In Tune: Joey Sommerville


Though it seems unlikely, hip-hop’s Jazze Pha, jam band Phish, and Cirque du Soleil do have common ground—they’ve all worked with Atlanta trumpeter Joey Sommerville. A Detroit native who grew up on Motown, Sommerville’s influences are diverse. “Music has gotten so compartmentalized and segmented,” he says. “People ask what I play. I play music. Sometimes it’s gospel. Sometimes it’s jazz. Sometimes it’s pop.”

Sommerville first picked up the trumpet in the fifth grade; by high school, he was playing at church. “Church harmony and gospel music is a large part of my musical DNA, but I also learned to try to phrase and interpret a song like I’m singing it when I’m playing trumpet. It just comes out to be more musical that way, more human,” says Sommerville. That distinctive approach to melody and his diverse stylings—smooth jazz merged effortlessly with Latin, R&B, gospel, and pop—earned him a spot beside the likes of Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson at last summer’s American Society of Young Musicians Awards. There, he received the All That Jazz Award for his contributions to the genre.

The horn player hopes to release the follow-up to his 2008 release, Like You Mean It, by year’s end. He’s working with L.A. jazz star Jeff Lorber on the album, but Sommerville never has difficulty finding artists to work with in Atlanta. “Sometimes people here don’t realize how good they’ve got it in terms of the caliber of musicians that they get to hear on a regular basis.” To bring jazz fans together, Sommerville will launch this month.

Photograph by C. J. Garcia