We caught up with Trumpet player, French hornist and keyboardist CJ Camerieri who took time out of his busy schedule to speak with us about what's it like to grow up in a musical family, how he found himself playing with Paul Simon latest tour and his latest project with his musical group-yMusic.
CFM: You are from New Jersey. What was it like growing up in Jersey and how did music come into your life? Did you go to public school?
CJ: My very first musical influence growing up was my father. He plays a bunch of instruments and in addition to being an elementary/middle school music teacher taught private lessons at our house all throughout my childhood (he still does today). So every time I experienced music of any kind was either my dad playing music or him teaching lessons. I remember begging him to teach me to play piano from a very young age and him finally relenting when I was four. He said I had to learn how to read all of the notes on both treble and bass clef staves before beginning so my mother taught me in "secret" and we surprised my dad around my fourth birthday. I did go to public school and my first teacher was my dad. He started me on trumpet in the third grade and I immediately feel in love with the instrument. While I did keep playing the piano, the trumpet was immediately appealing to me.
CFM: Generally speaking, what role did music play for you as a child?
CJ: Music played a huge role in my childhood. I was constantly practicing and listening to music and singing around the house and in the car and embarrassingly in public. My father was the church choir director at the church my family went too and instead of going and playing with the other kids I would sit and listen to the choir rehearse. I would make my dad give me a score to whatever they were rehearsing and since I couldn't yet read music I would memorize when in the music everyone else turned their pages and turn them at the same time.
CFM: Who did you grow up listening to? How come?
CJ: The first concert I ever went to was the trumpet player Maynard Ferguson, who was playing at a local high school. It was the first time I saw a professional trumpet player play and I was completely blown away. I bought a bunch of his records and was obsessed for a time and that led to more lasting musical influences. My main influences became Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, and especially Clifford Brown. I had every Clifford Brown solo memorized in high school. I was so completely into trumpet players that I ignored any and all popular music. I had to investigate any and all popular music upon graduating from college. High school was all about jazz and college was all about classical music - it's kind of funny that upon graduation I sort of decided I wanted to mainly focus on doing both but in the context of popular music.
CFM: When did you pick up a brass instrument for the first time and what was it about the trumpet that lured you in learning to play it?
CJ: It's funny. My dad was a trombone player in college so he knew trumpet players. I think he just sort of thought I had the temperament and personality of a trumpet player...I don't know if that's an especially positive thing but he wasn't wrong!
CFM: From New Jersey, move to NYC and go to Juilliard, what was that like? Did that shape or change the way you saw yourself, your life, what you wanted to do as a career?
CJ: Yes. Fundamentally upon arrival in New York I realized I had a lot to learn about both trumpet playing and music. It was the first time in my life that I was surrounded by superior players and musicians and it was wildly inspiring. I had an amazing teacher - Mark Gould - and he really encouraged me to be an individual and was extremely generous with his time and interest in my career. I wasn't especially drawn to classical music before moving to New York but became immediately infatuated with learning about different composers and pieces and how they came into existence and why. It was a whole new and exciting world.
CFM: From Julliard, you form yMusic with some of your classmates and go on record an album and get named #1 Classical Record in 2011 by Time Out. How did you make that transition from classical to playing with the likes of Bon Iver, Paul Simon, Rufus Wainwright, the National and so on? Is there anything you particularly like about being able to dabble in all of these various genres?
CJ: As soon as I graduated from college I was immediately drawn to working in popular music. Classical and jazz music felt extremely restrictive in some way to me. Playing songs was the most exciting thing because on one song I found myself improvising, on the next I was playing a lyrical piccolo trumpet solo, and the next had me playing a Wurlitzer. I was starting to study arranging and was learning the French Horn all for the purpose of being an ideal side man to the various artists I was beginning to work with. It wasn't until I was becoming established as a side man that I realized that there was this really interesting movement of classically trained instrumentalists playing with rock bands and that most of them were in school with me. There was one night when I was playing with The National and 2/3rds of what was to become yMusic was on stage in a featured capacity. We had all independently been drawn to this music and wanted to start a group drawn from that organic evolution. We wanted to highlight the fact that when we played popular music we approached it with the same intentionality, focus, and rigor with which we approached playing chamber music while also noting that when we performed classical music we should approach it with the same excitement and passion of a rock performance. This was really the key for us. Classical music's struggle to find an audience is in my opinion largely rooted in the performer's inability to get the audience to feel the energy of the music from the stage. So many orchestras are just extremely stiff and on beta-blockers and are presenting the music rather performing the music. Audiences need to feel a heat and intensity coming off stage. The same kind of heat and intensity they feel from a punk rock band can and should be felt in a symphony orchestra hall. Music is music.
CFM: Now you are a Grammy award winning artist, touring with Paul Simon (taking time from your hotel room to do this interview), what’s next? Any big projects?
CJ: Yes! We have a new yMusic record (our third full length) that we are finished recording and should have ready for release later this year. I have also long been working on my first solo record which I hope to have finished up soon, I'm starting a few new groups, and I've been writing a lot of music for the first time in my life - so that is all very exciting and a little bit scary. Other than that, I'll be touring with Paul Simon for much of the year in support of his new record "Stranger to Stranger" which features a trumpet solo by me on the title track and continuing to play shows with yMusic including making our Carnegie Hall debut in December. It's going to be busy and fun year!
To find out more about CJ and yMusic go to: