Interviews: Young Sounds of Arizona combo, performs Nov. 24 at MCC

By Patricia Myers

Jazz entered the young lives in different ways for five members of a combo that emerged from the Young Sounds of Arizona’s two larger ensembles. All three groups will perform at 7 p.m. Nov. 24 in a concert featuring the Mesa Performing Arts Jazz Ensemble with Nick Manson on piano (formerly Arizona Jazz Masterworks Orchestra) in the Mesa Community College Performing Arts Center, 1833 W. Southern Ave., Mesa 85202, $10, @

Individual interviews with each student-musician revealed strong enthusiasm and elevated respect for jazz. Here are their thoughtful and fascinating replies.

Tom Dugan, 17, tenor saxophonist, a junior at the Arizona School for the Arts in downtown Phoenix, began to play alto sax in fourth grade at Arrowhead Elementary School. “It came pretty naturally in the beginning playing in concert band. I had private lessons in sixth grade on tenor, and started playing jazz in seventh grade at Highland Lakes Middle School in Glendale. I switched to tenor because it gets all the solos, and I had an old horn, so I wanted a new horn that I got for Christmas that year. In jazz band (extracurricular), we learned about the swing style, and that’s when I started listening seriously, first Joe Henderson’s “Blue Bosssa.” I transcribed it to learn his style from the recording, the same with Sonny Rollins and “Colossus.”

My absolute favorite saxophonist is Steve Grossman; I love “Some Shapes to Come” that takes John Coltrane in the 1960s and puts it in a fusion setting. You can see in it the language of Trane and how it spreads out in jazz. I love Joe Henderson, and McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, Eric Dolphy; I tend to like jazz from the mid- to late ‘60s .

I’m really enjoying the combo. It opens up space for interaction, makes you open up your ears, and we definitely feed off each other. I’m of the philosophy that there are no wrong notes. Music theory gives us the basics but we can play outside of the changes. If it doesn’t sound conventional to your ear doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

I’m at a point of having to think a lot about a career/. I feel like if I could, I would make a career of music, but I realize that can be difficult, but I want to play jazz my entire life; it makes me happy.”

Chris Clements, 17, trombonist, a senior at Thunderbird High School, started playing pop-rock music in the fourth grade at Lookout Mountain Elementary School. “I had a really great concert-band teacher, Jackie Thrasher. We had to choose an instrument by a certain date, so I asked my older brother, Sam, and he said the trombone because it was a really cool instrument and not that many people played it. So I picked trombone and I haven’t looked back. Now I’m in high school concert band and jazz ensemble. I started playing jazz in seventh grade at Mountain Sky Junior High with band director Sally Hyland. She exposed me to lot of music I wouldn’t have listened to otherwise.

Then I started private lessons with Emily Brussoe, mainly working on jazz theory, improv and music theory in general. If not for private lessons I would not have continued; I was really close to quitting, but I definitely improved, and I knew how to play better and I want to be in jazz; the minutiae of jazz makes it difficult. Then I took lessons from (trombonist Doug Robinson over the summer and he had me learning the history of jazz and names of famous musicians. That made jazz so much more versatile and rich, and made me want to learn more about jazz.

I first heard jazz on Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” when my dad played it for me a long time ago, and then I learned about “Birth of the Cool” and Bill Evans and how that music was invented, how it made changes to music. The kind of music we’re playing now could become great and make changes, too.

My favorite musician is Chris Crenshaw, trombonist with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (led by Wynton Marsalis) that I just heard at the Mesa Arts Center; he’s incredible! I bought the band’s “Live in Cuba” album. I also like the band’s bassist, Carlos Henriquez, and J.J. Johnson obviously. I like him because of his control and improvisations. He doesn’t play high like Bill Watrous; J.J.’s solos are melodically constructed and always sounds good. I like “Lament,” it’s a really good ballad, and I like improvising in a moderate tempo. I also like J.J’s playing on “KC Shuffle” and his chart “Kenya,” a sort of swing-shuffle thing, and you can groove a lot more and not triple-tongue 16th notes.

I was in the 5 O’Clock band my sophomore year, and the 7 O’Clock band my junior and senior years, and in the combo both those years. The 7 O’Clock Band really did it for me. Everyone in that band is so open to having fun with the music, having a good time and that makes it more enjoyable, and I enjoy their company. And when they’re all your friends and you can talk to them, you’re more receptive to them while you’re soloing. I’m really excited to see where the band will go this year.

I plan on a double major in journalism and jazz studies, if I get into Michigan. State University, one of the best in the nation; right now I’m managing editor of ‘The Challenge” (newspaper at Thunderbird student newspaper). I want to do what your do; interview musicians and write about them.”

Christopher Reyes, 17, pianist, a senior at South Mountain High School, first learned to play piano by ear. “When I was 6 and heard something I liked, I would play it. The first song was “There Will Never Be Another You.” Then I started playing jazz, but I didn’t have lessons until last year, and when I got started, I fell in love with the style and the thinking behind it. Everyone has to think about soloing, being innovative on the spot, but also about interacting with other musicians doing the same as you are and when the music syncs up, it’s a magical feeling. I remember listening to jazz the first time, Thelonious Monk and the song was “Body and Soul” and he played it choppy, with a soulful kind of feeling; He starts it with a crazy whole-tones scale going down, something I never heard before. Not hearing jazz before, it was refreshing and I wanted to imitate what he was doing, to make that part of my playing. I knew it was jazz because it was very spontaneous.

