Local saxophonist named to All-State jazz band
By Lauren Jette
Liberty Hill junior Jeffrey Stevenson admits he cheated a little bit to get ahead of his fellow saxophone playing peers way back in fifth grade.
“It was fifth grade, everyone was choosing their instruments to play,” Stevenson explained.
“At my old school, before you could play saxophone, you had to play clarinet in sixth grade. I didn’t want to do that, I wanted to play saxophone right away, because I thought it was such a cool instrument.
“So the summer after fifth grade, I took private lessons for saxophone so that my (band) director would have to make me play saxophone in sixth grade right away, so I guess I was cheating the system,” he finished with a laugh.
Since then, Stevenson has continued to develop his playing skills, and was named one of two tenor saxophone players for the Association of Small School Bands All-State Jazz Band earlier this month.
What makes this feat even more impressive is that Stevenson only had a week to practice the audition music, while most of the other musicians in the competition had a couple of months or so.
“Most people get their music about two months in advance and they practice it and then they play that for their audition,” Stevenson explained.
“Something happened with our music, so we got it a week before auditions. I only had a week to practice it and I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to make it to state, but I did, so I was really glad,” he said.
Before being named to the All-State band, Stevenson tried out for All-Region band, where he earned a position.
“I practiced every night, about an hour or so. Not that much. But I really enjoy the music. I would listen to it in class and get a feel for it and then I would play it.”
After that, he auditioned for the next step, area band, and sent in a recorded audition piece to be judged for a spot in the All-State band.
“It’s a big process, but it’s fun,” he said. “I used to (get nervous), but now not really. What helps me a lot is if I’m dancing when I’m playing. Get into it. It’s fun. It kind of sounds weird, but it works.”
Stevenson will perform with the region jazz band in January 2016, and then with the All-State jazz band on Feb. 13, 2016, at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio as part of the annual Texas Music Educators Association Clinic/Convention.
This TMEA convention hosts 315 workshops, 88 concerts and more than 1,100 exhibit booths for music educators and performers across the state and beyond.
All-State is the highest honor a Texas music student can receive. Only 290 of the 1,980 students that make it to area competitions are selected.
This competitive process begins throughout the state in auditions hosted by 28 ATSSB Regions. Individual musicians perform selected music for a panel of judges who rank each instrument. From this ranking, a select group of musicians advances from their region to compete against musicians from other areas in five ATSSB Area competitions.
The highest-ranking musicians judged at the ATSSB Area competitions qualify to perform in an ATSSB All-State music group. These All-State students participate in three days of rehearsals directed by nationally recognized conductors and their performance brings the convention to a close, said Liberty Hill Band Director John Perrin.
“(This) is very prestigious,” he said.
“There are about 18 different regions throughout the state that participate in the jazz auditions. There were probably about 100 tenor sax players that auditioned across the state. Jeffrey finished second. “He is a great band student,” Perrin continued.
“Jeffrey has such a likeable personality that he makes being in band more fun for everybody involved. He also inspires those around him to be better musicians,” Perrin said.
Stevenson’s love for jazz music began in junior high, when he was living in Tennessee.
“In my old school, it was sixth, seventh and eighth grade and eighth grade was the only time you could get into jazz, but my band director thought I was really good, so I got into jazz in seventh grade, so that’s when I started and I guess I blew up from there,” he said.
Part of the appeal jazz has for Stevenson is the freedom to make up your music, called improvisation.
“I like jazz because almost exactly a year ago I started improv, where you play whatever you what,” Stevenson said.
“You know the cord changes and you play whatever you want on top of it. When you play that, you’re playing what you’re making. With concert music, you’re playing something someone else made. I like making up my own stuff and that’s why I like jazz.
“It’s hard at first, but if you know the different scales that go with the different chords, how the chords work together, you can sound pretty good. It’s a lot of fun,” he added.
While Liberty Hill is currently working on building enough interest and musicians for a separate jazz band in addition to marching and concert bands, Stevenson has had to look for opportunities to hone his jazz skills.
“Sometimes I play at three churches on the weekend, most of the time, two,” Stevenson said.
“I play at Crestview Baptist Church in Georgetown, two services in the morning Sunday, and after that I go to Macedonia, which is a black church, and I improv there and it’s really fun.”
Stevenson was attending Crestview and looking for some gigs outside of school when he was introduced to someone who helped him find the church gigs, he said.
“I think it’s different (from concert band). It’s more casual,” Stevenson said. “At Crestview, you’re playing written music, so it’s kind of like concert band here (at school), but at Macedonia, I just play along with whatever they are playing, so I have to know every scale, all the chord changes, I have to be able to listen and hear what’s going on with the music.”
In addition to finding a way to go straight to saxophone in sixth grade, Stevenson also had to convince his band director to let him play tenor saxophone, which is a larger version of the alto saxophone that most saxophonists begin with.
“In seventh grade, I was still playing alto, but I wanted to play tenor,” he said. “My band director thought it was a bad idea because she thought I was too small, but I was like ‘no!’ So I think it was half way through seventh grade (when) I switched to tenor and started playing it and I think my band director was surprised that I could play it so well. That’s when I started playing tenor.”
Stevenson was drawn to the tenor saxophone because of its versatility.
“It’s like a good all-around range for saxophone. You can go low, you can go really high. With alto, you’re usually higher. With baritone, you’re usually really low. I like tenor because you can play almost anything,” he said.
Between jazz band auditions, all-region concert band auditions, concert music and Christmas music, Stevenson has a busy couple of months ahead.
“I do, I can’t wait for it. It’s going to be fun,” he said.