Turning tragedy into musical joy

BRATTLEBORO — Elijah Taylor didn't expect he'd ever become as involved in jazz as he is. He started playing saxophone a couple of years ago. He was originally a clarinet player. Clarinet isn't traditionally a jazz instrument, so Taylor's background is more classical than it is jazz. He's new to the jazz scene. In high school he played in the jazz workshop.

From Aug. 6 to 11, Taylor got to participate in Vermont Jazz Center's Summer Jazz Workshop through the Nicholas Mattingley scholarship.

The Nicholas Mattingley Scholarship was established to help Brattleboro Union High School students attend the jazz center's summer workshop. Taylor is the second recipient.

He's an incoming freshman at University of Vermont we're he intends on studying music composition.

Playing jazz is a wonderful opportunity, especially in an ensemble, Taylor said.

"It was an opportunity to really hone my improvisational skills," he said. "With classical it's really easy to hide behind your sheet music."

Taylor enjoys the opportunity to play with a large group of people, many of whom have been studying jazz longer than he has.

"It's really freeing and exciting," he said.

His junior year of high school Taylor picked up an alto saxophone that was sitting in his basement and decided he had to learn it. His senior year of high school he finally auditioned for his school's jazz band, and got in. Soon he was accepted into the district jazz band with a baritone saxophone.

Another passion of his is to perform in musical theater bands and orchestras.

"A lot of those parts require woodland instruments to double," he said. He recently finished a run of the Drowsy Chaperone at the New England Youth Theatre where he played alto and soprano saxophone along with clarinet and flute. He likes the challenge.

"I've only been playing the flute since January and I'm playing that here too," he said. Though he makes it sound easy, Taylor said he's far from expert.

He said exploring woodland instruments is interesting because they all have similarities, but that each instrument is a "unique tool of expression."

"They really are different beasts," he said. "You really do need to be in the mindset of playing each different instrument. When I'm playing saxophone, or when I'm playing flute, I'm not a clarinetist playing sax or a clarinetist playing flute."

Taylor said that last year his friend was the recipient of the scholarship. He said she couldn't stop talking about how great and what an amazing opportunity it was. At the time, Taylor said, he didn't really see himself following in her footsteps.

He was a single instrumentalist with his clarinet and he wasn't as passionate about it as he is now.

His music teacher, Steve Rice, suggested he look into the opportunity.

"Even then I wasn't sure if I would be here, or if this would be the right place for me," said Taylor. Rice talked to Eugene Uman, the jazz center's artistic director, who Taylor had studied with in his school's jazz workshop, and he was recommended for the scholarship.

"It was very unexpected and utterly thrilling," Taylor said. "And an immense honor. It's so inspiring to be surrounded by so many talented musicians, young and old, from all types of backgrounds playing in many different styles."

He said he had attended a listening hour where the history of sampling in jazz, R&B and hip hop were discussed. In the same evening, he attended a lecture on the history of arranging about how Gil Evans had arranged for Miles Davis, then he said he got to jam with other musicians playing Brazilian choro music.

"It's just so wonderfully eclectic and eye opening," he said. "It's all jazz it's all united as jazz, but there are so many different assets to the art form. Just about everyone of them is covered here.This is definitely a part of my life that's here to stay."

His favorite part is being with other musicians. "It's almost like they lend you some of their musicianship," he said.

He thinks he and the community as a whole benefits from having the jazz center. It creates a nurturing jazz community, he said. Even people he talks to from big cities say the jazz community is small and limited. The jazz center brings in great musicians and helps cultivate a love for jazz.

"It makes me really grateful to live in a community like this," he said.

The jazz workshop has been in existence for the past forty years. Uman said that the center's founder, Attila Zoller, used to hold it at his home.

"They would jam all night and he would make them chicken paprika," Uman said. Zoller, Uman said came to the United States to perform from Hungary. He worked with Benny Goodman and Herby Mann.

"He had an illustrious career," Uman said.

Vermont reminded Zoller of Hungary. He opened the Jazz Center in Vermont because he wanted to show his students what it was like in Hungary.

To get into the summer workshop people have to audition.The workshop is for intermediate and above musicians.

This year the center had 22 vocalists and 53 instrumentalists.

The jazz center does evaluations after the workshop ends. "One of the things that people always say is that this is what they look forward to all year," Uman said. "They count down the days to come here."

To view a video interview, visit https://youtu.be/R_83L8UxCdc.

Harmony Birch can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext.153. Or you can follow her @birchharmony.


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