While you’ll likely never see him wearing a cape or running around fighting bad guys, John Gray is as close to a real-life Superman as it gets. The Baton Rouge native musician, producer and teacher transitions almost effortlessly throughout his day and nightlife duties as if he carries a phone booth in his briefcase.
Gray is a full-time music and band instructor at The Dunham School, the owner of record label Continuum Music, the bandleader of multiple bands, the trumpeter for The Michael Foster Project and a military husband. His day begins anywhere between 4 and 7 a.m. and has on occasion ended so late that he just headed straight off to teach his classes.
“I remember one time when I did a performance at Chelsea’s on our [The Michael Foster Project's] regular Wednesday night, hanging out until it was after 3 a.m., and I had to be up for school [to teach] at 7. So I went to the house, took a shower, got dressed, drove to the school at about 4:30 in the morning, and just slept in the parking lot until the principal knocked on my door to tell me that my class was waiting,” he says.
Luckily Gray hasn’t had many more moments of parking-lot slumber, relying on technology—his iPhone, Facebook, Reverbnation, etc.—to help keep him organized and log gig information. “Sometimes I got to deal with scheduling time so me and my wife can hang out. It’s not that you don’t want to [spend time]; it’s just keeping everything balanced,” he says.
Arguably one of the nicest men on the local music scene, and business-savvy to boot, Gray was a student of the late jazz clarinetist Alvin Batiste, who taught at Southern University and also taught Branford Marsalis and American Idol‘s Randy Jackson. “Today, I get a little something from everybody all the time—from students to faculty, to people I meet and interact with daily. But from a philosophical, educational, musical [and] life-skills influence, I am a student of the school of Alvin Batiste,” he says. “Dr. Bat,” as Batiste’s students affectionately dubbed him, mentored Gray on the business side of music, bringing him along to gigs and showing him how to set up sound equipment and get booked for shows.
“Sometimes in entertainment we can get caught up in the vanity, but when it comes down to trying to establish it as a business, you got to treat it like that and respect it,” Gray says.
And while he jokes that people only think he’s nice because they get paid, he acknowledges the importance of doing what he says he will do, and he is passionate about his commitments to his artists, comrades, audiences—and especially his students.
Add in recent gigs in China with the Michael Foster Project, Italy’s Umbria Jazz Festival with the New Orleans-based group Gary Brown and Feelings, Mexico, Brazil and across the United States, and you have one very busy musician.
But ask Gray what he’s currently working on, and he won’t bring up any of his own music projects. “I’m establishing my teaching pedagogue, my particular philosophy and style and really getting that down,” Gray says.
Visit jgrayjazz.com for more information about Gray and where he’s playing. You can even download the John Gray app, JGrayJazz, on your iPhone to find out where he’s playing nearby.
Seems he can use technology to keep his many fans organized, too.