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Saxophonist Will Kennedy’s Musical Language: Jazz

Kennedy plays at the Fall Jazz Concert
Sophie Hess
Kennedy plays at the Fall Jazz Concert

   For saxophonist and senior Will Kennedy, jazz is more than just music. It’s a language. 

   “You get to say what you want to say through your music, and then people get to respond” Kennedy said. “I think that’s especially true in jazz because so much of it is improvised”. 

   Kennedy has been playing the saxophone for seven years, and balances being a saxophonist in a student band, with working under individual saxophonist mentors to prepare for pursuing music in college. Kennedy is ready to take their music to the next level – a pathway that once might have been unimaginable. 

   “As a kid, I wasn’t that musical. But I played the clarinet in fifth grade to play the saxophone.” Kennedy said. “I was kind of excited about the saxophone. I thought it was a cool instrument. I was very jazzy.”

   Kennedy’s musical career might have ended in sixth grade if it wasn’t for their band teacher Andria Mullan. Kennedy had no intention of pursuing a Jazz band after sixth grade until Mullan singled them out. 

   “Dr. Mullan pulled me aside before our spring concert and was like ‘hey you know you’re pretty good, you should keep going next year’.” Kennedy said. “And then I did.”

   Since then – Kennedy has become increasingly passionate about playing the saxophone as they became more comfortable with the instrument. 

   “I started to feel like I could actually get around on the instrument and kind of play things that I wanted to” Kennedy said. “That’s when it gets fun”.

   Kennedy’s now love of jazz comes directly from their experience in Jazz band. Kennedy said they didn’t know anything about jazz until jazz bands, and now it’s the only genre they listen to. 

   “It’s such an instrumentalist Genre – it’s not influenced by what people want to hear as much as what the players want to play”. Kennedy said. “And I’m really into that of course, and I’ve just got really passionate as a result.”

   Kennedy has since been in Jazz Band for seven years, including all four years of high school first under Mullan, then Trevor Messerol after Mullan left last summer. It was in Jazz Band where Kennedy and their friends and future band members Ryan St. John and Alden Meil would start to play together. The band now plays numerous gigs and concerts across the east bay with St. John on drums, Meil on guitar and bass, and Kennedy on the saxophone.

   “It was always us as a trio in a jazz band, we were friends”. Kennedy said. “So it was kind of a natural progression to just start playing together and start jamming together”. 

   Meil has known Kennedy for 6 years, and said Kennedy becomes a better saxophonist every time he sees them. He said Kennedy adds a lot to the band’s dynamic as a whole, and has grown into their role as a leader. 

   “[Kennedy has] the perfect balance of talent and passion, as well as being open and humble,”

   Meil said. “That makes them one of the most fun and valuable people to play with”.

   St. John said he thinks Kennedy’s greatest skill is their soloing.

“Their solos help carry tunes we play a lot, and make [playing] more fun” St. John said. 

   Pure passion for playing jazz is a pattern among the band members, and is certainly an element for Kennedy. 

   “It’s very personal, what you’re playing.” Kennedy said. “Just that there’s that element of expression and that it’s  reciprocated by everyone else, is really cool. And very rewarding”. 

   Now, Kennedy is ready to take their music to the next level, and has been involved with many musical programs such as the California Jazz Conservatory, and a sumer program with the Manhatten school of music, in addition to balancing concerts and gigs.”

   “And my favorite concert has probably was probably the concert I did through California Jazz Conservatory” Kennedy said. “Because I was with very high level players and I was being held to a higher standard than I usually am”

   Kennedy is currently enrolled in an advanced workshop at the California Jazz Conservatory, where they play in a quintet led by Colin Hogan.

   “We just work on some tunes together and make a little set list,” Kennedy said. 

   Recently, Kennedy recorded a concert for the Downbeat competition through Downbeat magazine with the quintet from the Conservatory. 

   “I think I could have played a lot better” Kennedy said, “But I enjoyed the fact that I know we were making really good music together, because all the musicians are at a really high level”. 

   Kennedy is not leaving their musical talents behind in high school. In fact, Kennedy sees it as the front of their future. 

   “I’m pretty much just looking at conservatories or going to schools specifically for music,” Kennedy said.  “I’d really like to be in New York. I just love the energy of the city. That’s where I’m looking. That’s what I want to be doing”. 

   To get there, Kennedy has had mentors beyond PHS band teachers. They have been putting in work individually with saxophonist Tom Griesser. 

   “[Griesser is] obviously a great saxophonist,” Kennedy said. “He has really taught me to be independent with my artistry and how to take influences from other people”. 

   Kennedy is also working with saxophone teacher Jordan Leftridge, who they met through the program they took over the summer at the Manhattan School of Music. 

   “He’s great.” Kennedy said. “I kind of started working with him out of necessity with [college] applications because he’s a lot younger and he just did all that, so that’s very helpful.”

   When Kennedy isn’t found playing the saxophone, Kennedy enjoys film photography, plays a little bit of guitar, and is trying to learn how to play the flute. But Kennedy said their time is mostly consumed with music, a passion shared throughout the band.

   “They are amazing people and musicians”. Meil said. “That makes playing the music we all love so much more fun.”

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About the Contributors
Macy Puckett
Macy Puckett, Opinions Editor
Macy (12) is the opinions editor for TPH. Aside from TPH, she is a student writer for iFeminist, a organization that publishes monthly articles about underrepresented women in history. She loves volleyball, tennis, reading, baking, and playing volleyball at the beach with her friends.
Sophie Hess
Sophie Hess, Photos Editor
Sophie Hess (11) is the Photographer for TPH. Apart from journalism, she enjoys cooking, gardening, and traveling with her family.
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