Interviews

Dontae Winslow Talks Music As a Family, Making Jazz Cool, Queen Latifah, Justin Timberlake, Jill Scott, More

The music industry is familiar with a trumpeter that has a unique sound and is capable of honing his skills. His name is Dontae Winslow. His musical background is FIERCE! Along with being a trumpet player, Winslow has other titles to his belt: producer, songwriter, arranger, and educator. This is a prime example of Winslow's elite background in music. The Baltimore native collaborated with several top-rated artists including Jay-Z, Kanye West, David Banner, Avant, Jill Scott, Maxwell, Queen Latifah, Common, D'Angelo, Christina Aguilera, and many more. He is currently on the road with Justin Timberlake and the Tennessee Kids on the 20/20 experience tour.

Singersroom conversed with the composer before he stepped on stage to perform songs from his new studio album, Enter the Dynasty, at the Iridium. Dontae and the Winslow dynasty released an album that incorporates R&B, Hip-Hop, Jazz, and Blues and Dontae's wife, Mashica, and his son Jedidiah, vocal abilities blend with each genre of music.

Check out our exclusive interview!

Passion for Music: I think I've always had a passion for music since watching Michael Jackson when I was a kid, his Motown 25th anniversary performance. It really struck me. It gave me goose bumps. And then playing in a band when I was a kid. And when I get that sensation, you know that feeling you get when you hear your favorite song, that's what attracted me. And I wanted to put that feeling on other people I wanted to identify what in music makes people feel a certain way. That's why I decided to study music. I wanted to know how you put nuts and bolts of how you put this thing together; you know to be able to perform it, write it, and enjoy it at the same time.

Picking the Trumpet Instrument: It was kind of a coincidence. I wanted to be with the pretty girls in elementary school, so I played the trumpet. And they were the smart and pretty girls and they were in band. So my friend, Richard Wright said, "Man, play the trumpet because it's the easiest instrument, and it has three keys, but I wanted to play the flute. But anyway, I played the trumpet and it was physically challenging for a young kid. So I just kept playing throughout middle school; I even took private lessons for it. Then I got attached to it; I love the way it plays, the way it sounds. I love the way it's played in films, and how it has a biblical reference of how the trumpet is associated with conquering, kings, and holiness, you know what I mean? It's just epic, and it's a real instrument. I just think the sound just actually captured me right then and there since I was a child.

Academic Achievement in Music: I think going to school for music opened so many doors for me. The trumpet has allowed me to travel the world, receive a full scholarship to go to college; undergraduate, graduate, post-graduate work. It has allowed me to see over 50 countries in the world. It's like God use that instrument to show me about life, humanity, and about myself. The trumpet is a special kind of instrument; it's like a wife. You have to play every day. If you take 4 or 5 days off playing it, you suck, you sound bad. So you have to give it attention. You can't force it when you play it. It's a special quality to it. The trumpet is very meditative in a way. So working hard in school, mainly high school is what got me to get to the level to audition for college and study classical music. Classical music was the first musical genre I studied. I later started appreciating jazz; I've always enjoyed hip-hop from when I was ten years old. So I began to love all three. So studying in school helped me realize all of this is just music. It's just chords, harmonies; you know when you get into hip-hop, you have your samples and your beats. But it's still putting things together in a sensible way so it can make sense. That's all music is. It's the synthesis of everything that comes before it.

Working with Talented Artists: I think its word of mouth. I did a lot of records on my own; I did my first two rap records '97 '98, jazz records '99 and '00. I taught school kids for three years, and we did a children’s CD. And then I moved to LA because I said “you know what, I think God has more for me.” There's so much more I can do with music than just being a teacher. There's nothing wrong being a teacher, don't get me wrong, but I wanted to be more noticed in contemporary music. I moved to LA and studied jazz again and then I started getting into studio sessions with producer Warryn Campbell and I did so many records at that time that people would say if you need a horn player, you need such and such. And I started doing string arrangements, and they said if you need a string arranger, you need such and such. And when people start knowing your name and are talking about you, they say the baddest kid out here is Dontae Winslow. And then I started touring with Queen Latifah, Jill Scott, and that led me to do Snoop and Justin Timberlake, and that led to record with Kendrick Lamar. It's like a stairwell, kinda like moving up the chain of who's who in music.

