Improvising at home: Rochester musician adapts to stay-at-home life

The stay-at-home order has given Jon Ailabouni more time to practice and spend time with his young children. (Contributed photo)

"As a listener, the first thing that catches my attention about jazz is the improvisation," said Jon Ailabouni, Rochester trumpeter, educator and composer.

That ability to improvise has helped Ailabouni rewrite his daily life amid the COVID-19 cancellations and closures.

As an educator and performer, needed to find a new rhythm quickly. He and his wife, Kate, wholeheartedly support social distancing and stay-at-home orders. Kate Ailabouni is studying for a second career in nursing at Luther College, he explained, noting she will graduate in December. They are the parents of Claire, 3, and Simon, 1.

"The most significant changes to daily life are that I am teaching remotely from home and splitting child care with Kate," Ailabouni said.

Their kids used to be in day care five days per week, while John was teaching at Luther and Winona State, and Kate was in nursing school full time, with clinical rotations at Mayo. Now, they’re both managing full-time work and school and full-time child care.


"We try to give the other half the day for work," Ailabouni said. "Everything else gets done while the kids are asleep."

Another big change for him is he’s no longer performing live.

"April was going to be a very busy performing month," he said, with engagements at the First Presbyterian Church here, "Jazz From Broadway" with the Rochester Chamber Music Society, a Des Moines Big Band gig, and a recording session with the Iowa Jazz Composers Orchestra.

A particularly difficult cancellation for Ailabouni was an April jazz service at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church here.

"Bringing jazz into worship is something I’ve been doing for the last ten years," he said. "Being the catalyst for jazz in worship feels increasingly like an honest expression of who I am artistically. I love to take the sophistication, soulfulness and innate spirituality I see in jazz and combine it with the hymnary and liturgical traditions of the church."

It’s been a big adjustment for the musician to have an open performance calendar.

"It’s forced me to slow down — to take a deep breath and try to take more time to care for myself and family," he said, adding, "Naturally, I also miss performing and connecting with other musicians."

To make use of his increased practice time, he’s tackling new musical challenges that stretch his abilities.


"So far, I’ve mostly been composing musical challenges and exercises for myself," he said.

He’s also planning to record some of his original music virtually, by asking musician friends across the country to contribute tracks on their instruments and combining them into a finished project.

"I think we’ll see more and more musical collaborations of this kind over the next year," he said. "It’s the next best thing to standing beside fellow musicians to collaborate or perform."

Ailabouni said these new challenges are keeping him inspired the same way an upcoming performance might.

"I'm also doing more deep listening to recordings by my heroes to cope, to be inspired, and to persevere," he said.

Among Ailabouni’s jazz heroes are Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Clifford Brown, Ella Fitzgerald, Wayne Shorter, Mary Lou Williams, Count Basie and Woody Shaw.

Besides being able to spend more time with his musical heroes, he’s also been able to spend more time with his young children.

"They are at this incredible age where they are learning new things every week — every day, even," he said. "I feel closer to them than ever, which has been a real gift."


"I’ve also been forced to examine what’s really important," he continued. " I’ve spent more time talking with family and friends, some of whom I haven’t spoken with in years. These conversations always leave me feeling connected and hopeful."

Jon Ailabouni

Jon Ailabouni

Like all of us, Jon Ailabouni, a Rochester trumpeter, educator and composer, has had to adjust to life under the stay-at-home order. (Contributed photo)

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