trumpet than Gabriel played for God, yo," says Winslow, whose "show me" attitude vanished when Hargrove played "Caravan."

"I started lowering my head," he says. "I was trying to show my friends, 'That ain't nothing. It's too loud.' But inside? I was like, 'My God. I believe Jesus is standing in front of me.' "

Soon, Winslow was copying Hargrove's solos. He played one for Hargrove after a Howard University show. Impressed, the older player took Winslow under his wing, gave him a horn and some tips.

"He taught me to play like you have a gun to your head," says Winslow, dead serious. "Every time you play, you should play like it's the last time, with fire, with passion."

Since then, Winslow has earned a bachelor's degree from the Peabody, toured with jazz greats, and appeared on CDs by Gary Bartz and Gary Thomas as "Ransom," his rap persona.

His advice to young musicians is simple: Listen to all types of music, study and practice, -- every day. He tries to put in three hours, working on anything from Mahler's Fifth Symphony to "Stardust" a la Clifford Brown to a basic scale.

"Sometimes I'm like, this is so elementary, but this is your foundation," he says. "You have to be able to play this to play the hard stuff, to play jazz and classical."

Then he is out the door, off to another lesson in his musician's life. Harriet Mayor Fulbright's early speeches were delivered extemporaneously, with clammy palms and beads of sweat pouring from her brow, the result of a surprise introduction by her husband, U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright.

"Enough of me now it's my wife's turn," he would say.

After she realized her husband wasn't going to stop putting her on the spot, Fulbright began preparing. In 1996, the year after his death and the 50th anniversary of the student exchange program synonymous with his name, she gave 40 speeches in 16 countries celebrating his work and belief that international exchanges of people can foster world peace.

Congress tried to whittle away at the Fulbright exchange in recent budgets, but its appeal to scholars and the pathways it has forged between individuals and nations have been so satisfying that countries such as Japan and Germany regularly provide tens of millions of dollars in financial support.

With an advocate like Harriet Fulbright, there is no turning back for the program that has sent a quarter of a million people to 140 countries to research, lecture, swap ideas and return home with a clearer view of their own country.

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