Best Collaborations: My top four might be for different reasons, but Queen Latifah, Justin Timberlake, Jill Scott, and Snoop. Jill Scott has creative freedom; Justin Timberlake, amazing, dazzling show, Queen Latifah, big heart and Snoop whatever goes. Snoop is straight up Long Beach, and he appreciates live instruments. It's like a thug approach with live instruments to it, and there's a certain freedom in that. And Jill Scott has that freedom but with a jazz and R&B context, so those two have a lot of freedom. Justin is very structured, but the energy and the choreography are just at a high texture. And Queen Latifah has the biggest heart in the world. You just want to work and do anything for her.

Being Different from Other Musicians: I think there are a few things. I am a husband, father, a constant student, and I'm so passionate with everything that I do. I like to be as sincere and authentic as possible with everything I do. I'm willing to be open and expose myself. My main difference is my willingness to bare all in front of the world so someone else may be helped; [and] that communication and clarity goes forth. I also do a lot of genres; I participate in them, and I love them authentically. I go in with the classical, gospel, R&B, hip-hop, and jazz. That is a wide arrange and not too many musicians can do that.

Wife and Son is the Support Team: My wife is my BEST friend. We've been performing together for years. And she has coached me so much in even playing the trumpet because she is a singer. And when you play the trumpet or any instrument, you try to play like a singer. The whole thing about it is to move people and to communicate effectively like a vocalist does with words and emotions. And I just listen to her sing a song, and I'm like, "Man, that's what I want to be able to do. And in that sense, she is like my little sister but she is my big sister in musical maturity. She's been doing this since she was three, and I wasn't thinking about music at 3, 5, 9, or 10. She was performing at church at three, so it's like I had to learn from her. And the support from her and my son Jedidiah is incredible. I take them on the road with me to as many places as I can and enough can't be said about a family that works and loves together.

Jedidiah Following in Daddy's Footsteps: I leave it open for him. We make him play the piano and the trumpet and make him take French. There are certain things culturally we want him to be exposed to. We don't say you have to have a career in music, but you must participate in music as a family. If you want it to be a career, that's on you; you can be a fireman, scientist, lawyer, or doctor but we want him to know that music is one of your options because it's our family business. I think he has the potential to become one of the greatest artist of our time based on his age, talent, what I know he can comprehend, and mainly his heart. He has the BIGGEST heart of any little kid I met. And I think that's what makes a great artist, you have to put in the work and with his heart he will be great for years.

Defining Music in 2014: I like most of the music from the past 20 years. I mean the 90's is my favorite decade, everything from R&B to Hip-Hop from 1990-1999. Now, for me, after 2000, hip-hop became culturally and commercially viable that the corporations kinda spoiled it for me. And it's like they are selling crack and are forcing it down your throat, and they keep playing it over and over again. And for me that's not art, that's like selling stuff and so I'm hearing things that are not truly creative as they should be. So with that being said, now people are still creating great music, but you gotta go find it, you have to dig and look at some independent artists. The recent influx of people like myself are becoming well-known in the jazz category but still having elements of R&B, soul, blues, and hip-hop in my music that is causing a new wave of a younger audience listening to jazz. Record companies are signing jazz artists and people are getting Grammys for jazz. Jazz artists are receiving that national attention and instrumental music deserve this kind of exposure. Because kids are so fast, they have their iPads and iPods; everybody is multi-tasking and jazz caters to the intelligence of a person because you're thinking on your feet. It's like a comedian; it's like the highest level that the brain can function on, and we all should be able to respect that. Jazz is cool, and I want to make jazz cool for young people and so I think this new wave of young jazz musicians is what I'm really interested in seeing develop.

Fans Expectation From Dontae and the Winslow Dynasty: Judging by the audience, I see a lot of Baltimore people, so they are expecting a real and soulful backyard, fun, loving jazz time. They want to hear some ballads; I'm going to give them that. They want to hear some blues, I'm going to give them that. They like to hear me rap about my life story and my wife singing. They don't know that they are going to hear Jedidiah, but they are going to be really surprised. And I think they just want to have a good time and just listen to real music. These are not the jazz purists because these people here just really love good music. And what I'm presenting are some emotional, passionate, and feel good music. So I think they are going to be VERY pleased.

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