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The Key Studio Sessions: Arnetta Johnson and SUNNY

Camden, New Jersey trumpeter Arnetta Johnson doesn’t like being put in a box — not herself, nor anybody else.

On a recent Sunday night as we were setting up for a Key Studio Session, Johnson and the members of her band SUNNY got in a spirited debate over gospel music versus jazz music. First it was about which style was the originator — yes, we all know that the distinctly midcentury format of gospel was the launching point into soul, and then rock and roll, and jazz’s roots in the early 20th century predate all of that. But aren’t hymns and spirituals early iterations of gospel? And so if you consider them, isn’t gospel a precursor to jazz, and not vice versa? This went on for a while, and then the discussion shifted to which style yielded better musicians — was it jazz, whose players boast technical prowess and excel at innovation, or gospel, whose brightest stars connect in a massive way?

By the time we were ready to soundcheck, Johnson put a swift end to the back-and-forth with some on-point, on-brand wisdom. “Why do we have to think of ourselves as jazz musicians or gospel musicians?” she asked. “That’s putting a limit on what you do and how you sound. Why can’t we just be ‘musicians’?” Continue reading →