Margaux Simmons interviews Jamy Lasell

Jamy Lasell is a resident of Orange, NJ and a harmonica player who has been an active participant in the music scene of Orange, NJ for the past 7 years. He is also the President of the University of Orange.  Jamy has also taught and organized music courses for the University of Orange.

MS:  What is your musical background?  

JL:  My first audio recording came in a, “ Wheaties,” box. It was, “ Big Rock Candy Mountain.”  My mother played guitar. As a pre-teen, I started listening to the radio and the family folk record collection which was not extensive but I could sing along with it. I was introduced to classical music at home by hearing a recording of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf.   In the 4th grade, I started to learn to play the Bb cornet. I then started to listen to trumpet and cornet music.  As a young teen, I started to listen to recorded music seriously. I absorbed my stepfather’s jazz collection of 1940’s and 1950’s music as well as my mother’s folk music collection. Later on, I began to play the mandolin, accordion, concertina, violin and harmonica. I began playing the harmonica as the result of a harmonica contest that my mother started for my brother and me.   I played the harmonica until I was about 18 years old and then stopped. At age 60, I started playing again. I now have a sponsorship from a French harmonica company.

MS :   What role does music play in your life ?

JL:  Music serves the roles of psychiatrist and massage therapist for me.  

MS:  What role would you like to see music play in the Orange, NJ community ?

JL:  To play music with others means working together.  This furthers any community that participates.

MS:  What do you mean by, “ Furthers?”  

JL:  A community is made of interactions between people. If the guy next to you can’t keep the rhythm on a simple song or exercise, how one learns to deal with that, develops or destroys community.  Music is one avenue toward people learning to work together in Orange.

MS:  What sounds would you like to hear in Orange, NJ ?  

JL:  More people talking together.

MS:  For the past 7 years, you’ve been an active member of the music scene in Orange, NJ.  How would you describe your role in the Orange community music scene ?

JL:   I moved to Orange to become part of the music jam scene at Hat City Kitchen.  I’ve been an apprentice, learning how to handle myself and equipment on stage and learning how to play with others. I’ve learned that the electronics of live performance is just as important as the instrument [ that you’re playing].  

MS:  Do you think music is a viable means of social change ?   If so, how ?

JL:  I was raised on songs of the American left starting with, “Union Maid,” “Joe Hill,” songs of the Wobblies, folk protest songs, anti-war songs, anti-Vietnam war songs. Then I lived in the woods without any music for about 15 years. Finally, I found a neighbor who wanted to play music. I had the location. He was a talented musician. So, we started to play together with a couple of other musicians.  That evolved into a weekly Saturday night playing session/gathering of playing the Americana songbook, bluegrass, country and folk music. I mostly played mandolin, accordion and sang. Listening and participating in all of this music helped to shape my politics.

I think the role music plays in social change is that it gives the individual a voice. One has to put oneself ,”Out there,” in order to play music. In Orange, I hear lots of people from different backgrounds expressing themselves through music. Expression is the beginning of democracy.

In 2014, I organized a roster of music courses for the University of Orange. The goal was to have musicians teach each other what they knew about music, from business to theory to riffs to instrument making. Seminars were a successful way to express our belief that everyone has something to teach and tested our theory that music could have a role in community development.


This interview was created as a part of the Community Musicology Project

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