64 Parishes

Love Letter to Leroy Jones

The trumpet legend shines in Cameron Washington’s documentary

Published: March 1, 2019
Last Updated: March 22, 2023

Love Letter to Leroy Jones

Russian Hill Projects

The 2019 Documentary Film of the Year is A Man and His Trumpet: The Leroy Jones Story, directed by Cameron Washington and produced by Russian Hill Projects. The film looks at the life of New Orleanian Leroy Jones, a trumpeter widely known for his distinctive and virtuosic musicianship and locally loved for his grace and humility.

Filmmaker Cameron Washington is from the Bay Area, but he grew up hearing his Louisiana-born father play New Orleans–style trumpet. He picked up the instrument as a child and was accomplished enough to marvel at the trumpet work he heard on Harry Connick Jr.’s 1991 big-band album Blue Light, Red Light. Many of the trumpeters he’d come to admire, icons of the instrument like Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong, had died, but the young Washington was excited to discover the work of a living legend: Leroy Jones.

In the early 2010s, Washington was invited to play in New Orleans as a member of the San Francisco–based Mission Brass Band. He hadn’t been back to the city since childhood and seized the opportunity to meet Jones, tracking him down at the no-empty-glasses-allowed Krewe of Cork parade. The two hit it off, and Jones regaled Washington with stories of his colleagues—a Who’s Who list of New Orleans music luminaries. Over dinner that night, Washington pitched a documentary idea to Jones, who readily agreed. “If you were in New York with John Coltrane in the ’50s, you’d want to do the same thing,” said Washington. “I see this as capturing history.”

Over the next several years, Washington regularly traveled to New Orleans around Carnival season, capturing Jones in his element and interviewing other musicians—including Jones’s Finnish-born wife Katja Toivola (herself an accomplished trombonist), Harry Connick Jr., Terrence Blanchard, and others. The resulting documentary pays tribute to both man and trumpet, capturing a candid portrait of the personality behind the virtuosic musicianship while recording a period of musical history future generations will delight in. Lacking narration and shot with a lean camera setup, A Man and His Trumpet is more than anything a series of conversations, and the stripped-down style gives the documentary an unmediated feel that lets these performers shine.

Leroy Jones: A Man and His Trumpet debuted at the San Francisco Black Film Festival in June 2018 and had its first Louisiana showing at the New Orleans Film Festival in October.

Cameron Washington is a writer, director, filmmaker and musician based out of San Francisco, California. Recent work includes the feature film comedy High School Ripped Me a New One, the comedy web series Sex, Drugs and Jazz, and the award-winning documentary feature film A Man and His Trumpet: The Leroy Jones Story.

Celebrate Cameron Washington and all of the 2019 Humanities Award winners on April 4 at the Bright Lights Awards Dinner in Lafayette. For more information and tickets, visit www.leh.org/brightlights.