Josh Jones (MUS ’14), principal percussionist at the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO) in Canada, was barely out of diapers when he started playing music—or, rather, playing with music. When he was in the range of the radio or TV, he would mimic the sounds and voices he was hearing. “My parents would have the ‘Rocky IV’ cassette on and I’d be singing the guitar part. When the tape rewound, I’d be singing the trumpet part, then the lyrics,” Jones says.
When he was 10 years old, Jones, a native of Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, joined the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Percussion Scholarship Program (PSP), a full-scholarship program that offers instruction to city youth. Through PSP, Jones met instructors Doug Waddell (MUS ’84) and his wife, Patricia Dash, who were quick to take him under their guidance.
Waddell was the first person to tell Jones about DePaul’s School of Music and spoke of it more frequently as Jones was approaching college age. Waddell told him about friends or colleagues who were percussion instructors at the school, notably Michael Green, Michael Kozakis and Eric Millstein. Jones eventually chose DePaul because it had five percussion instructors, as opposed to the average of two at other conservatories he was considering.
Jones praises his DePaul instructors for stressing the importance of playing to the beat of his own drum, instead of playing it safe. After he graduated, Jones was selected for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Fellowship Program, a two-year internship for African-American musicians. At the end of his internship, Jones auditioned for a percussion position at the symphony. He made it to the finals, but was cut at the very end.
When he moved back to Chicago, Jones faced an uphill battle to continue his music career. “It was super hard, especially coming out of the Detroit Symphony,” Jones says. “It was really depressing.”
Then he got a break: an opening for CPO’s sole percussionist position. Of the 135 applications, only 40 candidates were invited to audition, including Jones. After several rounds of auditions, he was named principal percussionist. “It was my ninth professional audition,” Jones says. “Some people get it in the first audition, other people get it in the 30th.”
“Playing now, it was all worth it,” he reflects. “I have the opportunity not only to be myself, but to be an inspiration to other people who want to feel free and play however they want to play.”