My first favorite jazz musician is Oscar Peterson; he’s always exciting, and I get giddy when I listen to “C-Jam Blues”; it’s simple, but his version is complicated. Bill Evans was a huge inspiration for the way I want to play ballads — his voicings make you hear his emotion thru his music. The first album I listened to was “Undercurrent, “ a duo with Jim Hall on guitar. I also listen to Ornette Coleman because he shows the diversity in jazz.. What Miles Davis plays you can follow, and then you have Ornette. I like to listen to the extremes in jazz, and he’s one of the outliers. I stopped listening for it to make theoretical sense; it’s no longer a mathematics equation; it’s art, a portrait he’s painting. I also like Oscar Peterson, he’s great on blues. And Charles Mingus. His music gets me excited; it’s not what I’m used to. He shows his emotions in his music. I first listened to
“Fables of Faubus.”

I’ve been in Young Sounds for a year, after playing Motown at the Phoenix Conservatory of Music. Andrew Gross was one of the directors and he asked if I wanted to join Young Sounds. I had no idea how important it was; it c hanged my life completely, and for the better. Andrew thought I would fit with combo; he is a huge mentor for me. Being in the combo allows you to really make your instrument shine while you’re playing. It’s an experience where you really have know the tune inside out to play it successfully. There’s more communication in the combo than in big band. It’s really propelling me forward, because these are musicians who take this very seriously.

Since I started to listen to and then understand jazz, I see the world in a different way, and after I began to dig deeper into the language of jazz, I appreciated the small intricate parts that a musician is doing, and how that translates into the world. One of my goals from before jazz was to go into audio production and engineering, to be making someone’s artistic work be available and last, and even more now that I know how much is put into that work. I feel honored and glad to being part of keeping jazz alive — jazz is the original American art form.

Eric Nakamoto, 17, acoustic bass, is a junior at Hamilton High School in Chandler who has been plating acoustic bass for six years. “As a kid, I knew about jazz, but my parents listened to classic rock and jazz never really clicked with me until I was 14, and I discovered it from the video game, “GrandTheft Auto IV.” In it, there are different radio stations of several genres of music. One station was JNR( Jazz National Radio) and I heard a walking bass sound. It sounded so cool, so I started listening to jazz, first to the Mingus Big Band playing “Moanin’” that starts with a bari sax solo, and I heard the passion and soul in it. Then I listened to more of his charts; they’re just beautiful, each one in its unique. I also like Jaco Pastorius, and now a contemporary one, Carlos Henriquez with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Another jazz musician I enjoy listening to is a guitar player from The Netherlands, Rainier Baas and “The Second Coming of Humunculus.” My main influence is Ray Brown. Even in his old age, he could physically play brilliantly in his solos. His bass lines revolutionized the music; his songs never get boring, they’re so complex. Music in general is very therapeutic to me, an escape, I listen to music constantly; I’m always surround by it. It calms me, like meditating; for me, playing jazz is spiritual. I hope to have a music-related career, not just, as long as I can play. In my 20s, I’d like to be in pit bands. I’d also like to be involved in film-making and writing; I want to have a career in the arts. Being a part of Young Sounds means being a part of something that has been around many years, and I feel lucky to be a part of this legacy, this heritage that will last after I’m gone.   Peter Kim, 17, a junior at Desert Vista High School is a drummer who began to play when he was 3. “I used dishes as the toms and chopsticks as my drum sticks. I started to play jazz when I was about 12 because of one of my mentors, Dom Moio, and ever since then I’ve loved it. The first time I heard jazz was on YouTube and found “Take Five” by Dave Brubeck.  Some of my favorite jazz musicians are Jeff Hamilton, Terry Lyne Carrington and Yonghoon Lim. They taught me to solo on the drum set as a melodic instrument. Many people believe that the drum set is not a melodic instrument, and believe it is simply made for rhythm and nothing else. However, it is much more than that. Each tom actually has a note, and can be changed based on the way you tune it. If you watch Jeff Hamilton or Yonghoon’s solos, they actually play the melody note for note on the drums, and create and entire melodic and rhythmic solo.   Young Sounds has affected me in many ways. Musically, I’ve improved and changed my playing and it has given me more experience in combos, as I did not have a lot of experience in playing with smaller groups. Personally, Young Sounds helped me love music even more and gave me more motivation to work harder as a musician. I look forward to rehearsals every week. My career intentions are to major in drum set and compose songs for a big band; one of my big dreams is to have my own band and tour the world.
** FootNotes: The Young Sounds of Arizona was created in 1971 by the Phoenix Musicians Union, and it remains the first and oldest program of its kind in the nation. Young Sounds is comprised of students between the ages of 13 and 18, from schools throughout the metro-Phoenix area.  All members are selected by audition and are considered to be the best young talent that the Valley has to offer.  Young Sounds is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, governed by a volunteer board of directors and sponsored by the Professional Musicians of Arizona, Local 586 AFM.  Performances and direct expenses for the organization as well as an annual college and jazz camp scholarship program are paid for by the Young Sounds organization.  In addition to these programs, Young Sounds sponsors a variety of clinics by noted performers and educators. The union also presents local musicians in free concerts from 7 to 9 p.m. on the first Tuesdays of each month, open to the public in the classy, comfortably inviting and musically decorated Musicians Hall in Phoenix. The Dec. 1 concert features the Ron Whaley String Quartet and a holiday party that includes traditional tamales and beverages; all donations go to The Young Sounds of Arizona. The Musicans Hall is at 1202 E. Oak St., Phoenix 85006, 602-254-8838.

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