Although the city of Sedona was named in 1902 for the wife of the city's first postmaster, T.C. Schnebly, a Dutchman, John James Thompson, an Irishman, was the first European settler in Sedona. In 1879, Thompson claimed farmland in Oak Creek Canyon under the Homestead Act. Only the chance circumstance of Schnebly's federal position contributed to the current state of affairs - otherwise local residents might be living in a city with more Irish-sounding names like Thompsonborough or Thompson-on-Oak Creek. Thompson and his Irish influence continue to subconsciously affect the city, most clearly in the popularity of Sedona's resident Irish musician, Karl Jones.
Jones' success has been growing in leaps and bounds in recent years, most clearly elucidated when he and his band, MacSeoin, were the grand marshals of the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade last March. "I did nine performances over four days in Sedona, Phoenix and Prescott," Jones said. "Based on the success of those, I have a renewed sense of confidence about what I'm doing." Karl Jones is a Irishman with a mission. "My goal is to preserve the traditional Irish and the ballad but with my original compositions and songwriting," Jones said. "I'm integrating jazz and blues and rock influences and my band, MacSeoin, is like a musical laboratory for exploring a new contemporary approach to music with the folk rock background that I have," he said.
Jones' goal of celebrating the Irish-ness of Sedona is garnering support around the Verde Valley. "I would really like Sedona to embrace an Irish music festival," Jones said." "The Sedona St. Patrick's Day Committee have thrown their support, as has the Scottish Highlands Games Committee in Prescott for an Irish Music Festival in Sedona in or around Paddy's Day weekend next year," Jones said. The potential sites are Sacajewea Plaza or Posse Grounds Park. Jones is the lookout for sponsors to help make the festival a regular piece of Sedona's cultural heritage - an event as integral to Sedona's landscape as the Sedona International Film Festival, Sedona Jazz on the Rocks or the St. Patrick's Day Parade itself.
Jones's musical journey travels the world, from Dublin, Ireland, to Africa, Rome and Sedona, where he now brings his talents to our local stages. A child in Sierra Leone Jones' father is science and physics professor from Tipperary and his mother is from Dublin. When Jones was 3 years old, his father moved the family to Kenema, Sierra Leone, as part of a Catholic mission. "In my backyard, I had baboons, anacondas, cobras, hyenas," Jones said. "Wild animals shared the forest with people we were teaching to read and write." The music of the continent greatly influenced Jones' idyllic youth. "Living in a native village in Kenema, Sierra Leone, I was exposed to African rhythms," Jones said. "I have vivid memories watching the ghost dancers and ceremonial dances by witch doctors." "The morning with start with the crow of a rooster and women gathering water from the river," he said. "I was mesmerized by the sound of women pounding grain, singing African songs and the polyphonic rhythms of pounding sticks and hollowed out tree trunks," he said. "There was also the culture clash of the Muslims calling out from the mosques," he said. "While African Muslims would sing, I would roll out my own prayer mat and say my own Catholic prayers."
Jones' family also had a cook who taught him nursery rhymes. "I was enthralled by the sights and sounds of Africa. Watching all this that was part of everyday life," Jones said. Out of Africa "The family moved back to Ireland when I was 4," Jones said. Back in Ireland, Jones attended Our Lady's Boys School in Ballinteer, near Dublin. "My first teacher was Ms. [Olive] Horgan, who is now the principal at the same school where I give workshops to kids when I go back."
At age 5, Jones played the tin whistle, learning Irish ballads. At age 7 or 8, he picked up guitar. "It was school the emphasized music, both secular and sacred," he said. At age 8, he joined Pueri Cantores, a choir part of an international federation of youth choruses, and sang with the group for five years. The group traveled to the cathedrals in Ireland, singing in Latin, Italian and English. The choir also traveled to Rome and sang for the pope in 1981. The choir was given a private tour of the Sistine Chapel and the papal gardens. "Pope John-Paul II was enamored with the little choir from Dublin," Jones said. "I love the sound of beautiful choral voices reverberating throughout the cathedrals," Jones said. "Those experiences gave me the inspiration to devote my life to music."
Coming to America As Jones reached his teens, he formed a band just as Ireland's best-known rock band was making big waves. "By the age of 15, I started my first band as U2 exploded out of Ireland into the international scene," he said. Jones' father got a job working for the World Bank and the family moved to Washington, D.C. "In the late '80s and '90s, I spent time working at the World Bank as a messenger boy and playing clubs in D.C.," Jones said. Jones earned a degree in sound engineering from Omega Studios' School of Applied Recording Arts & Sciences, a top recording technical school in Rockville, Md.
He also studied jazz guitar and music theory and composition at Montgomery College, Maryland. Jones' debut concert in the United States was at George Washington University's Marvin Center, a performance reviewed by The Washington Post and National Public Radio. "I was drawn back to playing and performing the music closest to my heart - traditional Irish music and I have been supported in my development by Irish pubs, the Irish music scene in Northern Arizona in the last few years," Jones said.
A tale of two cities. The contrast between the red rock culture around Sedona and the lush green and cultural traditions around Dublin, Ireland, both enhance Jones' musical presentation. "I've been spending longer periods in Ireland every year, performing and studying music at the source," he said.
"Here, it feels like there's an opportunity to explore new interpretations of music from Europe," Jones said. "The Southwest and Arizona represent an opportunity to explore not just visually but musically a new frontier and create a new musical vocabulary to express the beauty we call connect with here."
"I love to go home to Ireland and be nourished and enriched by the culture, history, language, poetry of the landscape and be rejuvenated by the source of a great musical tradition that exists here," he said.
"For that reason, Dublin and Sedona are both my home," Jones said. "Life would seem incomplete without spending time in both places."
"At project housing in Dublin there were a lot of kids who relied on music and playing and instruments as a way of the social ills in low-income areas," he said of his work teaching music there. "For me, playing a performing build self-esteem, character, pride - an antidote to violence in schools. It's part of my mission as a musician," Jones said. "They teach me as much I teach them." He's also bringing Irish music into nursing homes in Sedona and Racine, Wis.
Toward the future "The goal for this summer is to record the new album with the new band at Sweet 16 Studios in Page Springs and The Bunker in Dublin," Jones said and added that he's looking for financial help to do so. Through the Sunday Irish music sessions in Flagstaff, he was invited to perform at the Milwaukee Irish Fest on Aug. 14.
"I have also become friends with Iraq war veterans. These veterans are gravitating to the live music scene," he said. "Ballads, drinking songs, hundreds of years old created in a vacuum outside of fashion or money or trends has as its essence an impulse to celebrate life, bring people together, maintain language, culture with humor." Through his work with youth, veterans and on local stages, Jones wants to bring the joy of Irish folk music to any and all willing to listen.
For Jones' concert schedule, to listen to eight of his songs to buy Jones' albums "1916: The Best of Karl Jones" or "Dublin Soul," visit his Web site. Originally published at: http://verdenews.com/main.asp?Search=1&ArticleID=26606&SectionID=74&SubSectionID=114&S=1