Roots and Branches: DJ 2-Tone Jones

"This is all very conceivable."

In this series, we look at different ways that Next Level’s influence endures, often long after the residencies are over. How do the seeds that we have planted take root and grow? In previous posts, we have discussed how Next Level has influenced artists’ attitudes towards educationtechnologycommunity buildingprofessional identitysocial healing and developing a culturally sensitive approach to professionalism in the arts. This time, we speak with DJ 2-Tone Jones about one of the less obvious – but most significant – benefits of Next Level’s international travel and diplomacy work: the experience itself.

By participating in a Next Level residency, artists not only share their art with new audiences, they also gain hands-on experience with the practical aspects of conducting arts education in an international setting. From planning and administrative skills to inter-cultural communication and pedagogy, the Next Level experience lays the groundwork for artists to create their own opportunities in the future.

Washington, DC-based DJ 2-Tone Jones has years of experience bringing people together, not only through deejaying, but also by using the material of deejaying – music, communication, cultural connections – as the foundation for education. He is probably best known as the co-creator of Shaolin Jazz: The 37th Chamber, a mix project that involves Jazz fused with verses and samples from the Wu-Tang Clan. In typical fashion, Jones made the most of the opportunity, using it as an opportunity to conduct presentations at colleges and universities about the deeply intertwined musical and cultural histories of Jazz and Hip-Hop, both as musical practices and cultural worlds. All of this set the stage for his participation in one of the first Next Level residencies ever, in India.


That experience, in turn, provided him with new tools to continue his educational work. Though to some degree that was a formal part of the program, much of his education simply came from the experience of working through different situations, particularly in collaboration with site manager Paul Rockower. Rockower, he says, was not only committed to making sure that things went smoothly, but also to educating the artists about how to make sure that things go smoothly. “Paul shared some of the ins and outs with me, in terms of the programming and the schedule. And sometimes he even asked my advice on certain things. So I got a sense of some of the work that was involved, just to even set things up.”

That wasn’t an accident. As he notes in retrospect: “That was a part of the program.” And it paid off. “One or two years after Next Level,” he continues, “I wrote my first grant for my own program. And I got it.”

“And that actually led me and my business partner to going to Ethiopia for week, courtesy of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. And we got a chance to perform at the U.S. State Department in Ethiopia and do some workshops at the African Union. And a lot of this – in terms of putting the grant together and budgeting and kind of creating an outline of some of the things that we set out to do – a lot of that was learned from our experience with Next Level.”

Basically, he says, “It gave me a little more knowledge. And more ideas, in terms of setting up our program for Ethiopia. It just seemed easier. It was like, ‘Oh, we can do this, this and this.’ This is very conceivable.’ ”

More specifically, it gave him the opportunity to not only think about practical issues such as lodging and equipment, but also how those issues might be different in different environments. How do cultural, social and material issues influence what can be done?

“It helped me to understand what some of the limitations might be. Some of the things I’d really have to consider. Like power connections and getting adapters and things like that. And even when creating the budget, to consider things like vaccinations. We’ve got to look into transportation. How do people – realistically – get around? Knowing what to think about. What to check off. And thinking about what we can easily set up with people out there that we don’t already know.”

Since that time, DJ 2-Tone Jones has not only continued to develop these skills in his own life and work, but has also committed himself to sharing them with others as well. Over the last four years, he has become a valued advisor to subsequent generations of Next Level artists through his participation in our annual Global residencies and orientation sessions for future Next Level artists.

“I’m happy to get a chance to engage with each new class. And I feel lucky that I also get to meet the Next Level international team that is brought to the U.S. every year. This past year, we were doing our first-ever outdoor screening series in downtown DC, and they all came. Which was great.”

“All in all,” he concludes, “my experience with the Next Level program has made me a better, well-rounded artist and continues to improve my opportunities to further my career.”

Shaolin Jazz will be releasing its latest music project on May 8th. Called Sweet Nancy from Shaolin, it is a mixtape album dedicated to the incomparable Nancy Wilson, and featuring the iconic wordplay of Ghostface Killah and the Wu-Tang Clan.

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