Winslow headed west with his rising star

February 07, 2004|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Sporting burnt-orange eyeshadow, Mashica - she goes by her first name - sits in a Mount Vernon cafe. Dontae Winslow, her cornrowed husband, is across the table. In two weeks, the couple will drive to Los Angeles, where Winslow, a gifted trumpeter, will study for two years at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz at the University of Southern California.

"We're excited," Mashica says. "We're gonna make the best out of L.A. Plus, this is a great opportunity for Dontae."

For about a decade, Winslow has played around Baltimore and produced eight CDs on his own label, Ransom Entertainment. Feeling that his career needed a boost, he and his wife, a singer-songwriter, decided to pursue sunny promises in L.A.

They're both educators: Mashica, 26, taught third grade at Garrett Heights Elementary; Winslow, 29, was the music teacher at Gilmor Elementary.

Both attended the Baltimore School for the Arts. But those were hard-knock years for Winslow, with drug dealers streaming in and out as his mother's crack addiction deepened. He found solace in jazz. "I'd just turn the music on and listen for hours and hours," he says.

In high school, he met Grammy-winning jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove. One night, after the musician played at Howard University, Winslow cornered him in the bathroom and performed one of Hargrove's own pieces, "Public Eye." Hargrove has been a mentor to Winslow ever since.

During college, the trumpeter seriously pursued a music career. "When I came along in the early '90s, there were, like, 10 spots for me to play in," Winslow says. "But after some spots closed for whatever reason, people had to play in their house or wherever. In the last six years, it's been depressing."

Still, he managed to work in and around the area. Before receiving his master's degree in European classical music performance from the Peabody Conservatory, Winslow toured internationally with the Gary Thomas Quintet, a Baltimore-based band. He also played behind platinum-selling soul singer D'Angelo and opened local shows for Ashford & Simpson and Wayne Shorter. On Ransom, he has released nicely packaged but sometimes muddily recorded CDs that freely mesh straight-ahead jazz with hip-hop, gospel and slick R&B.

He also composes children's music. In 2002, Winslow won the grand prize (an EMI Music publishing contract and $5,000 in studio equipment) in that category of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest for "Change a Life ... Change the World." Maschica, whom he married three years ago, and his Gilmor students sang on the track. But the win was bittersweet because Winslow's mother died of AIDS barely a year before.

"I was torn up, but I had my support," he says. "I had my music, Maschica, my students. I focused a lot on my music and making things happen for me."

Like a full fellowship to the Thelonious Monk Institute. The non-profit education organization was founded in 1986 to offer college-level training by American jazz masters.

Months after our lunch on that sun-drenched summer afternoon, Winslow and Mashica are well-adjusted to Los Angeles. While her husband studies composition with such legends as Herbie Hancock, Clark Terry and Terence Blanchard, Machica sings demos for producer Ishmael Moaney, a B'more native who produced "Sprung," a B2K song on the You Got Served soundtrack.

Barely a year at the Monk Institute, Winslow has traveled to Paris with Hancock's band. With his classmates every week, he plays new pieces at the House of Blues on Sunset Boulevard. He has talked composition with the illustrious Quincy Jones.

"I never would have gotten those opportunities in Baltimore," Winslow says. "I came out here on faith, and I haven't had a hungry day yet."

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